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A Complete Senior Year Guide

Everything you need to know about senior year of high school, all in one place! We spend our days focused on high school seniors, and we understand how busy it can be for families. You have so many things to keep track of between athletics, music, college applications, graduation party planning, senior photos, and so much more! We've put together a complete guide to help you get through this crazy year so you don't forget a thing!

senior year deadlines what to expect senior year westerville olentangy ohio fall senior picture

This detailed guide includes topics such as :

  • College Application Types & Deadlines

  • What is the Common App?

  • Homecoming and prom planning

  • Senior Photos - what to expect

  • Cap & Gown Ordering & Delivery

  • College Admission Test date deadlines

  • Ordering Graduation Announcements

  • Planning a Graduation Party

  • College Decision Day

  • Senior social events

This guide is so detailed you should feel free to use "CTRL+F" to find any topic you need quickly! Please note that all school districts and schools will vary a bit, and deadlines may change over time. Always double check deadlines & criteria with your school, but let's get started with planning for all things senior year!

high school senior year deadlines and information

Tour Colleges in the Summer After Junior Year

Touring colleges early will give your high school student a feel for what type of campus they enjoy most. Maybe they will find they feel more connected at a small private school that makes it really feel like home, or maybe the idea of a large public university with a ton of people and variety of majors is more exciting. Touring early will give them a chance to learn more about the culture of the school, meet with admissions representatives or current students, and explore majors within the university. Even if they don't find THE school over the Summer, it will at least help your rising high school senior know what type of school to narrow their focus upon.

The other main benefit to touring college campuses the Summer before senior year is the pure logistics of scheduling! Senior year is absolutely packed with deadlines and classes, so taking a day off can be difficult. As a general rule of thumb, do anything early that you possibly can so you have a more relaxing senior year. Summer days are longer with more daylight, moderate temperatures, less rain (no snow), and no school!

when should we do college tour senior picture in westerville

Senior Photography Sessions - Summer, Fall, or Beyond!

We are so often asked when high school seniors should take their senior pictures that we wrote a whole blog post on when to do senior photos! There are pros and cons to each season, but most high school seniors will want to take them in the Summer before Senior year or high school or in the Fall. Yearbook deadlines (we have a whole post on that!) are often in the Winter months. (Not all districts allow submission of a yearbook photo of their choosing. Olentangy Schools, for example, requires their formal school senior photo be used) While Winter Sessions can be fun, many seniors like to get them done while it is still warm out. Summer sessions are perfect for fitting into your schedule before the busy year begins, and if you like flowers or want to wear dresses and shorts. Fall senior pictures work well if your senior is not in a Fall sport or marching band, and if they want the vibrant colors of nature as a backdrop.

We provide the very best senior portrait experience in the area. We will help you with everything from what to wear, choosing the perfect location, and posing guidance. We stay with you to design custom graduation announcements, wall art, heirloom albums, and create the perfect digital collection for sharing and keeping for life. If you have not planned your senior photography yet, let's chat about your vision and how we can bring it to life!

Take the ACT or SAT in the Fall of Senior Year

If your rising senior is college-bound, they may have already taken this test a couple of times previously. But, if for any reason they have not or are not satisfied with their scores, they should be taking it no later than the Fall of senior year for consideration on their college application.

General Guidelines for LAST test accepted (see next section for definitions):

  • Early Action Application - October of senior year

  • Early Decision Application - October of senior year

  • Regular Admissions - November of senior year

Please remember ALL colleges and universities are different and their deadlines may vary. This is to be used as a general guide.

Apply for Colleges and Universities in the Fall (Generally)

This is going to be an over-generalization because there are SO SO many colleges and universities in the US and beyond, and all may have their own criteria and deadlines. This information is provided as a starting point for basic understanding as you begin researching your own schools.

Early Action for College Admission

Early Action is an option where you apply for college early and receive a decision early. If you are applying to a school under this timeline, you do not need to commit to the school at the time of application. While you would apply in the Fall, you still have until May 1 to make your final decision! The benefit is that you will know if you are admitted much earlier (usually by December). In some cases, a student will be deferred, which simply means that the school is not going to make a decision until they have the full applicant pool to review. Most Early Action deadlines are November 1 or November 15 (another great reason to tour colleges in the Summer!).

Early Decision for College Admission

This is a great option for students who are absolutely set and decided on their school choice. When applying Early Decision, which also happens in the Fall of senior year, students will commit to accepting admission to the school if they are admitted. These students will be asked to pay their non-refundable deposit upon an admissions decision. Early Decision deadline is generally the end of October or mid- November with decisions coming by Mid-December.

Rolling Admission for College Admission

Colleges with rolling admission simply review applications as they come in until all spots have been filled. Decisions typically take about 4-6 from the time of application.

Regular Decision Deadlines for College Admission

This is the type of application that most seniors will do. These deadlines are usually in January and February with decisions coming out in March and April. These later deadlines will give your senior more time to gather their application materials, tour colleges, and begin narrowing down their school choices before applying.

when should I apply to college in Columbus Ohio senior picture at THE Ohio State University

What is the Common App? (Common Application for College Admissions)

If you have not been involved with college applications since your own a couple decades ago, much has changed! Introducing the Common Application - your one stop application that works for multiple schools. While not every school will accept it, over 1000 colleges and universities do. Some schools that offer their own application ALSO take the common app. This makes it so much easier to get your applications completed on time, so you are not needing to fill out the same basic information over and over again. You can use this application, for free, for up to 20 schools at one time. Visit for more information!

where to buy homecoming dresses Columbus Ohio senior picture downtown

Homecoming and Prom Planning in Central Ohio

Let's switch gears and talk all about the formal dances that take place at most area high schools each Fall and Spring!

