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College Planning Timeline

Although the college application process begins in earnest during your senior year, there are things you can be doing along the way to ensure you're ready to put your best foot forward.

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9th & 10th grade

Fall

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  • Meet With Your School Counselor

    Determine what classes you should take to put yourself in a good position for college.

    Check your class rank and GPA, and don't be afraid to ask questions; your school counselors are a great resource during the college planning process.

  • Get Involved

    Extracurricular activities are an important and fun part of high school. Look for sports, groups and clubs that match your interests, then join!

  • take the asvab to explore career interests

    The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) is one of several questionnaires and tests designed to help you figure out the careers you would excel at and enjoy.

    It is designed to assist all students, whether they're planning on getting a job right out of high school, joining the Military or going to college. The ASVAB is free. Ask your counselor if the test is available at your school

Winter

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  • focus on getting good grades

    It's not too early to work hard and develop good study habits. Your freshman and sophomore grades count toward college admission and scholarships.

  • start thinking about financial aid

    Have a discussion with your parents or guardian about what they think they can afford.

    If your school offers a financial-aid night, attend it together so you can gain insight on ways to save and receive information on what is required to apply for college financial aid. You can also look into local community colleges or adult-education classes on this topic.

Spring

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  • sophmores: take a practice psat

    While sophomore PSAT scores aren't used for college admission, taking the test early can be a good trial run.

    It also gets your name on college mailing lists so you can receive information on a wide range of schools.

  • track your accomplishments

    Keep track of academic and athletic awards, extracurricular accomplishments and community service.

    Your list will come in handy later as you try to remember everything you've done when filling out applications for colleges, loans, grants and scholarships.

  • learn about colleges

    It's never too early to start researching schools. Get familiar with different college options, including ROTC, by searching online.

    If you have older siblings or friends who are already in college, see if you can visit them at their school.

Summer

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  • put thought into your summer work

    While financial pressure often dictates your summer employment, start thinking about how your summer work may look on a college application.

    Seek out work, volunteer or internship opportunities that highlight interests, demonstrate your civic duty or display your willingness to learn.

  • keep learning all summer

    Summer community college or adult-education classes are a great way to explore interests.

    Check with your school counselor to see what's available in your area. For a less structured way to learn, try reading more. Ask a teacher or librarian for book recommendations.

  • chat with college students home for the summer

    Get current students' take on college, especially if they attend a school you're considering.

    Ask questions you don't find in the pamphlets like "What is dorm room living really like?" and "How's the food?"

11th grade

Fall

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  • Meet With Your School Counselor

    Determine what classes you should take to put yourself in a good position for college.

    Check your class rank and GPA, and don't be afraid to ask questions; your school counselors are a great resource during the college planning process.

  • Take the ASVAB to Explore Career Interests

    The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) is one of several questionnaires and tests designed to help figure out which careers you would excel at and enjoy.

    It is designed to assist all students, whether they're planning on getting a job right out of high school, joining the Military or going to college. The ASVAB is free. Ask your counselor if the test is available at your school.

  • Take the PSAT in October

    Not only is it a good way to practice for the SAT, it also qualifies you for the National Merit Scholarship Program.

  • Start Reviewing Colleges

    Look online. Go to college fairs. Speak to college representatives that visit your school. Start to actively learn more about the schools you are interested in.

  • Start Thinking About Financial Aid

    Have a discussion with your parents or guardian about what they think they can afford.

    Bring them to your school's financial-aid night, where you can gain insight on ways to save and information on what is required to apply for college financial aid. You can also look into local community colleges or adult-education classes on this topic.

Winter

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  • Organize Your Spring Testing Schedule

    Find out registration deadlines and the exact dates and times of important tests like the ACT, SAT and SAT Subject Tests.

  • Take Part in Extracurricular Activities

    Colleges like well-rounded students who participate in more than just school, especially if they display consistent involvement or take a leadership role

    Join a sports team, school club or community program. Not only will it look good on your application, it will also offer you an opportunity to learn and grow.

  • Start Visiting Local Colleges

    Plan trips around colleges you are interested in, and visit friends in college and tour nearby campuses.

