College Planning Timeline
College Planning Timeline

It's never too early for high school students and their parents to start considering the college career ahead of them. You need to start asking important questions such as how you are going to get into college, what colleges you prefer, and how you are going to pay for college. College planning is essential. You not only need to have fixed goals in mind, but also figure out how to achieve these goals. You need to know when to take what steps in the college preparation process. The following timeline should give you an idea of what you should be doing to prepare for college, and when. You should take this general timeline and customize it by adding in your own specific needs, which is best handled by working closely with college planning professionals, such as 123college.

10th Grade

Now is the time to consider what qualifications you are going to be able to put on your college application. Are you participating in a few extra-curricular activities? If not, you should join some. Extra-curriculars, however, should never interfere with your grade point average. If you are struggling, scale back on activities until you bring up your GPA. In addition, students should take as many AP (Advanced Placement) courses as possible, as this will greatly boost their GPA with the “bonus” GPA points they receive from all AP courses. AP courses also push the students to read more and perform at a higher academic level, which is invaluable in intellectually preparing them for higher score results when they take their SAT and ACT exams.

Later in the fall semester, you should begin to research potential school choices. You can do this by looking for information online, but one of the most valuable sources of information is college fairs. At a fair you can not only gain general information about a school, but you can also ask the students and faculty attending the fair any specific questions you might have. If your family is planning on traveling in these months, this would also be the perfect time to visit a few campuses. By visiting schools, you can get an authentic feel for the campus lifestyle. You can save thousands in campus visits by narrowing down your selections by utilizing a customized Student Profile Report from

At this point, start to plan your junior year. Meet with your guidance counselor to discuss what courses are right for you, and also what courses your preferred schools require. For example, some schools require a certain number of language, science or math classes in order to gain admittance. Remember to consider which Advanced Placement (AP) classes you are going to take, as these classes will save you money in the long run by providing you with college credits before you even leave home, and even better, prepare you for your upcoming SAT and ACT exams.

You may be dreading the "money talk" with your parents, but it is vital to do it early. Sit down with your parents and discuss your plans for financial aid. How much will your preferred schools cost? How much money can your parents contribute? How much will need to be provided by scholarships, grants and loans? Be sure to consider what information you will be submitting on your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Now also may be an opportune time to take an SAT II subject test in a subject you have completed.

When you were young, summer may have been a time to relax, but now that you are in high school, summer is a time to boost your resume. Attend summer school classes or get involved in your community through volunteer work. You should also begin preparations for the PSAT.

11th Grade

It may now be the best time to consult an outside expert on the college decision process. In addition, you should pursue leadership roles in your extra-curricular activities, whether this means running for student government or making the varsity team in your sport. Take the PSAT/NMSQT; this will be valuable practice for the SAT and may even qualify you for a merit scholarship.

You should now start thinking about potential career paths. You can do this by making a list of your likes and dislikes. Research different careers and match a few with your interests. Consult with your guidance counselor about your class choices for your senior year. Finally, begin studying for the SAT and ACT. There are many self-study guides and classroom courses available for board exam test preparation. The experts at 123College feel that Kaplan’s premier edition book with online access is the best self-study guide option. This is included at no extra charge for all 123College subscribers. The same experts also believe the Princeton Review is the most thorough and effective for an in-classroom course.

Register to take the SAT and ACT in the spring, either in March or May. Visit more prospective schools, but do NOT speak to the financial aid officers at this point regarding your finances.

You will now be taking your AP tests in May. In June, it will also be time to take more SAT II subject tests. If you are planning to attend a military academy or enroll in an ROTC program, now is the time to request applications. Remember that ROTC scholarships can fully pay for all your education expenses and put spending money in your pocket during your entire college tenure.

As you did last summer, take summer school classes or get involved in your community through volunteer work. If choosing to work during the summer, perhaps you can work part-time where one of your parents or relatives work at a job that will continuously require mental and brain stimulation with lots of intellectual problem-solving and/or reading, again good “behind-the-scenes” work for boosting those test scores for college. If you are planning to re-take the SAT or ACT, register now for an October or November test.

12th Grade

At this point, you should review your list of colleges and further consider which applications you are going to pursue. You should narrow down your list from about 10 schools to approximately 6 schools and apply to the ones that will be affordable to your family. Remember, picking a college should be a business decision, not an emotional one. Find teachers and counselors who will be willing to write you positive letters of recommendation, and who also might assist you in writing application essays. If you are re-taking the SAT or ACT, take the October or November test. Finally, register for December SAT II subject tests if you are going to take more.

Sit down with your parents to discuss the FAFSA form that is required for all college aid money. Turn to a company for help who specializes in this, such as 123college. Financial documentation prepared properly is VERY important on the FAFSA form, as this will determine the starting point for the dollar amount of financial aid available to your parents. Submit this and the CSS Profile (if necessary) along with any school-specific forms. Ensure that your guidance counselor has the necessary forms to submit your senior midyear grades to your prospective colleges. It is highly recommend having a college planner assist with both the FAFSA and CSS Profile. Don’t forget to stay on top of those grades!

You will begin receiving letters of acceptance, and perhaps some letters of rejection, from colleges. Financial aid packages will also begin to arrive. Send your acceptance and your deposit to the school you have chosen, and notify the other colleges that you won't be attending. College financial aid planners, such as 123College, can help analyze your financial aid packages. Such companies can also write appeal letters for those offers that come back less than expected.

Summer before college
Obtain student and/or parent loans. Finalize your college housing.

College planning will keep you busy, but it doesn't have to be a difficult or arduous process. Follow this timeline and you will find that things run much more smoothly. You are transitioning to one of the most exciting times in your life. Be sure to get all the help you need!