US University Application Timeline

Now, this is where things get a little tricky. I could not emphasize enough how important it is to keep thing organized.

So, what I did in the past was to prepare a spreadsheet (you can do whatever that fits you). Inside, I set up everything with details and the deadlines. I will create another progress bar and pull forward those deadlines a little earlier so that I have some extra time to fall back on.

An example when this come in handy would be getting the teacher’s recommendation. Inside the spreadsheet, I would write down the teacher’s name, contact detail, and deadline etc. Since most teachers are busy, I will note in the spreadsheet at several instances to contact the teacher and ask them about how the recommendation goes.

Being organized will keep the application process less of a nightmare, especially if you are applying to a lot of schools.

Ideally, you will start this earlier but for some, like the scholarship students, the process starts around July.

For US Universities application, the application deadline would be around November (for Early Decision/Early Action) and around end of December (for Regular Decision). If you are applying to top US universities, do try to apply for ED/EA. You have a better chance of getting a spot instead of competing with other applicants in the regular round, with much higher acceptance rate. Also, you get to know the result of your application earlier, in December instead of April.

For Early Decision, if you get an offer, you would need to decide whether to accept it or not. If you accept the offer, you have to withdraw your admission from other
universities. For Early Action, there is no such clause. So, try ED?EA for the university that you really want to get into.

If you are a borderline case in ED/EA, your decision could be deferred to the regular decision instead.


Approximately 12-15 months before enrolment

Americans usually start this process a lot earlier than stated here.

Determine the university that you want to go to. You can check reviews and basic information from books, online or email the admission officers. Consider the size, majors, activities and your other criteria  about the university when deciding.

Also, if you need financial aid, check if the university offer financial aid to international students. Not all do offer them.

Once you decided on the universities, write down the deadlines on the spreadsheet. Also, begin registering for standardized test like SAT I & II, TOEFL or ACT. You can take the SAT test in Metropolitan College, KL (7 times/year), KDU College, Penang (not sure about number of tests held) or in Sinaran Institute, KK (2 times/year).

Do register early for the test because spots filled up very fast during peak season. I remembered being indecisive of when I want to take my tests only to see that spots are gone in just days.


Contact the university or go to their website to print out application form. Your application can be submitted through mail or online. Begin:

  • Writing your application essays for the questions from the application form. This is a vital piece for evaluating you as a candidate for admission. So, spend a lot of time on it and don’t be surprised to constantly rewrite the essays. I asked friends who entered top universities the amount of time they spent on their essays. Most used a few hours a week writing, then tweaking and the rewrite the whole thing again and yet, some are still not satisfied until they submitted their essays.
  • Request official transcript from your school. For Malaysians, this usually involved your secondary school report card and your college transcript.
  • Ask for teacher’s recommendation. Most universities usually asked for two teachers, from different teaching field. List down your achievements and traits you want them to highlight because you want to make the teacher’s job as easy as possible. Set aside a lot of time for this because the teachers are usually busy, forgetful and it takes time to write a good recommendation letter. Don’t expect to get a quick reply during the SPM/STPM examination period.
  • Ask for counselor’s recommendation. Ditto for teacher’s recommendation.

September to January

Complete your applications and send in all your forms, transcript, standardized test results during this period (before the deadline). Also, check that your teacher’s recommendation had been sent. Follow up with the teachers to remind them. Deadlines for EA/ED are usually in November. Deadlines for RD are in late December/early January.


By now, your admission result should come in. Decide on which university you want to attend and notify your decision to the admission office. Complete any necessary form.

June to August

The admission office will send you future information about what you should do. Settle you finances by now along with your accommodation and insurance with the university. Pay the SEVIS fee to apply for a visa at the US embassy as soon as possible. Then make travel arrangement and you are set to go. Prepare for the unexpected. Things can and do go wrong. You can be denied a visa at the embassy etc. That’s why it’s best to settle things as quickly as possible. Also, the embassy would need to see that you are able to support yourself overseas before they will issue you the visa. Hence, the finances.

When it comes to the applying for US universities, a rule of thumb is to keep organize. Prepare for setback and overcome them as soon as possible. Pace yourself or you will be stressed out trying to rush through things.

2 thoughts on “US University Application Timeline

  1. Hi. Hope you could help me with my questions. I’m currently studying for SPM this year, have been long for studying in the US. My priority would be New York University (NYU), which the website says that only STPM (or whatever exams equivalent to STPM, like A-levels) will meet their standardized testing requirements.

    But when I attended an education fair last year, the US represent introduced me to Colorado State University which only need SPM to apply for it.

    So, do I really need to study for A-levels/STPM before I apply for at least 10 universities? What kind of guidelines or advices would you give me?

    Thank you in advance.

    ps: I’m interested in performing arts.

  2. Hi Clover,

    You have to understand that the admission website tried to cater to as broad of an audience as possible. So, they tried to make the most generalized qualification – A-Level, IB etc.

    The only way to make sure if SPM is acceptable is just to email the the admission office for confirmation. If they don’t know – usually in uni that rarely accept Malaysians, try to explain to them that it’s the end of high school public exam etc.

    FYI, I know a number of people who studied in uni right after their SPM, including those Ivy Leagues, that supposedly have high requirements. As for NYU, I know a number of people accepted into it without the need for any STPM.

    Take the exam – SAT I, SAT II. Use this as your justification that you’re good enough to enter the uni. The admission officers are nice chaps, some even students themselves. They’re more well versed in their respective uni admission policies than I am.

    Education fair can be a hit or miss because there’s only a few that targets Malaysian, typically the one that’s affiliated to the local colleges. Hence, these aren’t really the top tiers unis. The representative you meet there are trying to promote the colleges in their list.

    If you’re interested in performing arts. Try to send a sample of your performance in your application material. It’ll be great supporting material.

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