College Applications Timeline for Texas Students

Our college applications timeline contains approximately 30 important steps that would-be university freshmen must complete. For most high school students, this process starts no later than spring of their junior year and concludes one year later the winter of their senior year. This college applications timeline looks particularly at the process for Texas high schoolers interested in applying to both in-state and out-of-state colleges.

College Applications Timeline

Junior Year (January to April)

  1. Start honing your personal vision and your “pitch.” What are you hoping to get out of your college experience, and how will attending college help you get to your long-term career goals? What are your unique strengths and motivations, and how do they make you stand out among your peers?
  2. Start developing your college list. Take advantage of college visits, and if you’re able to swing it, plan to sit in on real college classes to get the best sense of attending the school and the quality of the professors.
  3. Prepare for the SAT or ACT. Aim to be done with test-taking by the end of 11th grade so you can spend your undivided attention on college applications starting the following summer.
    1. You’ll be able to take the official ACT in February and/or April, and the SAT will be offered in March.
  4. Request your letters of recommendation. We recommend asking two of your teachers for these letters; to demonstrate balance, one of them should be a STEM teacher, and the other should be an English, history, or foreign language teacher.
  5. Follow any other guidelines that your school counselor may give you.

Junior Year (May)

  1. Study for your finals and make sure you are well-prepared for your AP exams. Your GPA will be one of the most important elements on your college applications, and colleges will also be looking to see if you are doing well in your advanced courses in particular.
  2. Take the SAT in early May if you need to.

Summer before Senior Year (June & July)

  1. Finalize your college list, including reach, target, and safety schools. You should also start developing a sense of the deadlines that you’ll be working with for fall applications.
  2. Make your college visits, if you haven’t already.
  3. Develop your activities list and your resume.
  4. Start filling out information on the Common App. The Common App does not officially open until August 1, but you’ll be able to start filling out general information prior to that date.
  5. Start drafting your application essays (including your main Common App essay as well as your supplemental essays).

Senior Year (October)

  1. Keep your scheduled appointments with your school counselor– they’ll also help you submit the documents necessary for a complete application.
  2. Finalize your Common App essay. Comb it for grammatical errors and read it out loud to make sure you are happy with the language in it.
  3. Finalize your supplemental essays.
  4. Request that relevant standardized test scores (including SAT, ACT, and AP scores) are sent to the schools on your college list.
  5. Decide if you will be applying to certain colleges via Early Action or Early Decision.

Senior Year (October)

  1. Start filling in information for financial aid applications. The FAFSA and the CSS typically open on October 1.
    1. Deadlines vary from state to state; for Texas, the priority deadline for the FAFSA was April 15, 2024 for the 2023-2024 application cycle. Private and two-year institutions may have deadlines of their own, so make sure to check with them to make sure you’re submitting your documents on time.
  2. Apply via Early Action or Early Decision if relevant to you. The Early Action deadline for both Texas A&M and University of Texas Austin is October 15 (only those applying to the engineering program are eligible for A&M’s Early Action process).

Senior Year (November)

  1. If you haven’t already, finish polishing your Common App and supplemental essays for Regular Decision deadlines.
  2. Apply via Early Action or Early Decision if relevant to you. The Early Decision I deadline for Rice University is November 1.

Senior Year (December)

  1. Finalize and submit your applications for Regular Decision. The Regular Decision deadline for both A&M and UT is December 1.
  2. Evaluate your Early Action or Early Decision acceptances.
  3. Apply via Early Decision II if relevant to you. The Early Decision II deadline for Rice is January 4.
  4. Study for final exams and keep your grades up! Even through your senior year, your grades will continue to matter.

Senior Year (Spring)

  1. Search for and apply to college scholarships.
  2. Evaluate your Regular Decision acceptances.
  3. Make your final decision about where you will be attending, and submit a deposit by May 1!

As a note, every student’s needs are slightly different, so adapt this timeline based on your child and when they’re starting their applications. If they are falling behind, they will need to get more done within a shorter time frame; similarly, they will have more flexibility if they are jumping on the process at an earlier date.

College Applications Key Dates

Down below, we have included a chart of several Texas colleges as well as their fall deadlines.

  • October 1: start filling in financial aid information for the FAFSA and CSS.
  • October 15-November 1: range of popular deadlines for Early Action and Early Decision.
  • December 1-January 1: range of popular deadlines for Regular Decision and Early Decision II.
  • June 30: The national deadline for submitting the FAFSA.
  • October 1: start filling in financial aid information for the FAFSA and CSS.
  • October 15: Early Action deadline for UT and A&M (Engineering only).
  • December 1: Regular Decision deadline for UT and A&M.
  • Mid-December: the latest date(s) Early Action applicants will receive admissions decisions from A&M Engineering.
  • January 15: the latest date Early Action applicants will receive admission decisions from UT.
  • February 15: the latest date Regular Decision applicants will receive admission decisions from UT.
  • Late March: the latest date(s) Regular Decision applicants will receive admissions decisions from A&M.
  • April 15: The FAFSA priority deadline for the state of Texas.
  • June 2: Regular Decision deadline for UH.