Senior Homecoming and Senior Prom Dress Shopping near Columbus, Ohio

While there are a number of online dress shops, or even Amazon, where you can find a prom or homecoming dress, we know that some girls like to try them on first! Some suggestions for finding the perfect dress for senior year are: Maurices, Nordstrom, Be Social Boutique, Macys, Henri's Cloud 9, Wendy's Bridal, David's Bridal, and Gilded Social.

Choosing the Perfect Senior Dance Dress

We have a whole post coming on how to choose the perfect dress, but for the most part keep in mind that you should be comfortable moving in all ways in this dress or you will be restricted when you get to the dance floor. Mind the fit, fabric, style, color, and how comfortable you will be in the dress as you dance the night away with your friends!

Prom and Homecoming Flowers for Senior Year

The next step is to choose the right flowers for your evening! Our favorite flower shops are Westerville Florist & Sunbury Florist. They recently introduced the absolute coolest Flower Bar so girls can go with their moms or friends to design their perfect corsage flowers!

Senior Homecoming and Prom Evening Plans & Photo Locations

Finally, plan the evening! Senior prom and senior homecoming are a huge deal and one full of future memories! You will need a hair and makeup stylist, transportation, dinner reservation, and after dance plans. Most importantly - you will need the best place to take photos! We have a whole post with ideas of where to take photos here!

Cap & Gown Ordering in the Fall

Cap & Gowns are usually ordered in the late Fall and delivered to school in the Spring. While you can sometimes re-wear a sibling or friend'd gown from the year before, this is not always the case. There are changes over time to the design or color choice from the school, so always check before skipping your own order. Also, the tassel typically has the year listed.

Cap & Gown delivery dates vary by school. There are a few that will have them ready by mid-April, but many do not distribute until early May.

As graduation day approaches, be sure to schedule your Cap & Gown Photo Shoot! This is the best way to ensure you get some great quality images of your senior in their cap & gown because it can be difficult to do so on graduation day.

Olentangy cap and gown ordering Lewis Center senior picture in cap and gown

Plan Your Grad Party in the Winter

While it may seem early to plan your graduation party when it is snowing outside, it really isn't! The reality is that many venues book early and you will not have as many choices if you wait until others plan in the Spring. This is especially true if you are planning to do your party at the end of May or early June.

We put together a complete guide to planning a graduation party here! This includes everything from venue selections, cake and cookie bakers, where to get signs and flowers, and so much more!

Graduation Announcement - Spring

If you have planned your party in the Winter, you will be ready to finalize your graduation announcements by Spring. If your party is at the end of May or early June, you will want to send these out by early May so your family and friends can save the date - especially if they are going to travel.

Helpful info on the topic of grad cards:

Why to send graduation announcements if you are unsure about it.

What to put on graduation announcements so you don't forget anything!

We offer custom graduation cards for high school seniors when they do their senior photography experience with us. Learn more about the Westerville Senior Photography experience here:

National College Decision Day is May 1

Ahhh May 1. Mark this date on your calendar as the date your senior must make their decision (and maybe the date you stop hearing them go back and forth between their top two schools). For early admission applications and regular admission applications (most students), May 1 of senior year is the deadline to accept admission to their college choice.

End of Senior Year Celebrations & Traditions

While memories are made ALL year long, there will be a lot happening in the months of April and May. You might want to just go ahead and clear your calendar now for many weeknights and weekends in May. Especially if your high school senior is involved in sports or music programs which may have their own end-of-season celebrations. Sometimes seniors have an extra night on top of the general activity awards evening.

A Senior Class Photo is taken at some point (varies by school) but many are in April.

In April or May, a lot of high school seniors participate in a long-standing tradition of Senior Tag. If you are new to the area, you may find this activity a little shocking, but long-time residents also know to expect it. This is typically NOT a school sanctioned activity, but rather student-led and student-organized. The senior class is divided into teams on a bracket system competing for some sort of prize. They compete with water or nurf guns, and this activity involves a lot of running, hiding, and chaos.

Prom, of course, as we talked about above will take over one of your Saturdays in the Spring. And graduation rehearsal and graduation day will each take up some time. Graduation rehearsal is typically mandatory for those walking in graduation. Many seniors will also participate in various senior skip days throughout the school year, especially in Spring. A Cedar Point (or other amusement park) trip is commonly planned through the school, senior class officers, or informally among friends.

An Evening of Excellence is planned typically in May to honor many high school seniors.

Many schools will plan an optional senior lunch, senior dinner, or senior dessert.

Some type of Senior Reflections night (name varies by school) is planned just before graduation to celebrate the seniors.


If you made it this far, you have what it takes to make it through senior year! Here is a quick (very general) timeline:

Summer: Tour Colleges, Schedule Senior Pictures

Early Fall: Take ACT/SAT

Fall: College Applications, Homecoming, Order Cap & Gown

Winter: Plan Graduation Party, Submit Yearbook Photos

Early Spring: Prepare for Prom, Cap & Gown delivered

May 1: College Acceptance Day

Spring: Mail Grad Announcements, Attend end-of-year events

We hope you found this guide helpful! Enjoy the sweetest year of all - senior year!!!


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