Library » College Planning Timeline

College Planning Timeline

Now that you've made the decision to attend college, don't sit back and wait until the end of your high school career to put this goal into motion. There are many things you can do right now to prepare for college. Use the following timeline of suggested activities, objectives, and strategies to help you turn your dream of a college education into a reality.  


  • Take a college preparatory curriculum that includes plenty of writing classes. Also, take a language class, as many colleges require their incoming freshman to have a certain number of language credits.
  • Get good grades. This will ensure you a spot in your school's honor roll as well as a higher class rank—college admission departments view both favorably.
  • Get involved in extracurricular activities. Join a school club or sports team, or run for student government. Not only will this provide you an avenue for meeting new friends, but you'll also prove to college admissions officers that you were able to successfully balance academics with outside interests.
  • Get to know your school counselor. Review your class schedule, and decide which classes to take next semester. Inform your counselor of your plans to attend college.
  • Start thinking about careers that might interest you. Sign up for a job-shadowing program to learn more about a specific career. You can also learn more about career options by visiting the U.S. Department of Labor Web site,

  • Interested in attending a state school? A community college? A private college? A religious institution? Determine what you want and don't want from your college experience and begin assembling a list of colleges that match your criteria. Visit CollegeBoard's Web site, to search for colleges by area, size, or other affiliation.
  • Read, read, read! You'll increase your vocabulary and thank yourself you did come SAT or ACT time. Visit the American Library Association's Web site

      for a sample of suggested reading lists appropriate for your grade level.
  • Start saving money for college. You may still be too young to hold a part-time job, but you can start adding to your college fund with money earned from babysitting, doing household chores, and from allowance and gifts. Show your parents you are serious about helping fulfill your college dream.
  • Start building your extracurricular background as a means to make yourself well rounded when it comes to applying to colleges and seeking financial aid. For example, if you hope to win an athletic scholarship, now is a good time to join a school sport. Enroll in art or dance classes if you hope to win a performance arts scholarship. In addition, community service always looks good to admissions and financial aid officials.



  • At the beginning of the school year, ask your guidance counselor to provide you with registration information and testing dates for the PLAN   and PSAT

    These tests will help you prepare for the ACT and SAT, respectively—college entrance tests that are used by colleges and universities to gauge admission.
  • Ask your guidance counselor to review your class schedule and suggest any necessary classes for next semester.
  • Enroll in Advanced Placement (AP) classes if you are eligible to do so. AP classes are beneficial for two reasons: they provide the chance for a higher grade point average, and possible college credit. For more information on AP classes, visit
  • Get a part-time job or volunteer—both are great ways to earn community service points and make valuable contacts.
  • Around December, you should receive your PLAN and/or PSAT scores. Meet with your counselor to review your scores, and explore ways to improve on them.
  • Discuss college costs with your family. Are they able to help financially? Have they enrolled in a college savings plan?


  • Begin researching colleges by attending college fairs, surfing the Internet, and by word of mouth. Keep yourself organized by starting a filing system for each college's brochure. Visit the Web site of the National Association for College Admission Counseling  for a list of college fairs near you.
  • Keep a file to record your talents. Athletes should keep newspaper clippings of game reviews, artists should have a portfolio of their work, and writers should keep a file of their published work.
  • Register for SAT Subject Tests. Subjects Tests center on different academic subjects such as math, English, foreign language, and sciences such as biology and chemistry. Colleges use the Subject Tests as another factor in admissions and to advise students about course selection. Testing dates and subjects vary, so be sure to check with your school's guidance office for the latest dates and testing centers. Visit   for more information.


  • Read, read, read!
  • Sign up for summer classes that cover subjects that you find particularly challenging. Many community colleges offer classes to high school students who need to hone certain skills, such as math or writing.
  • Visit your local library to access reference books and study guides that will help you prepare for college entrance exams.



  • Develop a short list of schools that you would like to attend. Discuss the list, as well as your intended major of study and future career goals, with your counselor. Can your counselor recommend any specific colleges to help you achieve these goals? (Perhaps a well-known art school, a top journalism program, or a college known for its excellent faculty and internship program in your field of study.) Also, have your counselor review the classes you plan on taking this year. Make sure you are on target academically.
  • If you are eligible for Advanced Placement classes, take them to boost your GPA, impress college admission departments, and hopefully, earn some college credit!
  • Attend college fairs and financial aid information meetings, which are usually scheduled at this time of the year. Many times you can meet with college representatives who can provide more information on admission requirements and available financial aid. Visit  for a list of college fairs in your area.
  • Beware of financial aid information meetings that are not conducted by college financial aid administrators or high schools. Some companies host these fairs and advertise them as "free," but then ask for payment to secure their services for additional assistance in getting through the financial aid process. In most cases, you can get all of the information about financial aid that you need free from a college financial aid officer or high school guidance office. Spending money for this type of assistance is generally not necessary.
  • Begin researching the ins and outs of financial aid. Become familiar with the different types of loans, scholarships, and other forms of financial funding. The Student Guide, which provides an overview of financial aid from the federal government, is a great place to start. You can download a copy by visiting
      or order a print copy by calling 800–433–3243.
  • Continue researching all possible scholarships. You can use a scholarship search engine such as the one provided by or ask your guidance counselor to direct you to scholarships for which you may be qualified. You should also discuss financial aid with your family. Do your parents' employers or any organizations they support offer scholarships or other financial aid? (Your parents can check with their company benefits office or the organizational headquarters regarding possible sources of college funding.) (Note: In most cases, it is a good idea to steer clear of fee-based scholarship services. A wealth of free information on financial aid is available on the Internet, through professional associations and colleges and universities, through your guidance counselors, and at the library. Beware of fee-based scholarship services that do not provide what they promise, as well as other scholarship scams as you conduct your research. Visit for more information on how to avoid scholarship scams.)
  • Stay focused on your studies.
  • Stay involved with your extracurricular activities.


