Seniors: Applying to college this year and unsure where to start?

With competing priorities presented by senior year — more difficult school assignments, extracurricular duties, homecoming, and spending time with friends, there is a common concern among seniors about making time to complete college applications. While juggling a full load of school work and leisure, along with college applications, upwards to 15 for many students, it is important to have a plan to ensure you meet all looming deadlines.
The urge may be strong to get through the application season as quickly as possible, but staggered submissions allow for more individualized attention to every application. Rushed applications are easy to spot, as they are often filled with misspellings, grammatical errors, misinformation, or the embarrassing reference to college x in college y’s application.
The best advice is to slow down. The college application season runs from August 1 to January 1 for most schools. Make a plan to submit applications gradually, determining when by answering these questions: Where does the college rank on your list? What type of admissions – early action, early decision, rolling or regular decision? Are there supplemental essays required? There is no exact formula, but by answering these questions, you know where to focus your attention. 
How your colleges rank on your list helps you decide the overall timeline of applications. There are four primary types of admissions, Early Action (EA), Early Decision (ED), Regular Decision (RD), and Rolling Admissions (RA).
EA schools are non-binding, meaning you can apply to other schools. On the contrary, ED schools are binding, meaning you are forbidden from applying to any other school. And if accepted to the particular school, you agree to attend. ED applications are recommended for students with a strong exclusive interest in a particular school, and who have the financial means to pay tuition and fees regardless of the financial aid package offered. Applying EA, however, is a great option for many students who are passionate about a particular school, but want to keep their options open about other schools. Moreover, studies have shown admissions chances are better, by 20-30% for some schools, for students who are considered in the early pool of applicants. Both EA and ED options set an application deadline earlier than the regular decision pool, somewhere between mid-October and early-November.
Rolling admissions applications are considered as they are received. Regular decision applications are generally due by January 1. Check your school admissions website for type(s) of admissions programs available.
Assuming you submitted one or two EA applications via the Common App, schools not requiring additional supplemental essays would be submitted next. Schools with no or few additional essays and rolling admissions would fall somewhere between November and December to beat the last minute rush. And last to be submitted, close to their regular decision due dates, are schools requiring supplemental essays. The reason is two fold. First, you will need the extra time to write your essays; and second, your application will not be considered until after the regular decision deadline, generally January 1.
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