Application Timetable

School Year
Task List

Years 10 & 11 (England & Wales)

S3 & S4 (Scotland)

Years 11 & 12 (Northern Ireland)

Work hard to ensure you get excellent grades for your GCSEs or National 5s (Scotland). US Admissions Officers will be just as interested in these grades as they will be in your A Levels and Advanced Highers later on.

Develop interests and activities outside the classroom, as you will be expected to have a strong extracurricular profile as well as an excellent academic record by the time you apply.

Summer Holiday

Develop your extracurricular profile by undertaking work experience or community service activities for part of the summer holiday, if possible.

Year 12 (England & Wales)

S5 (Scotland)

Year 13 (Northern Ireland)

Research the US college system and develop a long list of possible colleges.

Find out if the SAT/ACT tests are optional or compulsory at your chosen colleges and register for one or other of the tests if necessary. The best way to get a good score is regular practice, so set yourself a weekly practice schedule so you are at peak performace by the time you take the test.

Research your funding options and finalise your selection of colleges.

Summer Holiday

Complete the Common Application Form (or alternative) including essays. Decide who you are going to nominate as your referees: your main character reference is normally written by your Head of Sixth Form or university adviser. For your two academic referees, choose whoever teaches your two strongest subjects at school.

Autumn Term

Year 13 (England & Wales)

S6 (Scotland)

Year 14 (Northern Ireland)

Compile all application materials and chase up your referees, ensuring you give them plenty of time to write their reports before the deadline.  Show them the ‘good examples of teacher reports’ on the ‘Assembling Your Application’ section of this website (next item in the drop down menu).

Submit your main application and funding applications at the same time by the relevant deadline.  At  Harvard, they are: Early Action 1st November; Regular Action 1st January.  (See below for an explanation of the difference between EA and RA).

Spring Term

Year 13 (England & Wales)

S6 (Scotland)

Year 14 (Northern Ireland)

Receive admissions decisions at the end of March.

Accept/decline any offers by 1st May (admission can usually be deferred if you wish to take a gap year).

Summer Holiday

Liaise with the International Office of the college that has admitted you for instructions about applying for a visa, health insurance, travel etc.

Read the undergraduate pre-departure section of the Education USA website.

August / September

Begin study in the USA!

What’s the difference between ‘Early Action’ and ‘Regular Action’?

‘Regular Action’ refers to the normal deadline for submitting your application to American colleges (1st January at Harvard, but it does vary from college to college).  You may apply to as many colleges as you like by this deadline.  But if you have one particular institution that is your clear favourite, many American colleges provide an option called ‘Restrictive Early Action,’ or just ‘Early Action,’ which allows you to apply to one US college earlier than the others (by 1st November) and receive a decision by mid-December.  (Note that you can still apply to UK universities if you are applying Early Action in the US).  For the most competitive US colleges, there is no advantage or disadvantage in applying Early or Regular Action, but some colleges may see your early application as an indication that they are your top choice, and may feel more favourable towards your application for that reason.  Check each college’s website to see if they make any statements about possible advantages in the process for submitting an early application.

Some colleges use the term ‘Early Decision’ rather than ‘Early Action’. What’s the difference?

If you apply to a college ‘Early Action’ and are offered a place, the offer is usually not binding and you may wait and see if you get further offers from your ‘Regular Action’ colleges before you decide which offer to accept.  On the other hand, an offer made as a result of an ‘Early Decision’ application is usually binding, so you must accept the offer and withdraw your applications from all other universities to which you have applied.  This is not a problem if you definitely want to go the ‘Early Decision’ college, but being offered admission will close off all other options so it is very important to check whether an offer will be binding or non-binding before submitting your application.  There is, however, one advantage to applying to an ‘Early Decision’ college: you have a greater chance of being admitted because the Admissions Office knows you are already fully committed to attending if you are offered a place.

More information about Restrictive Early Action can be found on the First Year Applicants page of the Harvard Admissions website.