  • Register for the SAT and/or the ACT These exams are offered throughout the school year. Make sure to allow enough time to properly study for them. If you are unsure about how well you are prepared for these exams, you may want to enroll for a review course offered by many organizations nationwide. Such courses will identify your weak subjects, review trouble areas, and offer practice exams. One major test-preparation organization is Kaplan, Inc. Visit its Web site, for more information.


  • Use this time wisely by scheduling campus visits to colleges that you'd like to attend. Call ahead and arrange for an on-campus tour, where you can sit in on a class, stay in a dorm, tour libraries and other facilities, and meet financial aid and admissions officials. Don't forget to tour the campus neighborhood—can you see yourself living here for the next four years?
  • Athletes planning to play sports at National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)-affiliated colleges should check with the association regarding adding their name to the NCAA Initial-Eligibility Clearinghouse, which makes student-athletes' grades and games statistics known to colleges throughout the United States. Visit

      for more information.
  • Continue to narrow your list of colleges. Visit CollegeBoard's Web site, to search for colleges by area, size, or other affiliation.


  • Get a summer job. It's a great way to save money for college and gain practical work experience as well. If you plan on becoming a nurse, perhaps you can get a part-time job working in a hospital or nursing home. If you want to be a lawyer, you can work as a clerk at a law office. You get the idea.
  • Arrange tours of colleges on your list that you have not yet visited.
  • Investigate military options as a way to fund your college education.
  • You may want to take a writing workshop to hone your college application essay-writing skills. Check to see if your local community college, park district, or library offers such courses. Teen posts college essays written by students all over the United States at its Web site, .    Read them to get inspiration for your own work. You may also want to visit the Web sites of colleges you are considering—they often post the best essays of the past year.


Be prepared for a busy year! Not only will you have to stay on top of your class work and exams, but you'll be overwhelmed with the details, paperwork, and deadlines of getting your college applications and financial aid forms turned in on time. Are you ready?


  • Inform your counselor of your final college choices. Make a checklist of what each college needs—transcripts, application, letters of recommendation, essays, etc.—in order to process your application.
  • Contact schools directly to request their applications. Does the college accept the Common Application (which allows you to apply to nearly 300 colleges with one application)? If so, log on to to download a copy. Note deadlines for each school, as well as special documents needed for the Common Application.
  • Obtain a copy of your official school transcripts. Review and make any necessary corrections.
  • Register for the SAT and/or the ACT exams, if necessary.
  • Aspiring college athletes should begin to send out athletic packages containing game tapes, clippings, statistics, and a schedule of upcoming home games to college coaches.
  • Ask your teachers, employers, or coaches for letters of recommendation. Give them plenty of time (at least three weeks) to write their letters.
  • Begin writing your application essays.

Late Fall/Winter

  • Submit completed applications for consideration for early admission.
  • Meet with your family to discuss the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) process. Organize all of the financial information that you will need to submit with the application. You may want to ask your parents to file their income tax from the past year as soon as possible. Visit for more information.
  • Submit any remaining college applications before winter break


  • Submit your completed FAFSA as soon after January 1 as possible.
  • Register for the SAT Subject Tests

      if necessary.
  • Meet with your counselor regarding possible scholarships and other financial aid possibilities.
  • Keep tabs on your applications. Send additional information, if necessary.
  • Monitor the status of your FAFSA and Student Aid Report (SAR). The SAR should be available within a month following your FAFSA submission. Use your PIN to access your FAFSA information. Contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 800–433–3243 if you have any questions.
  • Continue to research possible scholarships. Complete all scholarship applications.
  • Study! Study! Study! It may be tempting to sit back and coast the rest of your senior year, but colleges will monitor any sudden changes in your grades.


  • Wait for letters of college acceptance.
  • Wait for letters announcing your scholarship and grant awards. Continue to apply for scholarships that have later deadlines.
  • Review the financial aid package and award offers you receive. The amount of financial assistance you receive from each college and government sources should factor into your final college choice.
  • Many schools mandate May 1 as the final day to accept an offer of admission. Complete any paperwork that may be needed to finalize your acceptance. Make your first school deposit at this time, if necessary.
  • Notify other schools of your choice.
  • Some students are accepted by colleges on a probationary basis. If this is the case for you, speak with an admissions representative from your college to learn what criteria must be met before the start of the school year. It could be as simple as keeping up your GPA or taking classes during the summer to boost your knowledge of a particular subject.
  • Finalize receipt of scholarships, grants, and other sources of financial aid.
  • Be aware of the final tuition amount, including fees, housing costs, books, etc. Take advantage of a school payment plan, if available.
  • Graduate from high school!


  • Complete information needed to apply for housing, roommate assignment, and school orientation.
  • Get to know your roommate via e-mail or a phone call.
  • Work part time to save money for college expenses.
  • Enjoy your last summer before starting college!
  • Start making a list of things you will need to take to school.
  • Start packing.
  • Head to college! Good luck, have fun, and continue to work hard in your studies.

"College Planning Timeline." Ferguson's Career Guidance Center. Facts On File, Inc. Web. 22 Oct. 2013. <