College Applications & Test Prep FAQs

When do students take the ACT or SAT?2024-02-15T10:45:25-06:00

Most General Academic high school juniors will take the ACT or SAT two or three times to ensure they earn the score they need. There is no penalty for taking the test multiple times, and colleges only care about the highest score.

Note that most juniors will also take the PSAT in October for National Merit Scholarship qualification.

The SAT is generally offered to Houston-area students eight times a year:

  1. August
  2. October
  3. November
  4. December
  5. March
  6. April (all Houston ISD juniors in-class, automatically registered and paid)
  7. May
  8. June

Students need to register online at at least four weeks in advance to avoid late-registration penalties and ensure availability. Most General Academic students will take the SAT in November, March, and May of their junior year.

The ACT is generally offered nationally seven times a year:

  1. September
  2. October
  3. December
  4. February
  5. April
  6. June
  7. July

Students need to reegister online at at least five weeks in advance to avoid late-registration penalties and ensure availability. Most General Academic students will take the ACT in October, February, and April of their junior year.

When do students start preparing for the SAT and ACT?2024-01-18T14:05:42-06:00

General Academic recommends that rising high school juniors start preparing in the summer (June/July) in the lead up to the fall test dates (August/ November). This timeline allows the student to work around particularly stressful periods like mid-term and final exams. And it provides ample time to prepare not only for the first, fall test date but also a second or third testing in the spring of their junior year. Ultimately, the goal is to have the student finished with their testing by the May test date as a sanity check and to leave the summer period open for their college applications and essays. However, the student will still have plenty of opportunities for more testing in June, August, October (latest for early decision), and November (recommended latest for regular decision), but this would be on top of their applications and regular schoolwork in the fall of their senior year.

The most valuable resource in test preparation is time. The most difficult math topics tested on the SAT and ACT are Algebra II and some trigonometry, which most students will have already learned by the start of their junior year. Therefore, in order to avoid regretting not having started early enough, the summer before junior year is the best time to start.

With that said, “test prep burnout” is a very real phenomena. Parents should avoid cramming too much test prep into an especially tight or stressful period of time, and they should accept if students are already scoring at their peak ability.

How much time does my child need to study for the SAT or ACT?2024-04-13T17:04:52-05:00

The genuinely not-waffling answer is that every student is different. How long your child needs to spend preparing depends primarily on:

  1. What score do they want to achieve?
  2. What score do they have right now?
  3. How big is the gap between their goal and current scores?

However, the overly simplified answer is:

  • For the SAT, students can expect about a 40-point improvement for every 7 hours of quality preparation
  • For the ACT, students can expect about a 1-point improvement for every 7 hours of quality preparation

The operative word in this basic response is “quality.” Students cannot spend those 7-hours just watching videos on Khan Academy while simultaneously posting to Tik Tok. They need to be actively engaged in the material, taking practice tests, and truly learning from their mistakes.

The majority of the time spent on test prep is remediating basic math and English skills. No amount of tips, tricks, or talking-head watching will make up for not being able to actually identify the main idea of a paragraph or manipulate fractions.

Aren’t the ACT and SAT optional for college applications now?2024-02-08T11:55:44-06:00

The shorter answer is that students who have the means and time to prepare and take the ACT or SAT should absolutely do so.

Colleges like standardized tests because they’re norm-referenced and their scores are comparable across the entire US population regardless of school and curriculum. However, the uncomfortable outcome of testing is results. And historically standardized testing shows enormous performance gaps between students from different socioeconomic backgrounds.

It’s this measured gap between students of different backgrounds that largely propels the test-optional movement. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic led to additional challenges like simply not being able to get students in a room to test. As a result, colleges raced to go test-optional, and some university systems like the state of California even went test-blind in 2022.

While colleges are reluctant to publish their admissions data, since-redacted statistics from the pandemic and off-the-cuff remarks from admissions officers, demonstrated that students who submitted scores were often twice as likely to gain admission. The basic premise is that only students with something to hide didn’t submit scores.

But why did that happen even when it was the colleges’ policy to be “test-optional” and technically not penalize students who didn’t submit scores? There’s at least two reasons—submitting strong scores is another, positive data point, and admissions officers are still human. Would a car buyer rather choose the model that got “sufficient gas mileage” or the one that gets “50 miles per gallon” or “400 miles of range”?

Furthermore even less well-off students can reap huge rewards from submitting high test scores. For example, a low-income high school student is more able to ace the ACT or SAT than attend a rich, academically competitive school, participate in a bevy of after-school activities, and spend hundreds of hours on unpaid, volunteer work.

Click here to read more about our analysis of test-optional admissions.

Should my child take the ACT or the SAT?2024-01-18T12:48:58-06:00

Whether your child should take the SAT or the ACT is purely a matter of preference. With about 1.3 million students taking either tests every year, both are equally accepted nationwide. The SAT is more popular in Houston just because of historical preference, and Houston ISD pays for every junior to take the SAT because College Board won the contract (conversely ACT won the contract in North Carolina for example).

