Testing Timelines When You're Applying Early

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Most colleges and universities these days offer a way for you to demonstrate your interest and apply early. Applying early can really pay off—not only do you find out earlier if you've gotten into that dream school, which can make second semester of senior year be on cruise control instead of a nail-biting stress-fest, but also your odds of admission are often better. Ever heard the expression "the early bird gets the worm"? It can definitely apply to college admissions.

There are generally two varieties of early application processes: Early Decision (ED) and Early Action (EA). Here's how they're different: ED is a binding agreement to attend the school if accepted, and EA is not. Early Decision can sometimes be broken down further into ED I and ED II, which just means that they go in rounds. ED I (and EA) have the earliest deadlines: typically between November 1-15, with decisions sent out before you begin winter break, typically by December 15, or December 21 at the latest. ED II is usually due when regular decision applications are due (around January 1), but with results posted by late January or early February.

That mouthful said, here's the thing I want to talk about today: since ED I and EA deadlines occur earlier than the rest, you have to (surprise, surprise), finish your testing…earlier.

So, the million-dollar question is, of course:

When do you need to be done with your testing for Early Decision and Early Action applications?


Here’s where things get tricky if I’m not personalizing a Game Plan for you. I can tell you some general guidelines, and even some facts that are up to date as of now, but data changes, policies change, and if you’re really cutting it close with your SAT and ACT deadlines, you’ll have to go straight to the source: your dream school’s admissions officer or admissions website. So don't forget to do your research! But for the sake of giving you the best general lay of the testing-timeline land that I can...

Here are some guidelines about testing timeline for Early Decision and Early Action applications that suit many students.

When applying Early Decision I or Early Action, your senior year September ACT is always safe. And obviously, all the test dates before it are, too.

When applying Early Decision I or Early Action, your senior year October SAT / SAT II Subject Tests are almost always safe. (UMich will need August or earlier, but everywhere else will take October.)

Thus, when I come up with one-size-fits-all testing timelines, I’m going to advocate getting the ACT scores you need by September at the latest, and getting the SAT / SAT II Subject Test scores by October at the latest. University of Michigan is a notable (earlier) exception.

Heck—in an ideal world, I’d really love for you to get everything done by the end of summer, so you could spent senior year fall focusing on your applications. That would mean July ACT and August SAT / SAT II Subject Tests at the latest.

However, I realize we don’t live in an ideal world! You might not always get the scores you need by my one-size-fits-all-and-saves-time-for-application-essays dates...and you might not always (especially when you're doing it without guidance) have been forward-looking enough to get yourself registered for the earlier test dates that would make the process run as smoothly as possible. If you need every last opportunity you can get to propel your scores within range for your dream school, you may need to play the technicalities. So allow me to point out some important technicalities.



Keep these important definitions in mind:

1) “Send Directly”

Some schools will accept a test date, but only if it’s sent directly to them. In other words, when you’re taking the SAT or ACT, you check a box that says “send my scores directly” and fill in your dream school’s SAT or ACT code. This means you’re sending scores without seeing them first. You’re sending them blind. This is a LAST RESORT. This is one of the most important reasons that I prefer to establish testing timelines that prepare my students to get the scores they need by the end of the summer. But if you need this option, and you're willing to gamble, it's there.


2) “Requires Earlier Scores”

Some schools will accept scores from a test date, but they don’t want to wait for those scores to arrive before they start looking at your application. For these schools, they will add the last test date to your file, and hopefully get around to considering your new (and I hope higher) scores…but they still need something in your file now to consider. In other words, you still have to have an earlier test date’s scores in your application.

Got it? Good.

I also went ahead and made you a list of last ACT and SAT dates accepted from earliest to latest by some popular schools—schools that my students are often applying (and getting admitted) to early—that subscribe to those timelines. Again, I'm going to caution you to do your research...or get in touch, and I'll do it for you. With fall registration deadlines coming up fast, I hope the lists below provide the kick you need to make sure to do the planning that's necessary to make your early application a reality...and a success!

Good luck!



Last Test Dates Accepted for ED I & EA:

1) SAT / SAT II = August & ACT = September

  • University of Michigan

2) SAT / SAT II = October & ACT = September

  • Georgetown
  • Stanford

3) SAT / SAT II = October & ACT = October

  • Amherst
  • Cal Tech
  • Cornell
  • Johns Hopkins
  • Middlebury
  • UVA
  • Northwestern
  • Vanderbuilt
  • Washington University in St. Louis
  • Wellesley
  • Williams
  • Boston University (both "Send Directly")

4) SAT / SAT II = November & ACT = October

  • Barnard
  • Bates (test optional)
  • Colgate
  • Dartmouth
  • Duke
  • Hamilton
  • Harvey Mudd
  • Notre Dame
  • Pomona
  • Rice
  • Swarthmore
  • U Chicago
  • U Penn
  • Wesleyan (test optional)

5) SAT / SAT II = November & ACT = October, but with conditions

Both SATs & ACTs “Send Directly”:

  • Tufts

Both SATs & ACTs “Require Earlier Scores”:

  • Vassar

SAT & SAT II “Send Directly”:

  • Bowdoin (test optional)
  • Carleton
  • Carnegie Mellon
  • Colby
  • Columbia
  • Dickinson (test optional)
  • Harvard
  • Haverford
  • Macalester
  • MIT
  • Oberlin (inform admissions officer you’re taking it)
  • Princeton
  • UNC Chapel Hill
  • Yale

SAT / SAT II “Requires Earlier Scores”:

  • Bard (test optional)
  • Brown
  • Emory
  • Grinell
  • Kenyon
  • NYU
  • Skidmore (test optional)
  • Smith (test optional)

SAT / SAT II “Requires Earlier Score” AND “Send Directly”:

  • Claremont McKenna
  • Washington and Lee
  • Scripps