Planning for College

Your Four Year Plan:

Planning Ahead for College and College Admissions

Freshmen | Sophomores | Juniors | Seniors

Freshmen

Goals for the year:

  • Do your best in a college prep or honors curriculum
  • Study hard and do well in school – From now on your grades will count toward college and will show up on your permanent record
  • When possible, write papers, do projects, etc. about college
  • Enter essay and speech contests for scholarships
  • Get involved in extracurricular activities
  • Volunteer in your community
  • Explore careers and job opportunities in those careers
  • Learn good keyboarding and computer skills
  • Start to attend events on college campuses (plays, concerts, sporting events, etc.)
  • Get to know your school counselor and let them get to know you and your goals, career aspirations, schools you are considering, etc.

Fall

  • Review your schedule to make sure you are enrolled in challenging classes that will help you prepare for college. Selective schools prefer four years of English, history, math, science, and a foreign language.
  • Meet your counselor and take part in the lessons that she has organized for you. These will include interest inventories that will tell you a lot about the type of work you may want to do in the future.
  • Learn to be more organized. Start a calendar with important dates and deadlines.
  • Get involved with extracurricular activities and sports.
  • Remember to buckle down early, since even your ninth-grade A’s (or D’s) will be taken into account.

Winter

  • Learn about college costs and how financial aid works. Use our website to gain all the information you will need.
  • Use the College Savings Calculator to see how much money you will need for college, whether you are on track to save enough, and what you need to do to reach your goal. Talk to your parents about financing college.
  • Find out about college firsthand from college friends who are home for the holidays.

Spring

  • Make sure you are signing up for college prep courses. Make sure you challenge yourself.
  • Look for a great summer opportunity: job, internship, or volunteer position for your college resume.
  • Go to college fairs in your area.

Summer

  • Finalize your summer plans. Do something productive that will gain you experiences that you can use in a college essay or on your college resume.

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Sophomores

Goals for the year:

  • Take the PSAT Test (October)
  • Use the Internet and start looking at college web sites
  • Start attending college fairs
  • Start a bank account
  • Save money for college (you will never have too much)
  • Get involved in extracurricular activities
  • Volunteer in your community
  • Explore careers and job opportunities in those careers
  • Study hard and do well in school – Your grades all count toward college and will show up on your permanent record
  • Start to attend events on college campuses (plays, concerts, sporting events, etc.)
  • Get to know your school counselor and let them get to know you and your goals, career aspirations, schools you are considering, etc.
  • “Job shadow” someone who does what you think you might like to do (that means to follow them around for a day)

Fall

  • Review your schedule to make sure you are enrolled in challenging classes that will help you prepare for college. Colleges prefer four years of English, history, math, science, and a foreign language.
  • Use College Search to find out the required courses and tests of colleges that you might be interested in attending.
  • Keep up with your calendar of important dates and deadlines.
  • Sign up for the PSAT, which is given in October. Ask your counselor which date is offered at your school.
  • Stay involved with your extracurricular activities.

Winter

  • Discuss your PSAT results with your guidance counselor, and figure out how to make improvements if needed. While it’s probably too early for an SAT-prep class, you may want to do more reading in your free time, take more challenging courses, or practice on old tests.
  • Find out about college firsthand from college friends who are home for the holidays.

Spring

  • Sign up for college preparatory courses. Consider AP courses.
  • Look for another great summer opportunity: a job, internship, or volunteer position.
  • Check with your counselor and search online for summer school programs for high school students at colleges.
  • Go to college fairs in your area. College fairs can be a great way to “see” many schools at once. Look here, or talk to your guidance counselor to find fairs near you. Some colleges also offer online tours on their websites.
  • Look into National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) requirements if you want to participate in sports in college. And consider whether your interests match with your college plans: Do schools that interest you have teams in your sport? Do you have a chance of playing on them?

Summer

  • Plan to visit college campuses to get a feel for your options. Start with colleges near you.
  • Finalize your summer plans. Do something productive that will gain you experiences that you can use in a college essay or on your college resume.
  • Draw up a list of college majors that you think might intrigue you, and review your four-year plan with those majors in mind.

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Juniors

Goals for the year:

This year’s academic record will go a long way toward either helping or hurting your chances of gaining admission to your schools of choice. You can make up ground if you have been slacking and you can keep up the hard work you have already exhibited. This is the LAST full set of grades a college will see while deciding on your future. Make it a good one.

  • Take the PSAT in October (this one is to qualify for National Merit Scholarship Competition).
  • Take the ACT and/or SAT during the spring semester. That way you will have at least one score going into your senior year. This also puts you on the mailing list and gives significant information to the schools you are considering.
  • Research possible colleges and request information from them
  • Visit college campuses (campus tour, visit with advisors/faculty, pick up admission packet)
  • Take solid elective courses (extra math, science, foreign language, Arts or computers, etc.)
  • Talk to friends and family to gather ideas on colleges
  • Take on leadership positions in the organizations you are involved in
  • Ask your school counselor for suggestions as to colleges you should consider but might not have thought of on your own (based on major, scholarships, location, etc.
  • Continue to explore careers and job opportunities

As a junior, there are important steps you can take now to get ready for college. Planning for college may seem overwhelming at times, but it doesn’t have to be hard if you take it one step at a time.

