For many Grade 11 students, the conversation about universities can be daunting. Despite all of the presentations, meetings with counselors, college visits, and online resources that are shared with students, deciding when and where to start can still be hard. In fact, sometimes being inundated with all of this information can make a student want to shut down and not do anything.

If this is you, don’t panic. Avoidance is a very normal stress response. However, avoiding starting the process will only add more stress in the long term. When it comes to applying to universities, it is important to break up the process into small, manageable steps. We hope that the timeline below will provide clarity on what you should be doing, and when:


Priority 1 – Build Your College List

When: Winter/Spring of Grade 11

What’s the number one thing you can do to make college applications less stressful? Spend more time in the college research phase. Starting in Winter/Spring of your Junior year, your number one priority should be research, research, research. If you don’t know what you want, then this is the time to ask yourself the deep questions and figure it out.  

There are thousands of amazing universities around the world…how do you narrow down your choices and identify your favorites? Start with the easy stuff first – location. What countries do you want to apply to? 

Next, think about your major. Do you want to apply to a direct entry program (UK) or something more broad and flexible, like a liberal arts college (USA)?

Once you have these two pieces of information, you can begin identifying specific schools in each location. Below are some country specific websites that help you learn more about colleges in each region:

USA: BigFuture CollegeBoard search, Collegexpress (search lists and rankings)

Canada: OUInfo and Macleans Educational Hub

UK: Guardian League Tables

By the start of June, you should have a semi complete college list – meaning, most of the schools on your list shouldn’t shift. Of course, as you continue to research and discover schools, there will be changes – but you should have a solid foundation.


Priority 2 – Label your schools as Reach/Target/Safety

When: After you receive your June PGs

Once you receive your first set of predicted grades in June, revisit your college list. For every college on your list, look up the entry requirements for the program(s) you are considering applying to. 

(These are clearly stated for most universities, except for those in the USA. For schools in the USA, google the university’s “freshman class profile” to find academic data for admitted students.)

Now, label every school on your list as a Reach, Target, or Safety. Is your list balanced? If not, see where you can make some changes. We advise that every student has at least 1-2 solid safety schools on their list – a school where their numbers are well above the entry requirements listed.

If at this stage you begin to panic, for whatever reason – reach out to your counselor. A conversation with them can help ease anxiety, help you find more schools if needed, and/or get a second opinion on your list.


Priority 3 – Work on Essays and Resume (Extra-Curricular Activities)

When: Summer before Grade 12

Once you know where you plan on applying, you can move onto what is required for your schools. Create a spreadsheet that organises your college list with deadlines and application requirements. Having all relevant links and information on one document is crucial.

If your universities require a Personal Statement, use the summer to start writing your first draft. Aim to have this ready by the start of the school year, so your counsellor has plenty of time to review it.

In addition, create a resume if you don’t have one already. It can be really helpful to visually see your list of activities. Organise all of your extra-curricular activities, honors and awards, work experience, and volunteering from Grade 9-12 on one document. This will be useful for universities that ask for this information.


Priority 4: Start your Applications 

When: August – December

After completing all of the steps above, submitting the actual application is the final step – and that itself won’t be too hard, if you’ve worked on all the steps above first. Students will start their applications as early as August of Grade 12, and begin submitting them in the Fall semester. Please check in with your Guidance Counsellor for deadlines by country system.