There are some steps you can take as a ninth- and a 10th-grader to
make sure you’re on the right track for college. This list will help you navigate the college planning process:
❶ Create a four-year high school plan. Think about what you’d like to accomplish in the next four years.
❷ Start thinking about your life after school, including the types of jobs that might interest you. Of course these will change — often — but it’s good to start thinking about the possibilities. Identify your interests — likes and dislikes — not just in classes but also in every area. This will help you focus on your goals.
❸ Participate in extracurricular activities. Academics aren’t everything. Explore your interest in a sport, school club, music or drama group, or community volunteer activity. Remember that colleges would rather see real involvement in one activity instead of a loose connection to several.
❹ Meet with your high school counselor. Your counselor knows how to help you get the most out of high school. Be sure to take some time during the school year to discuss post-high-school plans with him or her.
❺ Save for college. It’s not too late to put money aside for college. Every little bit helps!
❻ Explore summer opportunities. Look for a job, internship or volunteer position that will help you learn about a field of interest.
❶ Take the PLAN Test. This is practice for taking college entrance exams. Based on your scores, you can work on any of your academic weaknesses.
❷ Are you interested in attending a U.S. military academy? If so, you should request a precandidate questionnaire.
❹ Attend college and career fairs. The fairs often take place in the fall at your school or in your area.
❺ Participate in school activities or volunteer efforts. Extracurricular activities can help you develop time-management skills and enrich your high school experience.
❻ Tour college campuses. If possible, take advantage of vacation or other family travel time to visit colleges and see what they’re like. Even if you have no interest in attending the college you are visiting, it will help you learn what to look for in a college.
Start with you: Make lists of your abilities, social/cultural preferences and personal qualities. List things you may want to study and do in college.
Learn about colleges. Look at their websites. Talk to friends, family members, teachers and recent grads of your school now in college. List the college features that are most important to you.
Resource check: Visit the counseling office and meet the counselors there. Is there a college night for students and families? When will college representatives visit your school? (Put the dates in your calendar.) Examine
catalogs and guides.
Continue to volunteer.
Take the PSAT/NMSQT®, which is given in October.
Make a file to manage your college search, testing and
application data. If appropriate (for example, if you’re interested in drama,
music, art, sports, etc.), start to gather material for a portfolio.
Along with your family, do some research about how to obtain financial aid. Read the U.S. Department of Education’s Funding Your Education (about federal aid programs). Use the College Board’s Getting Financial Aid and the financial aid calculator at bigfuture.org to estimate how much aid you might receive.
Attend college and/or career fairs.
Sign up to take the college admission tests in the spring. You register online. SAT/ACT fee waivers are available for students with financial need. To prepare for the SAT, download practice booklets from www.collegeboard.org. You can also take the SAT and/or ACT again next fall.
Begin a search for financial aid sources. National sources include the College Board’s Scholarship Handbook and electronic sources. Don’t overlook local and state aid sources (ask a counselor for help or check your public library).
Visit some local colleges — large, small, public and private. Get a feel for what works for you. Attend college fairs, too.
Scan local newspapers to see which civic, cultural and service organizations in your area award financial aid to graduating seniors. Start a file.
Develop a list of 15 or 20 colleges that are of interest to you. Request view books and information about financial aid and academic programs. Visit some colleges during your spring break.
If you are considering military academies or ROTC
scholarships, contact your counselor before leaving school for the summer. If you want a four-year ROTC scholarship, you should begin the application process the summer before your senior year.
Complete the FAFSA4caster. This is an online financial aid estimator that provides students and families with an idea of the student’s federal student aid eligibility.
If you are an athlete planning to continue playing a sport in college, register with the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Eligibility Center (www.ncaaclearinghouse.net).
Find a full-time or part-time job, or participate in a summer camp or summer college program.
Visit colleges. Take campus tours and, at colleges you’re serious about, make appointments to have interviews with admission counselors.
Create a résumé — a record of your accomplishments, activities and work experiences since you started high school.
Download applications (or request paper copies) from colleges to which you’ll apply. Check application dates — large universities may have early dates or rolling admission.
Continue to volunteer.
Research and apply for scholarships all year.
Narrow your list of colleges to between five and 10. Meet with a counselor about your college choices and, if you’ve not yet done so, download college applications and financial aid forms. Plan to visit as many of these colleges as possible.
Create a master list or calendar that includes:
• Tests you’ll take and their fees, dates and registration deadlines
• College application due dates
• Required financial aid application forms and their deadlines (aid applications may be due before college applications)
• Other materials you’ll need (recommendations, transcripts, etc.)
• Your high school’s application processing deadlines
If you can’t afford application or test fees, a counselor can
help you request a fee waiver. Be sure to have your college admission test scores sent to the colleges to which you are applying.
Register for a Personal Identification Number (PIN). Go to www.pin.ed.gov to register. Your PIN serves as your electronic signature for the online FAFSA. If you are a dependent student, a parent should also register for a PIN.
Try to finalize your college choices.
Prepare early decision/early action or rolling admission applications as soon as possible.
Ask a counselor or teacher for recommendations if you need them. Give each teacher or counselor an outline of your academic record and your extracurricular activities. For each recommendation, provide a stamped, addressed envelope and any college forms required.
If you’re submitting essays, write first drafts and ask teachers and others to read them. If you’re applying for early decision, finish the essays for that application now.
Be sure to have your college admission test scores sent to the colleges to which you are applying.
Nov. 1–15: For early decision admission, colleges may require test scores and applications between these dates.
Complete at least one college application by Thanksgiving.
Ask counselors to send your transcripts to colleges. Give
counselors the proper forms at least two weeks before the colleges require them.
Begin to prepare for the FAFSA. Download the FAFSA on the Web Worksheet to preview questions you may be asked on the FAFSA. You cannot submit your FAFSA until after January 1 of your senior year.
As you finish and send your applications and essays, be
sure to keep photocopies.
If you apply online to colleges, be sure to have your high school send a transcript — it is sent separately by mail to colleges.
File your FAFSA. Complete as soon as possible after January 1. Submit the FAFSA in time to meet each college’s financial aid deadline. You can estimate using the prior year’s tax information.
No senioritis, please! Accepting colleges do look at second-semester senior grades.
Keep active in school. If you are wait listed, the college will want to know what you have accomplished between the time you applied and the time you learned of its decision.
You should receive acceptance letters and financial aid offers by mid-April. If you’ve not done so yet, visit your final college before accepting. As soon as you decide, notify your counselor of your choice.
If you have questions about housing offers, talk to your counselor or call the college.
May 1: Colleges cannot require your deposit or your commitment to attend before May 1. By that postmarked date, you must inform every college of your acceptance or rejection of the offer of admission and/or financial aid. (Questions? Talk to your counselor.)
Send your deposit to one college only.
Wait listed by a college? If you intend to enroll if you are accepted, tell the admission director your intent and ask how to strengthen your application. Need financial aid? Ask whether funds will be available if you’re accepted.
Work with a counselor to resolve any admission or financial
Ask your high school to send a final transcript to your college.
Information provided by The College Board and the Educational Credit Management Corporation.