Deciding how best to spend your time as you’re getting ready college and finishing up your high school career can sometimes feel pretty intimidating. Starting at the end of your Junior year, this week-by-week breakdown of what you should do as you get closer to the next step of your academic career makes it easy to see what you need to do and when. Consider this your college bound checklist!
1: Talk to your school’s college counselor. The last thing you should before you leave school for the summer after Junior year is make an appointment with your high school’s college counselor. They are a great resource when it comes to getting ready for college, and will give you some good pointers about where to start your search.
2: Get college guides. The College Board (the company that administers the SAT) puts out a College Handbook every year. The Handbook provides a thorough snapshot of every undergraduate institution in the United States. Many other companies also have college bound guides available; do some research on which ones are best, and purchase a few. Start reading them, and narrowing down your list of school based on what you’re looking for.
3: Start researching schools. Once you have a solid list of schools, start doing some serious research on them. Go to each school’s website, and spend some time reading about what they offer academically, socially, and extracurricularly. Check on incoming class sizes, standardized test score requirements, application deadlines, and financial aid. This will allow you to make your final school selections. Run the list by your parents and friends, who will help you as you make your selections.
4: Choose schools. When you’ve researched all the schools you’re interested in, make your final choices. Make sure they fulfill what you’re looking for in a school: Location, size, offerings, environment, and anything else you consider important.
5: Get school applications. If your school takes the Common Application, you don’t have to worry about completing a different one. However, if they don’t take the Common Application, go to each school’s website, and obtain the application you’ll need to complete.
6: Know your deadlines. Make a list of deadlines: When the application is due, when different supplements are due, and when the various financial aid documents are due. This will allow you to budget your time, complete each application thoroughly, and submit it on time—without rushing.
7: Create checklists. Applying to college can feel like you’re working your way through a daunting pile of paper, but it doesn’t have to be. Create college planning checklists of required documents for each school, and go crossing them off as you complete them. That way, you’ll be able to keep on top of what you need to do without ever feeling flustered or overwhelmed.
8: Think about potential majors. Colleges have a myriad major opportunities—everything from mainstays like English and Political Science to unique majors like Folklore or Jazz Studies. Do you know what you’re interested in? Start thinking about this now, so that you’ll be able to answer application questions about potential majors clearly and intelligently.
9: Consider applying early. Is there a school that you know you want to attend above all others? Perhaps applying via early admission (EA) or early decision (ED) is the way to go. Applying via EA or ED send a message to schools that they are your first choice (which may increase your chances of admission), and it also lets you find out much earlier if you’ve gotten it to your first-choice school.
10: Start looking into scholarships. Don’t wait for your college to cover your cost of attendance with loans and institutional grants. Do some legwork and find other scholarships and grants on your own. FastWeb (www.fastweb.com) is a great resource for searching and applying for scholarships that you may not find elsewhere.
11: Decide if you’ll take the SAT or ACT (or both). Register for the tests. Which test do your schools take? The SAT tests logic and reasoning, while the ACT tests academic knowledge. Which one do you feel the most comfortable taking? Once you have decided, pick a test date, and register for each test (you can register for the SAT at www.collegeboard.org, and for the ACT at www.actstudent.org)
12: Sign up for SAT Subject Tests. Some schools require SAT Subject Tests (tests that focus on specific academic content, like literature, world history, or chemistry). If your school is one of them, you’ll have to take the ones they ask for. Although you can’t take them at the same time you take the SAT, you can register for them at the same time through www.collegeboard.com. You’ll have to take them separately, either at the test administration before, or a test administration after your SAT.
13: Take an SAT and/or ACT test prep class. If you don’t feel up to studying for the SAT or ACT on your own (or just don’t know where to start and would like some guidance), sign up to take a prep class. A quick internet search for “SAT test prep” or “ACT test prep” will yield many options for your preparation.
14: Create a senior year plan. Don’t go into your senior year unawares. Avoid senioritis by sitting down with your school counselor and mapping out the classes you’ll take, and thinking about which extracurriculars you’ll continue to be involved in as you’re getting ready for college.
15: Think about who will write your teacher evaluations. Don’t just pick the classes in which you had the highest grades. Pick teachers that know you well, and with whom you’ve worked closely. These teachers will be able to not only speak about your academic abilities, but about your personal qualities, too.
16: Ask your teachers for evaluations. Once you’ve decided who will write your evaluations, set up a meeting and ask them (nicely!) to write you a letter. Remember to tell them what your application deadlines are, so that they can make sure to complete your letters in time.
17: Take the SAT (or ACT). Don’t leave these tests until the last minute. Ideally, you should think about taking them in the spring of your Junior year, but if you’ve left it until your Senior year, get it out of the way in the early fall, so that you can spend the rest of the year working on getting stellar grades, completing your applications, and participating in your extracurriculars.
18: Take a leadership role in your school extracurriculars. Even if you’re not the captain of your team or the editor of your newspaper, there is still plenty of leadership you can demonstrate. Take on tasks, work with others to complete complex project, and make a difference in the groups you’re a part of. This won’t only look good on your applications, it’ll make your activities much more rewarding!
19: Follow up on your teacher evaluations. Take a moment to check in with your teachers, and make sure they’re on track to complete your letters in time. Getting them sent to schools in advance of their deadlines is important.
20: Beef up your work experience. Keep your résumé fresh and your experiences outside school interesting by volunteering at a new place, or taking on added responsibilities at your after-school job.
21: Have your school counselor complete the Secondary School Report. This Common Application form is a requirement for most schools, and is one that requires a high school official to complete. Submit it to the appropriate people with plenty of time so that they can finish it before your applications are due.
