A general timeline shows what action is typically needed or required during high school and each month of senior year.  

Please review and forward all questions to your school counselor.  

Start by considering what college is best for your child.

Freshman through Junior Year

It’s never too early to start considering plans after high school. 

Kahn Academy suggests the following tips starting in ninth grade and continuing through 11th grade:

  • Take college-prep courses. Take challenging courses in high school (e.g., honors, Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), HS/college dual enrollment), focusing on the core academics: English, math, science, history, and world languages. Rigorous courses that go beyond the minimum graduation requirements will make you a more impressive applicant and can even earn you college credit while in high school!
  • Focus on your grades. Your high school transcript is considered one of the most important parts of your college application, and good grades will distinguish you from many other applicants.
  • Explore and commit to extracurricular and leadership activities. Freshman year is a great time to try several different extracurricular activities to see which ones are most interesting to you. Once you decide what you like, dedicate more time to fewer activities in order to become deeply involved.
  • Find summer volunteer opportunities/jobs/internships. Summer is a great time to earn extra money for college while exploring different career fields.
  • If possible, meet regularly with your guidance counselor. Getting to know your guidance counselor early in your high school career makes it easier to talk about your plans for high school, college, and career.
  • Begin an ongoing dialogue with your parents about how to pay for college. Start discussing this as soon as possible, both in terms of why you want to go to college and how you’re going to pay for it. That way, you and your family will be comfortable with the topic when it’s crunch time in 11th and 12th grade.
  • Start saving for college. Even if you can only put aside a few dollars each month, every little bit helps, and creating a college savings account makes the idea of going on to higher education much more real.
  • Search and apply for non-traditional scholarships (those available before you are a senior in high school). Though most scholarships are available only for seniors applying to college, there are some scholarships available regardless of where you are in your high school career.

These tips come from the Kahn Academy Master Timeline.  There are many resources available with general information. Your school counselor can assist you with information specific to your needs and interests.

Summer before Senior Year

Campus visits – Use the idle months of summer to visit some of the campuses on your list. Most colleges conduct tours during summer. 

Start your list – Summer is a great time to compile a list of colleges. By the end of summer, you should narrow your list of 20-25 schools down to 10 or 12, including reach, match and safety schools.

Common Application – Many colleges and universities use the online Common Application. You can create an account and get familiar with the Common Application during summer. Know what is required, draft an application timeline and begin thinking about your essay, a critical component of any application.



School counselor – Hopefully you talked with your school counselor about college during your junior year. Now that you’ve had the summer to explore your options, sit down again to review the process. Your counselor will offer valuable perspective about the schools you are considering and help you chart the application process. Also, make sure you’re fulfilling all the requirements for high school graduation.

Letters of recommendation – As soon as you can, ask two teachers to write letters of recommendation for you. It is wise to ask teachers from your junior year, especially if you have a good relationship with them and participated in their class. If a teacher doesn’t really know you or hasn’t heard much from you in class discussions, they won’t have much to write about.

SAT – Register for the SAT, which is usually administered in October, November and December. You can also take SAT subject exams, which is a good idea if there is a particular subject you excel in.

Request applications and make sure you understand admissions requirements for each school.

It’s time to start getting applications from the schools on your list. By now, you want to have your list down to eight or 10 schools, tops. With each application, write out a schedule of deadlines so you don’t miss anything. This is especially important if you’re thinking of applying for an early decision or early action.

College Essay – It is crucial to allow plenty of time to formulate your essay. Students who have spent time reflecting on the essay will stand out. Essay questions can be very broad, and it can be a real challenge relating them to your life. Talk to others about how to approach the essay.

Grades and Extracurriculars – Remember, keep your grades up. Admissions counselors will look at the first half of your senior year to see that you’re still challenging yourself and succeeding. If you’ve already been active in extracurricular activities, explore leadership opportunities. This could include being captain of a sports team, starting your own club or getting involved with student government. Senior year is your opportunity to transform from a young adult into a student leader.

See the College Essay: Tell Your Story page for more tips.


Narrow your list – By this point, your list should be down to a handful of schools, and you’ll probably have a favorite. Know whether your grades are in line with the academic standards of each school. This will help you break your list into three categories: reach, match and safety.

Work on applications – With fewer schools to consider, you can begin working on applications in earnest. If you’re using the Common Application, make sure each application is tailored to the school. Don’t make the mistake of copying and pasting and forgetting to change the name of the college.



College Fairs – Most colleges and universities host college fairs in the early fall. This is an open recruiting forum where students and parents are invited to see the campus and learn more about academics and student life. Now, most schools also offer virtual fairs. Find out the fair schedule for each school on your list and take advantage of this opportunity to learn more about each school.

