The college admissions process felt daunting as I began my senior year of high school. It was what my entire life and education had been leading up to. Plus, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I’m the oldest child, so nobody in my family had gone through the process since 1997. I also came from an average public school and didn’t have the same resources as my friends who went to college prep schools. If this is you, you’re not alone! Myself and many others have gone through senior year feeling woefully unprepared for the admissions process. While everyone’s admissions timeline looks different, this is the one I followed:

Junior/Senior Year – SATs and AP Classes

Hope College is currently test-optional, meaning you don’t need to submit an SAT or ACT score to apply. Also, plenty of people get in without taking a single AP class. That being said, I recommend doing both. Your standardized testing score will only help you, and it can even get you a scholarship. AP test scores can also allow you to skip taking some of the required gen eds. My school only offered AP Computer Science Principles, but my score on the exam fulfilled the equivalent of a science class. So, while neither is absolutely necessary to be admitted to Hope, I highly recommend doing both as they can only help you in the long run. 

August-September – The App and Essay

If you’re applying to more than one college, the Common Application is 100% the way to go. The Common App essay is required by Hope, and gives the college insight into who you are and why you would be a good fit. Though a short essay (650 words maximum), it is best to get started as early as possible. Hope also offers its own application that is separate from the Common App. The information they have on file from you will be pre-populated in your app, so this is a good option if Hope is the only application you’re submitting. Another option is to apply through the Apply Coalition, Powered by SCOIR. All three options work great so it’s just a matter of personal preference.

The early application deadline is November 1, and applications after November 1 are considered on a rolling basis. I recommend having your application done by October to give time for editing. Be sure to have at least one person look it over, whether it’s a parent, a teacher, or a friend. They’ll be able to catch errors that you might not notice otherwise. Once you have a final product you are happy with, submit it along with your transcripts and application.

Also, be sure to add Hope to your FAFSA starting October 1 to receive priority consideration for scholarships. Hope’s Office of Financial Aid starts sending financial aid packages to admitted students in early February, and the priority date for the FAFSA is March 1.

October – Campus Visit

Hope encourages students to apply by November 1 to receive early notification of their admission, which is mailed in early December. While you wait, why not schedule a visit? You can come for an Anchor Day or schedule an individual tour. If you can’t visit campus in person, Hope’s virtual tours are also a great option to see campus up close.

Visiting campus is a great way to learn more about your prospective colleges and get a feel for what it would be like to go there. I did both a tour and an Anchor Day, and I had a great time at both. It was a great experience seeing the Hope campus and talking to the students.

Early December – Decision Day!!!

Hope starts sending out early decisions in December to students who submitted their application by November 1. The wait was agonizing but worth it. The email was sent out in the evening, so I was able to have my family with me as I opened it. Needless to say, I got in! While getting your admission notice isn’t the end of the process, be sure to take some time to rest and celebrate your accomplishments. You’ve earned it!

December – Program Applications

Once admitted to Hope, consider applying to one of the extra programs offered. In December, I submitted my application to be a Phelps Scholar, and many students apply for pre-orientation programs like Day1 Research Communities or the Summer Bridge program. All are great opportunities to join a vibrant academic community on campus. There is also the Step2Success program (invite only), which gives students of color the chance to arrive a day before orientation and build a community. Students with creative abilities in the visual arts can also apply for the Distinguished Artist Award.

January-April – Make Your Decision

The deadline for committing to a college by submitting a deposit is May 1. Personally, I recommend committing sometime in March. If you submitted your FAFSA early, you should receive your financial aid package by this time. Making your college choice early gives you time to weigh your options but not be down to the wire.

A lot of factors went into my decision to go to Hope, but the biggest one was simply the feeling being on campus gave me. I loved seeing the brick buildings, hearing the chapel bell chime the hour, and having people smile at me as I walked by. I’m happy to report that the charm hasn’t worn off, and I haven’t regretted my decision to go to Hope for a second. 

May-August – Odds and Ends

Once you decide, there is still a lot to do before heading to college (register for housing, submit health information and insurance, etc.). Be sure to check your email regularly because Hope will send plenty of reminders on what needs to happen. Plus, stay in contact with your admissions representative. They’re super helpful and can answer any questions you may have.

Take a deep breath!

You got this! Applying for college is a scary time, but follow this timeline, and you’ll be fine. I hope (pun intended) that Hope ends up being the school for you!

Published by Mackenzie Niswonger

Class of 2026 Hometown: Gladstone, Michigan Major(s): Computer Science and Chinese Studies

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