If you're planning to go to college after you graduate from high school, you may find yourself overwhelmed as you try to prepare for next year and enjoy this one at the same time. The timeline below can help you make sure you do both well.
All Year Long
No matter where you are in the process, a few things should remain constant from now until you head off for move-in day.
- Organization is key. You'll have a lot of paper and deadlines to deal with. Keep it together with a frequently updated calendar and separate folders or binders for each school you're considering.
- Enjoy your time with family and high school friends. Have fun and relax once in a while. If you need help, ask your friends and family for advice — they know you best, after all.
- Meet people! One of the reasons new college freshmen get anxious is that they aren't sure how to meet new people. Use this year to get comfortable introducing yourself to and making small talk with strangers.
- Keep your priorities straight. Even after you're accepted into a college, your grades and behavior may affect your admission and scholarship opportunities.
- Prepare for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) so you can file shortly after October 1. Get your FSA ID, a user name and password that you'll use to sign the FAFSA, and start gathering the required information.
- Now is the time to act if you need to improve your grades or become more involved in volunteering, extracurriculars or a job related to your career choice.
- Take the ACT or SAT if you haven't yet or want to try to improve your previous score.
- Finalize your list of potential colleges.
- Draft essays and collect recommendations for college applications.
- Fill out the Common App if several of the colleges on your list accept it.
- Start researching scholarship and grant opportunities.
- Visit your final choices of schools to help you narrow down your choices.
- Take dual enrollment courses to earn college credit before you graduate.
- Include a “safety school” or two in your application process. These are schools you know will accept you if you don't get into your top choices.
- Submit applications and letters of recommendation to your final list of schools.
- Keep looking for scholarships and applications.
- Talk to your parents about financial aid and how much they expect to contribute to your college funding.
- Keep working hard academically. It may be a good idea to meet with your school counselor to be sure you're on track for graduation.
- Think about your college major and how that affects the college you choose and the classes you'll take your freshman year.
- Write thank-you notes to the teachers and references who wrote you letters of recommendation.
- Watch for admission and financial aid letters. Compare them carefully to understand any requirements for admission, scholarships and their renewal, and available loan amounts.
- Once you make your final choice of college, complete the required steps to accept your admission, sign up for classes and housing, schedule summer orientation and find a roommate as soon as possible.
- Don't forget to let other schools know you won't be attending.
- Consider summer courses at a community college or a summer job that will give you experience in your chosen field.
See our Summer To-Do List for College Prep.