High school transcripts – Request your high school transcripts and verify their accuracy. If anything is wrong or missing you’ll need time to correct it. Reviewing your transcript is also a good reminder to maintain your grades through to the end.


Testing – This is when you should take your SAT and ACT exams. It’s best to do this now, in case your score is lower than expected, as it allows time to take the exam again. It is common to take the test multiple times.


Applying Early – If you are applying to a school through early decision or early action, you will need to complete your application in October. Deadlines for these admissions programs are usually the end of October or the beginning of November.

Early Decision or Early Action – If you decide to submit your application Early Decision, you must withdraw your applications to other schools if you are accepted. You can still apply to other schools if you choose to apply Early Action.


Submit your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid)

Filing for the FAFSA begins October 1. Each college may have a different deadline for completion. Check with the college(s) you are interested in attending.



Applications – Ideally, by now you should be planning to apply to five to six schools. You’ve had a few months to look over the various applications and think about your essay. Give yourself ample time in November to complete all the applications and get feedback about your essay. Have parents, teachers and other adults in your life offer feedback about your essay. Try to keep an open mind to their constructive criticism.


Financial aid and scholarships – Deadlines have not yet arrived for financial aid and scholarships, but it is best to apply early. Knowing what aid packages are available will help compare the cost of different schools.

Testing – November is still within the normal window to take your SAT and/or ACT, but December will probably be your last opportunity to do so. If you haven’t taken or would like to retake the SAT or ACT, make sure you register now for the December test. Spring will be too late to retake the test.

Grades – November is also a critical month for your high school classes. The semester will end in mid-December, so if you need to improve any grades, now is the time to get serious. Even if you are accepted to a school, the decision can be reversed if your grades drop.

December and January

Submit applications – Most colleges have regular application deadlines in December. Make sure to keep track of all deadlines; they can vary from school to school. For most people, the month of December is always filled with extra holiday-related activities, not to mention the end of the fall semester. Don’t leave anything to the last minute. 

Finalize other application components – By now you’ve taken exams, written your essays and secured letters of recommendation. Confirm that your test scores have been officially submitted to every college to which you’re applying. Also, verify that letters of recommendation have been mailed.

Financial aid – Most colleges require you to submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Start exploring financial aid and scholarships at the colleges you applied to. By the time you start receiving acceptance letters, you’re going to want to have an idea of how much you can save, and aid packages can differ a great deal from school to school.

February and March

Confirm applications – Most colleges will send a confirmation that your application has been received and is being processed. If you do not receive confirmation of receipt for any of your applications, do so as soon as possible.

Financial aid – If you submitted your FAFSA in December, by now you should be receiving a Student Aid Report, or SAR. Review this carefully and verify it is accurate. Discrepancies on this form could result in the loss of thousands of dollars in financial aid.

Late applications – Some schools have late deadlines or rolling admissions policies, meaning there is no set deadline, and applications may be submitted anytime in the winter or spring. As with everything else, it is still wise to apply as early as you can. You never know how competitive open seats will be.

Acceptance letters – Acceptance, rejection and waitlist letters may start arriving as early as February or March. In most cases, you will have until the end of April to make a decision. If you haven’t received any letters yet, don’t worry. It is common for letters to go out in April.

May and June

Deposit deadline – Typically, colleges have a deposit deadline of May 1. You may have already signaled your intent to enroll, but now it’s time to commit financially. Your acceptance letter should include all the details.

Final transcripts – Once you’ve graduated, send your final high school transcript to your new college. This may help you secure a scholarship or qualify for other competitive academic programs.

AP exams – If you’ve been taking AP classes in high school, you’ll be taking your national exams at the end of the school year. This is a huge opportunity, because a score or 4 or 5 on an AP exam translates to college credit. Some students begin college with much of their freshman requirements fulfilled through AP credits.

Thank you letters – There were probably many people who helped with your college applications. Take the time to write personalized thank you letters, especially to school counselors and teachers who wrote letters of recommendation. They will appreciate the gratitude, and will be happy to know where you enrolled.

The Summer Before College

Register for Freshman Orientation – This isn’t required for all freshmen, but attending orientation can ensure a smooth transition into freshman year.

Talk with your parents – College is a big step, a big opportunity, and yes, a big investment. Your parents can be a good source of guidance about your future, so keep them in the loop with your plans.

Do more research about campus life – Curious about what kinds of activities are offered? Or what students think of housing? Check out the Campus Life page of your college to view student polls and information about activities, sports and more. 

Relax and enjoy your time at home before school starts!




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