The college-bound master timeline

Thinking about college? Here’s a schedule to help you get your applications done on a timely basis without losing your sanity.

Freshman – Senior Year
Take rigorous courses, especially in the core areas: math, science, English and world languages. If you have an AP option that interests you, take it. Consider on-line classes or read primers. Many are free. Once you complete your study, sit for the AP exam. 

Extracurricular activities that show service or expertise are helpful. If you can show growth in leadership responsibilities as you progress through school, so much the better. Summer internships are the chance to explore careers while making some money.

Get to know your guidance counselor. This person can help you find schools, scholarships, internships, and will be writing on your behalf come application time, so it pays to have a relationship that you build upon for four years. Work with your counselor to identify schools within your budget and begin searching out scholarships. Work with your parents or guardians to determine a savings plan for college.

Junior Year – Fall
Take the PSAT and start prepping for the SAT or ACT. Students often take these more than once with the final test in the fall of senior year. Practice timed full-length exams. Take a prep course, online or in-person, or use the free practice exams available online. The SAT essay portion is optional, but it’s a good idea to take it. Note that while many schools now regard the SAT/ACT as optional, you may alter your list of target schools as your plans progress . . . so taking it preserves your options.

Refine your college list and try to visit. Check the web for info sessions, tour schedules and interview possibilities. Make an appointment. Do your interview preparation: know the answers to questions you are likely to receive and have some really good, specific questions of your own per school. Have a list of the three things you want to be sure to convey about yourself. Follow up with a thank-you note. Be interesting in your observations and enthusiastic about applying. 

Junior Year – Spring
If you think you can improve on your SAT or ACT score, take it again. If you need help with the cost, see your guidance counselor for a possible fee waiver. Take your SAT Subject Tests, as well as your AP tests, as soon as the courses or independent study you have arranged are over. You will do better when the material is fresh.

Junior Year – Summer
Continue school visits. Calendar your application deadlines as well as the materials requested per school. Line up your letters of recommendations and prepare info packets for your writers that emphasize the possible points you would like them to make on your behalf. This packet should include your personal essay. Expect this to take several drafts. No time like the summer to get this all-important introduction of yourself done! Relax, and tell a great story.

Refine your financial plan and begin applying for scholarships. There are usually more essays involved, so leave some time for these. Local resources often have less competition. 

Senior Year – Fall
Take the SAT/ACT again if you think you can improve your score. Put together your application materials. Early decision (binding, if accepted) or early action (nonbinding) applications are due in early November. Regular admission applications are filed between January 1 and March 1. Be sure your scores are sent.

If you are seeking federal financial aid, fill out your FAFSA form and submit it the moment the window opens, typically October 1. Fill out school-based forms as well, including the CCS Profile. Send your applications out as soon thereafter as possible to take advantage of rolling admissions at some schools.

Senior Year – Spring
If you made some estimates, update your FAFSA and CCS profile with more current information from your most recent tax returns.

Wait for decisions to roll in during March and April: yes/no/waitlisted. Compare financial aid offers and discuss with your parents and counselor. These may include loans, grants and opportunities for work-study.

Then, make your big decision—wow!—and submit your enrollment deposit to secure your place, typically by May 1. Take any remaining AP tests if they translate into college credit or advance your curriculum goals by allowing you to “place out” of intro-level courses. Expect to receive orientation information, fill out all forms, and stay on top of any deadlines. And now . . . 

Celebrate! A new chapter begins.

Need help?

The College Board has a great resource for finding schools, visiting schools, career exploration, financial information and more.

For all your written needs, interview preparation and much more, I invite you to be in touch.