A Timeline: How to Prepare for College

A Timeline: How to Prepare for College

Young woman loading a laundry basket of items into a car with her father.

About 3.6 million high school students are expected to graduate in 2017–18, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. If your child is considering postsecondary education, knowing what to do in high school to prepare for college can get the both of you ready. Use this chronological checklist to stay ahead of key steps, including school visits and financial aid deadlines, and help smooth the road to higher learning.

  1. Lay the groundwork
    By 9th and 10th grade you and your student should be discussing life after high school. Encourage a visit with the school counselor and/or an interests and skills assessment, as well as internships, apprenticeships, job shadowing and summer programs to explore possibilities and gain experience.
  2. Investigate the options
    Start a running list of your student’s favorite schools or programs. Research and contact each to learn more about what makes the experience and education distinctive. Attend college and career fairs. Plan visits to campuses — even nearby options not on the “top favorites” list can help determine general likes and dislikes.
  3. Take the tests
    Not every school or program requires standardized tests, but taking them keeps options open. The PSAT, usually taken in the fall of junior year, serves as practice for the SAT. Spring of junior year is typical ACT and SAT time. Some college hopefuls try for an improved score in the fall of senior year. Many colleges accept either the ACT or SAT, so determine which presents your student best by taking practice tests.
  4. Apply for scholarships
    A good summer project before senior year is researching and applying for local and national scholarships. They’re available for a range of reasons — from involvement in extracurricular activities to academic performance. Avoid scams by remembering that you should never have to pay to find them.
  5. Perfect those applications
    First thing senior year, your student should begin requesting teacher recommendations and writing and revising application essays. Early-decision and early-action applications are typically due in November, and the deadline for regular college applications is normally January 1 to February 1. Other programs, including trade and technical schools, may have later deadlines — mark them on the calendar.
  6. Apply for financial aid
    The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which determines the need for billions of dollars to millions of students yearly, is available beginning October 1. Apply early, as some funds are first come, first served. Some schools may require you to fill out the College Board’s CSS Profile instead, a more detailed application than the FAFSA.
  7. Make your school selection
    Once your student receives acceptance letters, make any necessary financial comparisons and loan applications to inform your final decision. Send in your acceptance and deposit by the required due date — typically May 1. Don’t forget to let schools you’re not choosing know that you’re declining their offer of admission.
  8. Prep for the next phase
    There may be forms to fill out, classes to register for and perhaps new living arrangements. Your student’s chosen school or program will keep you posted as both of you navigate the launch into this new adventure, in education and life.


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