However in the fiercely competitive college-admissions market dominated by the SAT and ACT, the digital SAT is the newer product. It only debuted in October 2023 with the PSAT. The new SAT’s key advantages are that it’s over an hour shorter and is just 98 questions vs the ACT’s 215. Furthermore, digital SAT passages are only a few sentences versus more than 700 words for the ACT.

Nevertheless students more comfortable with paper and pencil will obviously prefer the ACT.

General Academic recommends that students start their test prep by taking both a mock ACT and digital SAT. The student’s performance and comfort on that diagnostic exam will then guide their choice of which test to ultimately prepare for the most.

What’s the difference between the digital SAT and the paper SAT?2024-01-18T12:39:56-06:00

The SAT’s publisher, College Board, announced in 2022 that the US’s most popular college admissions test would go all-digital beginning in 2023. Students taking the PSAT in October 2023 were the first ones to experience this computer-only format. The full-length SAT will be digital-only beginning with the March 9, 2024 national test date.

The new, digital SAT is much shorter at 98 questions and takes about 2-hours versus the old, paper tests’ 154 questions and 3 hours. The digital SAT can be shorter because it’s technically adaptive. While the digital SAT is still comprised of two scored sections (Reading & Writing, Mathematics), each section is composed of two modules.

All students see the first module, but the second module is either hard or easy depending on how well they scored on the first part. Students need to answer about 65% of the first module correctly to get to the harder module. Failure to make it to the harder module will cap a student’s potential score to about 550/800.

How many colleges should my student apply to?2023-09-28T13:03:38-05:00

For most students, we recommend applying to approximately 10 colleges. This list should strike a balance between reach, target, and safety schools (roughly 3-4 of each). Highly accomplished students might consider applying to a higher proportion of reach schools, but every student should balance out their list with colleges of varied selectivity.

What GPA does my student need to get into the college of their choice?2023-09-28T13:03:30-05:00

Every high school has a different way of calculating grades, which makes it difficult to use GPA as a metric for college admissions. Some colleges provide aggregate GPA data for recently admitted students, but this is nowhere near as widely available as test score data.

Some colleges standardize GPA themselves through a recalculation process, which can provide a clearer point of comparison for students. Others focus on holistic review of student transcripts, with an emphasis of rigor of curriculum – that is, they primarily care about which courses your student took, how challenging those courses are relative to what was available to them, and what grade is next to each course on the transcript.

How important is standardized testing now that many colleges are test-optional?2023-09-28T13:05:30-05:00

Many colleges switched to a test-optional policy with the onset of COVID-19. However, some colleges (including MIT) have switched back to a test-required policy, so we’d recommend checking the requirements of each university on your college list. On the opposite end of the spectrum, a handful of colleges have committed to a test-blind policy (including the University of California system), meaning that they are removing test scores from consideration entirely.

In general, we do recommend preparing for either the SAT or ACT, even if many of your student’s target colleges are test-optional. If a student can achieve a score that falls near or above the median for typical students admitted to any given college, then submitting scores will only serve to benefit them. Your student can also always choose to submit their score to some schools and withhold them from others.

Which extracurriculars should my student enroll in?2023-09-28T13:03:44-05:00

Generally speaking, colleges do not make value judgments about the extracurricular activities a student chooses to pursue. They do, however, value quality over quantity; they look for students who commit to particular activities for the long-term and rise to leadership roles within them.

Ideally, your student’s extracurriculars should reflect their genuine interests and passions. If they sincerely enjoy a particular activity, they’ll have a better time working hard to improve themselves, achieve awards, and maybe earn leadership positions. Extracurriculars are also a great way for students to explore new interests that may grow into passions – or even career paths.

What do colleges take into account when assessing an application?2023-09-28T13:05:47-05:00

College admissions officers assess applications holistically, meaning they evaluate the “whole” student. No factor (including grades, test scores, or extracurriculars) is considered in a vacuum; rather, these pieces are all assessed in the context of each student’s unique background.

With that being said, a student’s academic record (including their grades and course selections) tend to be the most important part of each application. College vary in terms of which factors they consider and how they weigh them; most colleges provide insight into these factors on their Common Data Set document (try searching the web for “[College Name] + Common Data Set”).

Choose General Academic for College Applications Support

We are here to help ensure your student’s applications are in the best shape they could possibly be. General Academic has more than 20 years of experience helping students achieve their college goals, and every member of our staff has lived a college success story of their own.

We can help your student with any element of the college application process, including the following:

  • Helping your student formulate their “vision” for college as well as their “pitch” for applications
  • Researching and building a college list
  • Writing, outlining, and refining their college essays
  • All other elements of the application process, including polishing their activities list, planning and executing letter of recommendation requests, and applying for scholarships

Learn more about our college counseling services or call us today to get started!

Learn More about the College Admissions Process


  • Ashley Chang

    Ashley Chang is General Academic's Assistant Manager. She graduated from Millsaps College, where she received her BA in History in 2020. Prior to joining General Academic, Ashley was a high school history teacher as well as an aide in various elementary school classrooms. Ashley has also completed Rice's College Access Counseling Certificate Program.

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2024-07-05T14:39:17-05:00July 5th, 2024|College|

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