Preparing for College

Navigate your way through college preparation with this easy-to-follow timeline that can set you on the right path to future success.

Middle School

Get in the right mindset – early on!
As you know, college admission is a complex process that requires students to start early. The majority of college admission officers recommend students start preparing for college by ninth grade. Start thinking about your future plans for high school, and ensure that you are succeeding academically while also spending time on extracurricular and cocurricular activities. Extracurricular and cocurricular activities provide opportunities to extend your learning beyond your coursework, such as athletics or working on a student newspaper.

Strive for strong grades
Today, half of college admission officers say academic success is the most important quality to look for in a student. Striving for good grades early in middle school or junior high will prepare you for academic success in high school and college.

High School

Freshman Year

Get to know your counselor
Take the time to sit down with your counselor and let him/her know about your future goals and aspirations. He/she will be a great resource throughout your time in high school.

Participate in extracurricular and cocurricular activities
Beyond excellent academics, college admission officers are most likely to agree that participating in extracurricular and cocurricular activities would give an applicant a competitive edge. Choose activities that interest you and maybe even touch on a future career path. Also learn how you can qualify for the National Honor Society, which can help you gain skills in multiple areas like leadership and community service.

Volunteer in your community
Colleges look at your application from multiple angles. To evaluate your character, the majority of admission officers look for participation in community service opportunities. Take advantage of service opportunities by supporting a cause in your community that you care about.

Sophomore Year

Take the PSAT/NMSQT
Strong test scores also are an important part of college admissions. In fact, 42 percent of admission officers prioritize test scores on applications, so mastering this test early on can be beneficial. Many students take preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test in their sophomore or junior year.

Research colleges
Start looking into colleges that spark your interest. See what criteria these schools are looking for in their students and take note. Also take advantage of college fairs offered by your high school or community so you can get a head start at finding the right school for you!

Begin financial planning
Check college websites to get an estimate of tuition costs and have a conversation with your parents or guardian about your options.

Consider taking AP/IB courses
Some colleges will accept your Advanced Placement (AP)/International Baccalaureate (IB) course(s) for college credit if you do well on the exams. AP/IB courses often impress college admission committees and will help you prepare for college itself.

Junior Year

Continue your college search
Start to narrow down your college list to your top choices. Make sure your potential colleges align with your future goals and aspirations. Note, the majority of college admission officers recommend applying to more than four schools.

Search for scholarships
There are hundreds of scholarship opportunities available—take advantage of this! Understanding college affordability and navigating the scholarship process takes time, but can certainly pay off. Nearly all students believe they’ll apply for scholarships to help pay for higher education, and 30 percent report their parents are counting on scholarships to help.

Register for the SAT and/or ACT
Students typically take the SAT/ACT during the spring of their junior year. Most colleges require you to take one of the most common tests, the SAT or the ACT. Check with the colleges you plan to apply to for their testing requirements.

Get an internship
Seek out internships and/or summer jobs that align with careers of interest. Balancing an internship with academics and extracurricular/cocurricular activities can be beneficial as you prepare to apply for colleges. Not only does this look good to college admission officers, but it can help you become a well-rounded individual.

Senior Year

Get college recommendations
Most colleges require one to two letters of recommendation. Two weeks is the minimum amount of time you should allow for teachers or counselors to complete a letter.

Visit schools
Most students spend the start of senior year visiting colleges of interest. Visiting the campus will help you decide where you want to spend the next several years!

Send in that application!
Begin applying to the colleges that interest you. Keep in mind that admission officers look at the details of an application, especially when evaluating personal essays. In fact, one in three admission officers say a student’s personal essay is one of the two most important items on an application. Be sure to proofread and spell check. Oftentimes admissions officers will instantly decide not to grant admission if grammatical errors or typos are found on an application.