Fall

  • Get serious about your schoolwork if you haven’t already; junior-year grades are extremely important.
  • Sign up early to take the PSAT in October.
  • Explore your college options. Start with you: Make lists of your abilities, preferences, and personal qualities. You should have learned a lot of this already with your guidance counselor.
  • Talk to your parents about any limits — geographic or financial — they may set on where you attend college. It may affect your decision on where to apply.
  • List things you may want to study and do in college. Jumpstart your college planning by reading about majors and careers.
  • Use a college search engine or guidebook in the guidance library to find colleges with the right characteristics for you to be successful.
  • Start thinking about financial aid. Talk to your counselor about your college plans and attend college night and financial aid night with your parents. Use financial aid calculators to estimate your aid eligibility and college costs.

Winter

  • Plan your spring testing schedule. You can take either the SAT Reasoning Test -or- up to three SAT Subject Tests on one test day. Plan your testing schedule carefully if you want to take both types of SAT. See the SAT schedule of test dates and register online for the SAT.
  • Review your PSAT results with your counselor and decide whether you’d benefit from an SAT prep course or test-prep software. You can also improve your scores by practicing on previously administered exams. Your PSAT/NMSQT Score Report arrives in December. Use it to improve your skills and prepare for the SAT. Practice here.

Spring

  • Get ready for the SAT. Visit the SAT Preparation Center™ to take a free full-length official practice test and get a score and skills report. You can even sign up for the SAT Question of the Day for daily practice.
  • Explore colleges. Start visiting local colleges: large, small, public, and private. Get a feel for what feels right for you. Develop a list of 15–20 colleges that interest you and discuss them with your parents and your counselor.
  • Prepare for AP Exams. Do well on AP Exams and you will receive credit or placement at most colleges.
  • Review next year’s schedule requests with your counselor. Challenge yourself with honors and AP classes and stick with sequences you’ve begun, in the languages, for example.
  • Plan summer activities early. Enrich yourself by volunteering, getting an interesting job or internship, or signing up for special summer learning programs.

Summer

  • Keep your momentum up this summer. Visit colleges. Take campus tours and, at colleges you are serious about, schedule interviews with admissions counselors.
  • Request applications from colleges to which you will apply. Check important dates; some universities have early dates or rolling admissions. Find out important Financial Aid application timelines or you may be sorry.

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Seniors

Fall

Plan to work really hard this year. These grades will be on your transcript. If necessary, register to retake the SAT or ACT. If the SAT II Subject Tests are required by your colleges, sign up for those, too.

Review your final list of colleges with your counselor, and start gathering applications. Look into online applications posted on college websites that could save you money (along with a last-minute trip to the post office). To see if your colleges and universities accept the common application, go to the Common Application Website (look in Member Colleges). Once you have received the application forms, begin working on the essays. Thinking about applying early? You need to decide soon.

Talk with your counselor about college application deadlines. Some state schools have November deadlines. If you want to take the SAT or ACT tests again, sign up now. The December administration might be your last chance. Mail early-action or early decision applications. Request that your transcripts and test results be sent to colleges. Continue researching scholarships. Begin assembling documents for financial aid applications. Visit schools you still haven’t checked out (and consider arranging an overnight stay in a dorm).

Pull Your Applications Together

  • Narrow your list of colleges to between 5 and 10 and review it with your counselor. Get an application and financial aid info from each. Visit as many as possible.
  • Make a master calendar and note:
    • Test dates, fees, and deadlines
    • College application due dates
    • Required financial aid applications and their deadlines
    • Recommendations, transcripts, and other necessary materials
    • Your high school’s deadlines for application requests, such as your transcripts

Early Fall

Gather applications to the schools you are considering (note deadlines for admission, scholarships, housing, etc.)

  • Sit down with everyone who has a stake in your college decision and solicit their input. Listen to what everyone has to say
  • Line up people to write letters of recommendation (choose people who actually know you and who you are as a person). Give them plenty of time to write the letter(s)
  • Get scholarship information (contact names, addresses, applications, etc.) from someone who graduated a year ahead of you and received several scholarships.
  • Get to know the admission criteria for your top schools. Know where you stand in relation to those requirements and work toward changing what you can if you need to.
  • Take the ACT/SAT
  • Apply for admission (if seeking early admission)
  • Go stay with friends who are in college. Find out what they like and dislike.

Mid-Fall

  • Talk to your school counselor about local scholarships and get the applications. Keep checking back for information on the latest scholarships!
  • Take AP/SAT II tests that you need if applicable.
  • Apply for admission (if not seeking early admission/decision)
  • Apply for scholarships before Christmas break (verify the arrival of your application, transcripts, etc.)

Early Spring

  • Attend a financial aid workshop
  • Apply for financial aid (as soon after Jan. 1 as possible)

As Soon as You Choose a School

  • Apply for housing
  • Get familiar with your college and what you will need when you get there.

Learn about:

  • Housing options (on-campus, off-campus, greek, etc.)
  • Course selection/scheduling
  • Do you need a car?
  • Do you need a bike?
  • Should you buy your own computer? Desktop or laptop?

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