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College Planning Timeline

Once you have decided to attend college, don't sit back and wait until the end of your high school career to put this goal into motion. You can do many things 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.

FRESHMAN YEAR

  • Take a college preparatory curriculum that includes plenty of writing classes. ACT recommends that high school students take the following coursework to prepare for college: four years of English; three years of math (including algebra I, geometry, and algebra II); and three years of science (including biology, chemistry, and physics); and three years of social studies. Also, study one or more foreign languages, as many colleges require their incoming freshman to have a certain number of language credits.
  • Earn excellent 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. CollegesofDistinction.com suggests that students ask their counselors the following questions: “How many credits in each subject do I need in order to graduate on time? Am I in a good enough place to consider taking AP courses? Are there any courses I can take for college credit? If so, what are the requirements, and how can I find out whether the credits will transfer? What is a realistic goal for my cumulative GPA? Am I a good candidate to graduate with honors? How often should I check in to make sure I’m on the right track?”
  • Start thinking about careers that might interest you. Sign up for a job-shadowing program to learn more about a specific occupation. You can also learn more about career options by visiting the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook Web site, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/home.htm. Take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test https://www.todaysmilitary.com/joining-eligibility/asvab-test which will help you better understand your skills as they relate to a specific career path. The ASVAB, which is free, is for everyone—not just those who are planning to enter the military. Ask your counselor if the test is available at your school.
  • 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 The College Board's Web site, https://www.collegeboard.org to search for colleges by area, size, or other criteria. If a sibling or friend is already attending college, visit him or her to get an introduction to college life.
  • 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 https://libguides.ala.org/recommended-reading for a sample of suggested reading lists appropriate for your grade level.
  • Learn about the college admissions and financial aid processes. If your school offers a financial-aid night, be sure to attend to expand your knowledge. You can also visit https://www.myfuture.com/college/paying/paying-for-college to learn more about financial aid.
  • 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.
  • • Begin investigating the National Collegiate Athletic Association requirements http://www.ncaa.org/student-athletes/future if you plan to play college sports.

SOPHOMORE YEAR

Fall

  • At the beginning of the school year, school counselor to provide you with registration information and testing dates for the PreACT https://www.act.org/content/act/en/products-and-services/preact/preact-classroom.html and PSAT https://collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/psat-nmsqt-psat-10 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. Keep in mind that a growing number of colleges and universities have gone test-optional, which means that you do not need to take the ACT and/or SAT and submit your scores to be considered for enrollment. Check with your target schools to see if they are test-optional so that you can decide whether or not you need to take the ACT and/or SAT.
  • Ask your school counselor to review your class schedule and suggest any necessary classes for next semester. Work hard to build a strong relationship with your counselor and some of your favorite teachers. They can be of great assistance to you as you progress toward college, and some may even serve as mentors.
  • Keep working hard in your classes. When you apply to college, admissions officers will look at your freshman year grades, but they will pay more attention to the grades you achieved starting in sophomore year through your senior year. Colleges want to see improvement in your sophomore year grades—this is known as an upward grade trend.
  • 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 http://apcentral.collegeboard.com.
  • 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 PreACT and/or PSAT scores. Meet with your counselor to review your scores, and explore ways to improve on them.
  • Continue to learn more about the college admissions and financial aid processes. Discuss college costs with your family. Are they able to help financially? Have they enrolled in a college savings plan?

Winter

  • 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 brochures or other information that you downloaded from its Web site. Visit the Web site of the National Association for College Admission Counseling https://collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/sat-subject-tests for a list of college fairs near you.
  • Keep a paper or digital 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 https://collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/sat-subject-tests for more information.

Summer

  • 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. Additionally, take classes via online learning platforms such as Coursera, edX, and Udacity.
  • Participate in career exploration programs at colleges and universities in your area. These programs for high school students help you to learn more about a specific field (such as engineering, computer programming, forensic science, or the arts), meet people who share the same interests, and learn what life is like on a college campus. In some programs, you can even earn college credit—which will put you at an advantage once you actually begin school. Residential (i.e., you live on campus) and nonresidential (i.e., you return home each day after completing the session) are available. Some programs are free; others charge a fee (but provide scholarships or other financial aid to students).
  • Visit your local library to access reference books and study guides that will help you prepare for college entrance exams, or check out your library’s online resources.
  • Talk to friends or siblings who are home from college for the summer. Ask them questions that you might be afraid to ask college admissions officers such as What’s dorm life like? or Is the campus safe? Why or why not?
  • Begin learning about the college application essay. You won’t have to write one until early in senior year, but it never hurts to understand the process, read a few essay examples, and even put a few ideas on paper just to a head start.
  • There are many things you can do right now to prepare for college. The steps you take to during your junior and senior years will play a key role in whether you get accepted to your dream college, obtain financial aid, and otherwise enjoy a smooth path to college life. Use the following timeline of suggested activities, objectives, and strategies to help you turn your dream of a college education into a reality.

