College Planning Checklist for High School Students

Are you a high schooler or a parent of a high school student preparing to apply to college? Are you confused about the steps and the order of those steps in the college planning process? You’re not alone! It can seem daunting.

The college process can be stressful for both students and their parents – and for the relationship between students and their parents. At Signature College Counseling, we help relieve this stress through organization. Like everything else in life, having a plan helps keep you on track, organized, and makes everything less stressful. So, we have created helpful checklists for each of the four years of high school.

Ninth Grade Checklist

Adjust to High School

The demands of high school are different from middle school. You have more classes, more tests, more independence, and typically less supervision. Use this first year to work on study skills, and learn to use a task organizer/calendar for school work and important dates. Learn to be responsible for your homework, books, and supplies, for tests, for work, and any volunteer jobs. This will help set you up for success both in college and throughout life. Parents – you can help by not doing so much for your kids. Your child is now 14 -15 years old, and is ready for some experience with adulting! So learn to let go … at least a bit!

Get Involved

Explore your interests by joining clubs and participating in activities out of school. See where your passions lie. These can always change, but it’s a great way to learn to listen to yourself.

Start Visiting Colleges

Although you think the first year of high school might be too early to get a feel for college campuses at this stage, doing so will provide you insight into what a campus feels like and how it feels to be on different college campuses. You don’t have to make special trips. Visit schools close to where you live. If you are traveling, consider stopping in at a few colleges along the way.

Catalog Your Activities

Begin to document the activities you’re involved in. This way, when you begin to draft your resume for college applications, you don’t leave anything out. Document the name of the club or activity, your position, description, and average hours per week and weeks per year that you participate in. You will need all of this information for your resume and for your activities list on applications. It seems like it is far away but, trust me, time flies by!

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Tenth Grade Checklist

Work with a College Consultant to Ease the Planning Process

At SCC, we advise families to begin working with us on their college search midway through the student’s sophomore year. Beginning your college search at this time makes the entire process proactive versus reactive.

Maintain Your High School Activities Log

Continue to catalog your activities using the same information noted under Ninth Grade Checklist above. This is also a good time to begin drafting a student resume and you should revisit this resume regularly.

Prepare for the College Admissions Standardized Tests

Take the PSAT or Pre-ACT (if your high school offers it). Practice tests can be useful, so start taking them now, so you are more than prepared. Your PSAT report shows strengths, weaknesses, and areas to hone and can help determine whether you should have additional help preparing for the SAT or ACT. Parents can help by hiring a private tutor or enrolling their child in a test study course starting the summer prior to 11th grade.

Research Colleges Online

Look at individual college websites, view rankings, and use other online resources to learn more about individual colleges and whether they’re right for you. This will help you learn more about the school, as well as give you a better idea of what you’re seeking for your college fit. It’s never too early to learn about colleges and what they offer. You think it’s far off for you to delve into your college process, but remember that time flies by! The earlier you start planning, the less stressed you will be during the fall of your senior year. So start making a separate college checklist that identifies important school facts (size, location, etc.), as well as what you like and didn’t like about each school.

Start Visiting Colleges on a More Regular Basis

Your second year of high school is when you should definitely start going on campus tours. Many parents agree that visiting colleges is a great opportunity to spend time and bond with their children. Getting a head start can give you time to fit everything in and learn about what works for you and what doesn’t. Your final two years of high school go pretty fast.
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Eleventh Grade Checklist

It’s Go Time for College Planning

Eleventh grade is Go Time for college planning. We have a printable, easy-to-follow timeline for students and their families, . https://www.signaturecollegecounseling.com/college-counseling-services/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Admissions-Process-Timeline-Non-Athlete.pdf

We also have one specifically for college athletes, click here. https://www.signaturecollegecounseling.com/college-counseling-services/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Admissions-Process-Timeline-Athlete.pdf

These charts have all of the necessary tasks listed in a grid format, with an area for you to check off each task. The shaded-blue cells show when each task should be done. You’ll also see that this chart has a column for “Responsible Party/Parties.” College search is a team effort. When you work with SCC, we are there for you to help make the planning flow smoothly. But, if you’re doing this without a college counselor, note that there is a lot to do – and that all must be done in a specific order and on a very particular time schedule. Work together as a family, assigning different tasks to the student and each parent, whenever possible.

Consider College Affordability

Be sure to understand what you and your parents are willing to/can afford to put towards your college education. Determine what your financial aid picture is by calculating your Expected Family Contribution and compare that to the college’s generosity.