    Even if you aren’t interested in applying to these schools, you can get to know the differences between each and to get a feel for what you like and dislike.

Spring

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  • Take an SAT or ACT Practice Test

    Use an SAT or ACT prep book to experience what it's like to take a test from beginning to end.

    This will help identify subjects where you can improve.

  • Explore Scholarship Opportunities

    Scholarships are a great way to save money, but they can be hard to find. Talk to your school counselor and search online.

    The sooner you identify scholarships you qualify for, the more prepared you will be when it's time to apply for financial aid.

  • Set Up Your Senior Class Schedule

    Challenge yourself. Meet with your counselor and review possible honors and AP classes.

    Colleges pay attention to senior year courses and grades, so set yourself up to stand out.

  • Reach Out to Recommendation Writers

    You are going to need recommendation letters when you apply to schools in the fall, so beat the rush by contacting those writers (teachers, coaches, mentors) you want to ask now.

    You'll give them time to prepare, and it's one less thing for you to worry about next fall.

  • Put Thought Into Your Summer Work

    While financial pressure often dictates your summer employment, start thinking about how your summer work may look on a college application.

    Seek out work, volunteer or internship opportunities that highlight interests, demonstrate your civic duty or display your willingness to learn.

Summer

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  • Visit the Colleges You are Seriously Considering

    Go to your top five choices, if possible, and learn as much as you can.

    Take the campus tour, but don't be afraid to wander around by yourself. Sit in on a class of a subject that interests you. Speak with teachers, students, school admissions counselors and financial-aid staff. If you can't visit in person, look for virtual tours and college forums online.

  • Take Summer Classes

    Whether you're taking summer classes through a local community organization or at an accredited college, you can enhance your transcript and your chances of getting into a competitive college.

    Talk to your high school counselor to find out what classes you should consider.

  • Start Working on College Applications

    Request applications from the colleges to which you want to apply.

    Compose rough drafts of the essays you will need and go over them with a teacher. You want your essay to be flawless and error-free come actual submission time.

  • Chat with College Students Home for the Summer

    Get current students' take on college, especially if they attend a school you are considering. Ask them questions you don't find in the pamphlets, like "What is dorm room living really like?"

12th grade

Fall

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  • Continue Making Campus Visits

    If you have not yet visited the top colleges you're considering, make arrangements. Fall is an especially good time to visit a college since classes are in session.

    If you cannot visit a school, look online for virtual tours or college student forums.

  • Mark Your Calendar to Keep Track of Deadlines

    Your senior year is going to be a busy one. Stay organized by marking your calendar in advance with important dates like financial-aid seminars, early- and regular-decision application deadlines, test dates and scholarship deadlines.

  • Meet With Your School Counselor

    Make sure the class schedule you have set up for your senior year continues to put you in a good position for college.

    Allow ample time ahead of deadlines, discuss the colleges you're considering and any transcripts, score reports or letters you need sent. Bring a list that includes your name so that your school counselor can remember your requests easily.

  • Make a Final List of Your Top College Choices

    Decide on five to 10 prospective college choices.

    It's OK to include schools that may be a challenge to get into, just make sure to also include schools you can get into easily. Get an application and financial-aid form from each. Don't forget about the fees associated with each application; this may alter the number you fill out.

  • Consider Applying Early

    Submitting Early Decision or Early Action to a college allows you to find out if you have been accepted to a school earlier than regular admission notifications.

    However, these applications are due earlier, so get started right away; most deadlines are in October and November.

  • Complete Your College Essays

    The college essay is an important part of the application process. Have a teacher or parent proofread your essay for mistakes and provide feedback.

  • Take the ACT/SAT

    Register and take the ACT, SAT or SAT Subject Tests, depending on what's required by the schools to which you wish to apply.

    Whatever test it is, make sure to request that your results get sent to the schools of your choice.

  • Gather Your Letters of Recommendation

    If you haven't requested them already, now's the time to start approaching teachers and counselors for recommendation letters or to follow up with those from whom you've made requests.

  • Finish and Submit All of Your College Applications

    Mail in or submit your application online.

    Follow up with your school counselor to make sure they have sent. Everything that's required, such as transcripts and test scores. You want everything in before the beginning of winter.

