Ok, if anything I say is wrong, someone plz correct me, but I'll tell you all I know about the college views/ college process thing.
I think it's safe to say that the college/career search process sort of starts at the end of middle school. Students decide which kind of high school they want to go to: math and science related or liberal arts related. Students have to apply to and pass tests to get into high schools as well (similar to college).
I don't know all the details, but I think high school students choose some colleges depending on their academic level or a special skill (if they want to go to music school, for example…). They have a "center shiken" which is a standardized test sort of like the SATs. But most of the colleges either accept or reject a student depending on these test scores. Now I'm not sure whether students take the test before they choose their colleges or after, and whether there is a test given by each college in addition to the standardized test, but I could ask my cousins or a friend if you need those details.
The actual test taking is called "juken" and since the students that take them are studying right before they do and don't have any free time, they're called "jukensei" (lol). I think this is winter of your junior year (koukou ninensei) and possibly beginning of senior year (koukou sannensei) but I could be mistaken about that. I know for sure that you mail your applications the fall of your senior year. Once the students get the results, they usually don't go to school the last couple months in order to get ready for college and because they really don't need to learn anything else I guess (yeah I was surprised at this too but it's what my mother tells me.....). And I'm sure you know that the school year starts in April whether you're in high school or college.
Sorry that's realy long ^_^;; Don't know if it helped, but hope it did some at least. If you have any specific ques., ask and I'll ask someone who'll probably know lol.