Getting Ready for College: A Four-Year Checklist for High School Teens
Starting in their freshman year, high school students should prepare for the college application process by focusing on academics, with a healthy dose of extracurricular pursuits.
The high school years can be a busy time, and it’s easy to lose track of the many steps involved in the college search and application process. To help you and your student stay on track, we’ve compiled a list of what your college-bound teen should be doing each year.
College Prep Checklist for High School Freshmen and Sophomores
Freshmen should plan to:
- Take challenging classes in core academic courses.
- Work with their school counselor to create a yearly schedule to meet graduation and college admissions requirements.
- Talk to an advisor or school counselor about taking Advanced Placement® and honors courses.*
- Get involved with community-based and leadership-oriented activities that best reflect interests.
- Research and identify career fields of interest through online resources like this interest profiler and by attending career fairs and other events.
- Explore The Four Steps to College.
- Keep a running list of accomplishments, awards, and recognitions to use in preparing a résumé and college applications.
Remember that many of these freshman-year activities should continue through all four years of high school. Career planning in particular will merit careful, ongoing research; students may need help refining their goals as they learn new information.
- Consider taking a practice test to prepare for the PSAT.
- Attend college and career information events.
- Research funding for college, including scholarships, grants, loans, etc.
- Reach out to mentors in their fields of interest.
- Continue exploring college and career options.
High School Junior College Prep Checklist
In the fall semester, juniors need to:
- Take the PSAT—students must take the test in eleventh grade to qualify for National Merit scholarships and programs.
- Attend in-person or online college fairs and college-prep presentations.
- Explore careers and their earning potentials in the Occupational Outlook Handbook.
In the spring semester, juniors should:
- Register for college admission exams such as the SAT and ACT; take practice tests to prepare before the big day.
- College admissions professionals recommend students have at least one standardized score before the end of their junior year.
- Research ways to pay for college.
- Identify scholarship opportunities to pursue; note deadlines on calendar.
- Contact colleges to request information and applications.
High School Senior College Prep Checklist
During the summer, soon-to-be seniors should:
- Plan college visits.
- Narrow down the colleges being considered.
- Make decisions regarding early decision or early action programs.
- Enter and/or update information in the FAFSA4caster.
In the fall semester, seniors will need to:
- Register for and take (or retake) the SAT and/or ACT, if not already done.
- Complete and submit college applications prior to deadlines.
- Request transcripts and letters of recommendation at least 30 days before they are due.
- Work with parents to complete and submit the FAFSA.
- Complete and submit scholarship applications prior to deadlines.
- Meet with a counselor to verify that graduation requirements will be met on schedule.
During the winter months, seniors should:
- Review and make any necessary changes/corrections to the Student Aid Report.
- Finish submitting scholarship applications.
In spring semester, seniors will need to:
- Visit colleges on their “short list.”
- Consider college acceptances; compare financial aid packages offered.
- Call college financial aid representatives with questions.
- Decide on the college to attend (typically by May 1) and contact its offices.
- Make informed decisions about student loans.
Although the temptation to goof off during the last year of high school may be strong, high school students should be made aware that college admissions officers will expect to see they’ve worked hard to keep grades up and continued their involvement in school and community activities. Reassure aspiring college students that they can still enjoy life and time with friends while remaining focused on larger goals.
If you’re interested in having your high school student focus on college-prep courses in a safe, distraction-free at-home setting, explore online high school with Connections Academy®.
*Advanced Placement® is a registered trademark of the College Board. Used with permission.