  • Look Into Financial Aid

    You should talk with your parents or guardian about what they can afford and start learning more about financial-aid opportunities for which you qualify.

    Take your own finances into consideration. Talk to your counselor for information and see if there are any local financial-aid events, such as school-sponsored seminars.

  • Follow Up on Scholarship Opportunities

    Finish and submit any scholarship submissions you're working on.

    Also, check with the schools you're applying to and find out if they have any special scholarships for which you may qualify. These can be a great way to save on tuition.

Winter

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  • Contact Colleges to Make Sure They Received Your Application

    Make sure that each college received the necessary materials: test scores, transcripts, application form and recommendations.

    In some cases, you can check the status online, or you may call or email the admissions office.

  • If Applicable: File Your Financial Aid Documents

    If you would like to receive any federal financial aid, fill out your FAFSA and submit it as soon as possible after October 1.

    You should also find out if any of your schools require the PROFILE and if so, file it online.

  • Submit Midyear Grade Reports

    Some colleges request that you send your senior-year, first-semester grades as part of the application process. Have your counselor send these out to the schools that require them.

  • Evaluate Early Decision or Early Action Responses

    If you have been accepted Early Decision, you will need to withdraw your applications from all other schools.

    If you have been accepted Early Action, you can either choose to accept now or wait to receive responses from the other schools to which you applied.

Spring

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  • Review Your Student Aid Report

    If you submitted a FAFSA, about one month after you filed (three to five days if you filed online), you will receive your Student Aid Report or SAR.

    This document tells you how much your family is expected to pay for your education. Review the document for errors and discuss the contribution amount listed with your parents.

  • Check for Admission Decisions in the Mail and Online

    Admission letters should start arriving between March and April, followed by financial-aid award letters.

    Make sure you thoroughly read each decision document, as sometimes they require action on your part.

  • Provide Documents for Financial-Aid Verification

    The federal government selects 30 percent of all FAFSA financial-aid applications for verification, which means a college will require you to submit additional documents.

    These include signed copies of your tax returns, your parents'/guardian's tax returns, your W-2s and your parents'/guardian's W-2s. Send these in immediately.

  • Compare the Different Financial-Aid Packages

    Financial aid may be a large part of your final decision, so go over each school's package thoroughly with your parents or guardian.

    Talk to a financial-aid officer at the college if you have questions or if you feel the package isn't enough and want to explore additional financing plans.

  • Make a Campus Visit to Your Final College Before Accepting

    If you haven't already made a visit, you'll want to fully prepare yourself to make an educated final decision by first experiencing what it's like on campus.

  • Make Your Final Decision

    Choose the college that's right for you by May 1. Mail in the corresponding enrollment form, deposit check and signed financial-aid package.

  • Inform the Schools You Won't Be Attending

    Once you've decided on the school you want to attend, make sure to inform the other schools that accepted you that you won't be attending.This frees up a spot for another student.

  • Take AP Exams

    Although AP exams may come after you've decided on a school, a good score can earn you college credit for any AP classes you took during high school.

  • Finish Enrollment Papers

    Upon accepting a school's offer, you'll receive a package with information on classes, orientation, housing and more.

    Complete any forms included in this package and submit them by the deadline

Summer

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  • Send Your Final High School Transcript

    Many colleges require a final high school transcript. If this is the case for you, contact your high school counselor to make sure your transcript gets sent.

  • Say Thank You

    Thank anyone who was especially helpful during the college application process. Showing your appreciation in person or with a formal letter will ensure your supporters' testimony for years to come.

  • Take Summer Classes

    Summer classes can help prepare you for your upcoming college-level courses, or provide a jump-start on required classes

    Some schools even accept students on the condition that they complete summer school before beginning their first semester. Look into the credit transfer policy, and talk to your high school counselor to find out what programs are available in your area.

  • Prepare for Your First Year at College

    Sign up for orientation. Figure out where you'll be living. Purchase items you'll need for your first year.

    Make travel plans if your school is far away. And schedule your first-semester courses.

  • Enjoy Your Friends and Family

    Make sure you stop and appreciate those around you. You want to make the most of the time you have before heading off to school.