Once senior year of high school gets underway, college application deadlines will swoop in quickly. Starting early and having a game plan can help you stay organized and get through the application process stress-free... or at least with a little less stress.

Use this handy timeline to help you stay on track.

Note: If you’re planning to apply early decision or early action to any of your schools, you will need to move through the process at an accelerated pace since applications will be due on or around November 1. Consult with your school’s college adviser for help planning an expedited timeline.

Before Senior Year

• Register to take the SAT or ACT. If you plan on retaking the test, invest extra study time on areas that need improvement so you can boost your test scores before sending in your applications.

• Narrow down your college list. Even before you head back to school, you should be working toward finalizing the list of schools to which you’ll be applying. Look over each school’s application requirements so you know what work that lies ahead. 

September

• Make an appointment to speak to your school college counselor as early in the semester as possible. Use this time to go over any questions about the college admissions process and to get his or her input about the schools on your short list.

• Start working on the Common Application (if some of your choice schools offer that option). It’s especially helpful to look at the essay prompts beforehand so you can start thinking about what you’d like to write. Keep in mind that even if your schools accept the Common App, there are sometimes additional materials (like school-specific essays) that individual colleges require applicants to submit.

October

• Plan campus visits. If you can, visit prospective colleges during the early fall — especially any local ones — so that you can get a better understanding of the campus environment before you apply.

• Line up your letters of recommendation. Put in your requests early to give your recommenders ample time to write something wonderful about you.

• Make a final list of schools, and create a checklist of each one’s application requirements and deadlines. Organization is key!

November

• Build some time into your schedule to do a little bit of college application work each week so you’re not time-crunched come December.

• See if your college advisor or a teacher is available to look over your essays and other aspects of your applications. You can also ask a parent, older sibling or anyone you trust who is familiar with the process.

December/January

• Make sure to submit all of your application materials on time. Verify that your recommendation letters have been received by your schools. Log on to each college’s website to track your application status.

Once your applications are sent off, you can breathe a sigh of relief. Before you know it, spring — and acceptance letters — will arrive. And after all of the effort you put in, you can put the focus back on enjoying your senior year of high school before you start your new journey.