Additional Tasks to Include on Your Junior Year of High School College Planning Checklist

Research Colleges
Ask for Letters of Recommendation
Sign up for SAT’s and/or ACTs
Hire a Private SAT/ACT Tutor
Start Student Resume
Visit Colleges/Complete Campus Visit Checklist
Enter Letters of Recommendation Requests into Naviance
Decide Which Colleges You Are Applying To
Finalize Resume
Complete Primary Essay
Hire Essay Coach
Complete Supplemental Essays
Complete Applications
Complete Transcript Request Forms
Complete Student Profile
Submit Applications
Identify Colleges that Require Interview
Prepare for Interviews
Schedule Interviews
Submit Test Scores

Continue to Visit Colleges

Continue going on campus tours. You’ll probably go on many tours, so getting a head start can give you time to fit everything in. You can also visit them virtually through YouVisit, Campusreel, CampusTours, and YouTube.

Create a Testing Plan

Take the SAT or ACT in the fall of this year. This way you can decide which test is best for you, focus on that test and take it again in the spring. Based on these tests, figure out your strengths and weaknesses and develop a plan for how to improve. Hire a tutor or sign up for an in-person or online study course.

Make Your College List

Working from your online research and your college visits (in-person and virtual), make an initial list of colleges in which you are interested. These can include a balance of safety schools, schools where you have a 50-50 chance of getting in, and reach schools, colleges that will be harder for you to get into. Be aspirational, but be realistic! Most importantly, the goal is to have at least one school on your list that you know you will get into and be happy to attend and can afford. Revise this list later in your junior year, based on visits and research, to come up with your final college list. Ask yourself this question for every college that is on your list: “If this is the only school I get into, will I be happy to attend?” If not, take it off of your list. Why even bother spending the time and money applying if you can’t picture yourself happy at that school! This list will be the colleges to which you will actually apply.

Apply for Scholarships

Scholarships can help you pay for college. Start applying now, because deadlines are early in senior year or even junior year. Make a list of deadlines for the scholarships that seem appropriate. Do keep in mind that private scholarships are quite a bit of work with not an enormous return. I don’t deter families from applying, but 95% of the money you will receive will be from the federal government and the institution, not private scholarships.
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Twelfth Grade Checklist

Tasks From our Senior Year of High School College Planning Checklist

You’ll notice that some of these tasks span both junior and senior years, and some tasks require follow up and verification that forms and information have been received.

Ask for Letters of Recommendation (if you haven’t already done so)
Sign up for SATs and/or ACTs (if you want to take it one last time early fall)
Visit Colleges/Complete Campus Visit Checklist
Enter Letters of Recommendation Requests into Naviance
Complete Applications
Complete and Submit Transcript Request Forms for High School
Submit Remaining Applications
Prepare for Interviews (if necessary)
Schedule Interviews (if necessary)
Submit Test Scores
Confirm that Letters of Recommendation are Submitted In Naviance
Complete Financial Aid Forms: FAFSA and CSS Profile, beginning 10/1
Follow Up to Be Sure All Colleges Have Received Materials
Receive Acceptances
Revisit Colleges
Receive Financial Aid Award Letters
Parents and Students Review and Compare Financial Aid/Merit Award Packages and Look at the Bottom Line cost
Make Final Decision on Where To Attend

Complete Your Financial Aid Forms

Complete financial aid forms, including FAFSA and the CSS Profile, where applicable. You will need personal financial information, such as tax returns, bank statements, and other documents. Your financial aid package offers will be based on the financial information you provide on these forms. We suggest you complete these forms, whether or not you’re eligible, beginning October 1. Financial situations can change quickly, so having this basic documentation in hand is smart. When you receive package offers, spend some time evaluating them. The language and breakdown of the components of the offer can be confusing. You need to understand what your bottom line cost is for each school.

Complete and Submit College Applications

This will be one of the biggest parts of senior year. Students should do the primary work, but parents and college counselors can assist by providing feedback on applications and essays. Work as a team to reduce the stress level! At Signature College Counseling, many of our students have submitted all or some of their applications prior to even starting their senior year since we have been working with our students throughout the summer in preparation for this.

Select the School You Will Attend

Deciding on a college can be a difficult decision, of course. Consider your options carefully. Visit the school again and sit in on classes and activities to get a real feel for the school. Do your best to make sure you fit in, taking into account the whole student experience.

Put Down Your Deposit

The national deadline for committing to a college is May 1, which is when you put down your deposit. You’ll need to put down a deposit, to one school, and one school only. This deposit is generally non-refundable. You cannot put a deposit down at more than one school. The student contractually signs each application that they submit that they will abide by this.

A Final Note

College planning can be stressful for everyone involved. Breaking the tasks down by high school year can help alleviate some of that stress. Use these checklists to work together to solve problems and establish goals. Start college planning now, to achieve success, and to breathe!

If you’d like a free initial consultation, contact us. We’ll meet via ZOOM with students and their families to discuss our services, our pricing and to better understand the student and the family’s needs. Call (845) 551-6946 or email to get started.

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