22: Take the SAT (if you took the ACT in October). If you decided to take the ACT before the SAT (or if you just needed some extra time to study before the test), now is the time to take the SAT. This will allow you to get your scores in plenty of time to submit them to your schools, without worrying you’ll miss a deadline.
23: Follow up on your Secondary School Report. Check and make sure your counselor (or whoever is completing this important form), is on track to finish it by your deadline.
24: Start working on the Common Application Personal Essay. Don’t leave these essays ‘til the very end! Start brainstorming and creating outlines for potential essays now, so that you have plenty of time to fine-tune them before your application deadlines.
25: Start working on any school-specific essays. Although some schools don’t require additional essays besides the one in the Common Application, many do. If your school is one of them, start thinking about which topic or topics you will write about, and start drafting. The more time you spend on these essays, the better they will be.
26: Take the SAT Subject Tests. Once you’re close to completing your Senior year fall semester and your brain is back in the school grind, take the SAT Subject Tests you’ve chosen. This will allow the content to be fresh in your mind, and will also let you take the tests in plenty of time to get your scores before your application deadlines.
27: Have your school counselor complete your Mid-Year Report. Just like the School Report, this form needs to be completed by your school counselor (or someone else in charge). This form needs to be completed as soon as your fall semester or second quarter grades are available.
28: Finalize the Common Application Personal Essay. Once you’ve selected a topic, done multiple drafts, and had a few people read and proof your essay, it’s time to finalize it and set it aside. Phew! One essay completed.
29: Follow up on your Mid-Year Report. Check and make sure your counselor (or whoever is completing this important form), is on track to finish it by your deadline.
30: Request your transcripts. If your school requires you to send transcripts in separately, now is the time to request them. They’ll have to be sent directly from the high school to the schools you’re applying to, so make sure to ask for them in plenty of time, so that they can send in well in advance of your deadlines.
31: Finalize school-specific essays. Once you’ve selected topics, done multiple drafts, and had a few people read and proof your essays, it’s time to finalize them and put them with your Personal Essay. That’s it for you’re application essays!
32: Talk to your parents about financing college. How are you and your parents planning on paying for college? Loans? Scholarships? Out of pocket? Talk to them and make sure you’re all on the same page, so that you can plan your financial future together.
33: Complete any Common Application school-specific supplements, the Arts Supplement, and/or the Athletic Supplement. If you’re submitting any of these forms, now is the time to complete them and get any supplemental materials together, so that you don’t have to rush right before you submit your applications.
34: Complete the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE on the College Board website. This form is one that many colleges require as part of their financial aid process. If you’re thinking about asking for loans, grants, or scholarships from your school to help you with the cost of attendance, now is the time to check and see if this form is required by your schools, and complete it.
35: Send in your applications (don’t forget the application fee!). Put everything together and send it in! If you’re mailing it in, make sure you have a way of tracking it so that you can see when each college received it. If you’re applying online, keep all confirmation emails, so that you can reference them if any problems come up. Don’t worry about sending in your financial aid application if you haven’t completed it yet; many schools give you a later deadlines for submitting financial aid paperwork.
36: Complete the FAFSA. After your parents have completed their taxes, ask them to complete the FAFSA (Free Application For Federal Student Aid). This form is what schools will use to help you obtain educational loans from the government, as well as determine your overall financial need when it comes to scholarships and grants.
37: Complete any school-specific financial aid forms. After finishing up the CSS/PROFILE and FAFSA, complete any forms your schools may require for financial aid. Make sure your parents read over these forms, too, so that they can make sure all the information is correct.
38: Send in your financial aid applications. After everyone has given the thumbs up to the financial aid paperwork, send it in. The earlier you send it in, the sooner you’ll know about your financial aid packages.
39: Relax—you’ve sent everything in. Take a deep breath. It’s done! You’ve sent everything in, and now all that’s left to do is wait for decisions.
40: Keep doing well in your classes. Don’t slack off! Schools will want to see your final spring grades, and it won’t look good if you traded in your As and Bs for Cs and Ds.
41: Thank everyone that helped you with your apps. Take a moment to say thank you to everyone who helped put together your applications: Your teachers, your school counselor, your school administrators, your coaches, and your parents. Without their help, you wouldn’t have been able to finish.
42: Decisions are coming soon! Most schools start sending out admissions decisions during the first weeks of April. Brace yourself—you’ll find out soon!
43: Start making note of where you got in, and what your financial aid packages look like. Once decisions start coming in, you and your parents should start looking carefully at your prospects: Where you got in, and how much money you got. This information will be crucial when it comes time to make final decisions.
44: Visit schools. If you have the time and the means, set some time during your spring semester to visit the schools that are at the top of your list. Seeing the campus and sitting on a class can be invaluable as you make your final decision.
45: Talk it over with your parents. After you’ve analyzed your financial aid packages and visited schools, sit down with your parents and talk it all over.
46: Decide where to go. Make your choice! Start getting excited—you know where you’re going to college!
47: Send in your deposit. Submit in any required paperwork, as well as the deposit, to the school you’ve chosen, so that your seat is held.
48: Enjoy your last few weeks of high school. You’ll soon be off on your own, so spend some extra time hanging out with your friends and your parents. Before you know it, you’ll be far away, and making all new friends.
49: Finish with a bang. Cap off your year with strong grades and an excellent end-of-year extracurricular performance. No slacking off!
50: Have your counselor complete your Final Report. Just like the School Report and Mid-Year Report, this form needs to be completed by your school counselor (or someone else in charge). This form needs to be completed as soon as your final senior year grades are available.
51: Follow up on your Final Report. Make sure it gets completed and sent in to your schools promptly.
52: Make your last summer before college a blast!
Anne Chaconas is the Director of Admissions Counseling for PowerScore Test Preparation (www.powerscore.com). Every year, she answers countless questions about college admissions and helps many students get into their top choice schools.