When Should I Have My Final College Choice?

The college search and application processes are long journeys. Between researching, visiting, applying, and comparing, it can feel like you ran a marathon. Deciding on your final college choice is the home stretch. Wondering, “When Should I Have My Final College Choice?” We’ll answer that question and more here.

Student standing on finish line

Timeline for Narrowing College Choices

This rough timeline for narrowing your college choices will help you get started. You can tweak it according to your schedule but don’t stray too far from it.

Fall semester of junior year

The time to start your college search is now. At this stage you will probably have a long list and that’s okay. You can narrow it down later. Create a spreadsheet to make notes against each shortlisted college. It will help you keep track of the eligibility criteria, GPA requirements, tuition fees, application deadline, and other important information.

Spring semester of junior year

Use this time to attend college fairs and visits to learn more about potential colleges to apply to. Also speak to your career advisor to discuss your college plans. They often have valuable input from years of experience helping students. Try to schedule at least a couple of campus visits keeping in mind your time and budget constraints.

Fall semester of senior year

It’s time now to narrow your list of colleges. Don’t wait till the end of the semester. Start the process at the beginning of the fall semester so you have a finalized list by the end and are ready to apply. Note: if you’re applying early admission, you will need to have your finalized list ready much earlier.

Tips on How to Narrow Your Choices

After you’ve applied and received acceptance letters, it’s time to narrow down. A quick and easy way to do this is to use College Raptor’s College Search tool. With it, you can discover what financial aid to expect as well as estimated debt upon graduation. Using this search tool can drastically cut down the time it would normally take to finalize your college shortlist.

If you’ve received acceptance letters from multiple colleges, don’t wait too long to decide which one to attend. Check out College Raptor’s free Offer Letter Comparison Tool to easily compare financial aid offers side by side. It will give you a good idea of how much it will truly cost to attend these colleges.

Timeline wise, it’s ideal to have your final college choice decided by March or early April.

Reminder: Decision Deadline is May 1st

May 1st is the designated National College Decision Day. This is the deadline for submitting your acceptance letter and making the necessary deposit to the college you’ve chosen to attend. This date is not flexible. If the college doesn’t hear from you by this date, they’ll assume you didn’t accept and will strike you off the list.


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