    JUNIOR YEAR

    Fall

    • 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 http://apcentral.collegeboard.com 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 https://www.nacacfairs.org 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. Federal Student Aid https://studentaid.gov which provides an overview of financial aid from the federal government, is a great place to start.
    • Continue researching all possible scholarships. You can use a scholarship search engine or ask your school 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 school 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 https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0082-scholarship-and-financial-aid-scams and http://www.finaid.org/scholarships/scams.phtml for more information on how to avoid scholarship scams.)
    • Stay focused on your studies.
    • Stay involved with your extracurricular activities.

    Winter

    • Register for the SAT https://collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/sat and/or the ACT http://www.act.org 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, http://www.kaplan.com for more information. Additionally, the online learning platform Khan Academy has partnered with the College Board (the administrator of the SAT) to offer free practice tests, essay prompts, and answer keys for all of the SATs that the College Board. Visit https://www.khanacademy.org/sat for more information. The ACT offers free test-prep resources at http://www.act.org/content/act/en/products-and-services/the-act/test-preparation.html. Keep in mind that more than 1,000 colleges and universities are now test-optional, meaning that you do not need to submit ACT/SAT scores when you apply. If you have identified colleges that you might want to attend, check with these schools to see if they are test optional. If so, you can skip taking the ACT/SAT, although these tests are required in some states.

    Spring

    • Use this time wisely by scheduling campus visits to your target colleges. 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 Eligibility Center, which makes student-athletes' grades and games statistics known to colleges throughout the United States. Visit https://web3.ncaa.org/ecwr3 for more information.
    • Continue to narrow your list of colleges. Visit The College Board’s Web site, https://www.collegeboard.org to search for colleges by area, size, or other affiliation.

    Summer

    • 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. Visit TodaysMilitary.com for more information.
    • 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 Ink.com posts college essays written by students all over the United States at its Web site, https://www.teenink.com/college_guide/college_essays. 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. For example, Johns Hopkins University posts samples of “essays that worked,” at https://apply.jhu.edu/application-process/essays-that-worked.
    • Participate in career exploration programs at colleges and universities in your area. These programs for high school students help you to learn more about a specific field (such as engineering, computer programming, forensic science, or the arts), meet people who share the same interests, and learn what life is like on a college campus. In some programs, you can even earn college credit—which will put you at an advantage once you actually begin school. Residential (i.e., you live on campus) and nonresidential (i.e., you return home each day after completing the session) are available. Some programs are free; others charge a fee, but provide scholarships or other financial aid to students.

    SENIOR 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?

    Fall

    • In late summer or early fall, 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 http://www.fafsa.ed.gov for more information.
    • 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 http://www.commonapp.org to download a copy. Note deadlines for each school, as well as special documents needed for the Common Application. The following organizations also offers applications in which you can apply to multiple schools: Coalition for College https://www.coalitionforcollegeaccess.org/our-members and Common Black College Application https://commonblackcollegeapp.com State public college systems with a large number of schools may also use one application. For example, the University of California System has its own application for its 10 campuses.
    • Obtain a copy of your official school transcripts. Review and make any necessary corrections.
    • Register for the SAT http://www.collegeboard.com and/or the ACT http://www.act.org exams, if necessary.
    • Aspiring college athletes should begin to send out athletic packages containing game videos, 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.
    • The FAFSA becomes available on October 1 each year. Be sure to submit your completed FAFSA as soon as possible after that date because aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.

    Late Fall/Winter

    • Submit completed applications for consideration for early admission.
    • 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.
    • Submit any remaining college applications before winter break

    January

    • Register for the SAT Subject Tests https://collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/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.
    • 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.

    Spring

    • 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!

    Summer

    • Complete information needed to apply for housing, roommate assignment, and school orientation.
    • Get to know your roommate via e-mail, a FaceTime session, a phone call, or an in-person meeting.
    • 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.
 
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