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Preparing for College: Timeline



Preparing for college starts well before the fall of your senior year in high school, especially if you aspire to attend one of the nation's top ranked schools. From the 9th grade onward, there are many steps you can take to prepare.

Our timeline provides a framework for how a college-bound student can use his or her high school years to build a strong college application. There are many ways to excel in high school. These suggestions are intended as a foundation to help you get organized.

If you are a high school junior just getting started in your preparation, it is not too late. Read through the 9th and 10th grade timelines to see what you have missed. Then determine a reasonable plan to catch up as best you can.




9th grade

  • Investigate college requirements and plan accordingly.
    • Investigate which high school classes colleges require you to complete.

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  • Take challenging classes. Take a look at our guide to Choosing Classes while in high school for more detailed information on how to choose a balanced workload.
  • Meet with your counselor early in your freshman year to discuss your high school and college goals.
  • Participate in meaningful extracurricular activities. Demonstrating leadership, commitment, and passion beyond the classroom can enhance your college application. It can also add balance and fun to a challenging academic schedule.
    • Students from low-income families often need to help support their families by working. Colleges understand that this can mean less time for extracurriculars. If this is true for you, you will have a chance to explain your circumstances, and also talk about the skills gained and lessons learned on the job, when you apply to college.

Summer

  • Take summer school/community college courses. For instance, you can take summer courses to improve your writing. Or, if your high school does not offer a rigorous science curriculum, taking courses at a local community college can enhance your academic record.
  • Read as much as you can, and read a variety of materials. Reading builds your vocabulary and strengthens writing skills.
  • Prepare for the PSAT and/or PLAN tests to score especially well and qualify for awards such as the National Merit Scholarship, a prestigious national award for which you can only qualify if you score well on the PSAT. For more information on how to prepare for the PSAT, see our test preparation guide.



10th grade

  • Take a rigorous courseload. Especially if you are interested in a science major or a science career, take rigorous courses in those areas. Be aware of pre-requisites for classes you may need to take this year in order to qualify for junior and senior year classes.

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  • Take the PSAT or PLAN (pre-ACT) in the fall.
    • These tests hook you into opportunities. By checking “yes” to the box that allows other organizations to contact you, you allow scholarship programs, summer programs, and colleges to contact you with information on more opportunities. In addition, the PSAT is required to qualify for some opportunities, such as the National Merit Scholarship program.
    • Fee waivers are generally not offered for the PSAT/PLAN, but these tests can also be a worthwhile investment because they give you a feel for how to approach the SAT/ACT.
  • Meet with your counselor or other guides and advocates to discuss your progress and future plans.
  • Continue to participate in meaningful extracurricular activities.

Summer

  • Prepare for the SAT/ACT. Visit our test preparation guide for information on how to prepare for your exams.
  • Take summer school/community college courses.
  • Participate in summer enrichment programs offered by organizations and colleges. This can also be a useful way to spend time at a college you may be interested in attending. These programs can be costly, but some programs offer financial assistance.
  • Read as much as you can.



11th grade

  • Take a rigorous courseload. This is your most important academic year, because these will be the most recent grades available to colleges.
  • Get to know your teachers. They will likely be writing college recommendation letters for you. The more they know you, the better their letters will be.

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  • Meet with your counselor or other guides and advocates to discuss your progress and future plans.
  • Take the SAT. Depending on your level of preparedness, and if you want to apply early decision next fall, you may wish to take the SAT/ACT in the winter. That way you will have time in case you need to take it again.
    • Register early, because early registration enables you to use fee waivers (waiver for: SAT / ACT). IMPORTANT NOTE: If you are interested in using fee waivers for college applications in the future, you will need to use fee waivers for your SAT exams. Some colleges grant application fee waivers on the basis that you used fee waivers for your SAT/ACT.
  • Take SAT Subject Tests. 2 or 3 required or highly recommended by many colleges. Check to see if the colleges you are interested in have specific requirements or recommendations. Best to take after a year in a particular subject.
    • For example, if you are taking AP US History your junior year, you may wish to take the American History SAT II in spring after the advanced placement exam.
    • Unlike the SAT, SAT Subject Tests are not offered consistently every month – check dates and plan ahead.
  • Continue to participate in meaningful extracurricular activities. Take on a leadership role if time allows.
  • Research colleges and prepare for the application process. See resources for Applying to College.
  • Attend any local college fairs.
  • Put yourself on college mailing lists.

Summer

  • Prepare for the SAT/ACT if you have not yet taken it or would like to improve your score. See our test preparation guide for information on how to prepare for your exams.
  • Take summer school/community college courses.
  • Read as much as you can.
  • Participate in summer enrichment programs offered by organizations and colleges. This can also be a useful way to spend time at a college you may be interested in attending. These programs can be costly, but some programs offer financial assistance.
  • If you are able, get on the road and visit colleges.



12th grade

  • Continue taking rigorous courses and doing well. Senior year grades do matter. If you are applying regular decision, your first semester grades will be in the application.

read more

  • See resources on Applying to College for information about approaching this process.
  • Use writing classes to help with your college essays.
  • Take the SAT/SATII/ACT again if you need to.

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Preparing for College
Applying for College
Paying for College

 

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