Getting ready for college doesn’t have to be complicated. Just map it out with our handy college planning timeline.
College Planning Timeline
Winter – Junior Year
Share what you’ve learned.
Talk with your family, teachers, and high school counselor as you learn more about each school.
Start narrowing down your choice of colleges.
Mobile apps like College Passport can help you build and track your college list.
Explore financial aid options.
The US Department of Education offers online tools that help families plan ahead financially for college.
Spring – Junior Year
Think about your dream job.
Not sure where to go to college? Work backwards and think about what you want as a career. It’s ok if you don’t know exactly what you’d like your first job to be, but adding your career interests into the mix will help you make smart decisions about how much to apply for in student loans. As a general rule of thumb, don’t borrow more for school than you expect to make in the first year of your professional career.
Meet with your high school counselor to plan for next year’s classes.
It’s important not only to get good grades but also to take challenging courses.
Search for scholarships.
Find the latest tips for scholarship success.
Start gathering letters of recommendation.
Ask people who know you well, such as your teachers, guidance counselor, employer, or other mentor.
Learn about the admissions process.
There are many reputable sites, such as the College Board, that offer free articles and webinars about college admissions. You can use tools like the College Application Wizard to keep track of all the admissions requirements and deadlines for the schools you plan to apply to.
Can’t make it to campus? Check out virtual tours at sites like YouVisit.
Talk with current students at the schools you’re considering.
Connect with students you know who are attending the school, or check out services like CollegeWeekLive to chat online with students from a wide variety of colleges and universities.
Summer – Junior Year
Visit college towns!
Research online to learn about the nation’s top college communities.
Do volunteer work.
Strengthen your experience and your college applications by giving back to an organization you care about.
Get a summer job.
Earn extra money for college expenses.
Apply for grants.
Find winning strategies for getting college grants.
Practice writing your application essay.
You’ll find a lot of handy tips online from education experts on the types of essays admissions counselors are looking for.
Fall – Senior Year
Meet with your high school counselor.
Get their advice on staying on track during this all-important senior year.
Meet with admissions counselors.
Visit in-person and online college fairs to learn more about schools you’re interested in and what they’re looking for in their applicants.
Finalize your list of colleges.
Find tips from Ted Fiske of the Fiske Guide on choosing a school that’s right for you.
Write your admissions essay.
Ask your parents, teacher, or high school counselor to proof it before you submit it.
Finish your applications.
Pay attention to deadlines. Early decision and early action applications are usually due between October 1-November 1.
Winter – Senior Year
Complete the FAFSA and other financial aid forms. (January 1 – February 15)
The US Department of Education offers free resources to help you complete the FAFSA.
Important: Check to see if any of the schools you’re applying to also require that you fill out the CAA/Financial Aid Profile in addition to the FAFSA. There are about 300 colleges and universities that require this form before awarding financial aid from sources outside the federal government.
Pay attention to your grades.
Have your high school counselor send your midyear grades to the schools you applied to.
Spring – Senior Year
Review your Student Aid Report. (February – March)
You’ll receive this report after you fill out the FAFSA. Learn why this report is important for getting financial aid, and get tips on understanding your report.
Consider acceptance letters and financial aid awards. (April)
Use a comparison tool to keep track of the financial aid offers.
Research student loans if needed.
Carefully review the terms, such as repayment lengths, repayment options, and interest rates. You can use College Ave Student Loans’ calculator to see your loan options before applying.
Tip: Get your cosigner involved. Most students applying for a private student loan need a cosigner. By getting your cosigner involved early, it will make applying for a loan easier later on. Learn more about cosigners here.
Formally choose your college! (May 1)
Notify the school of your decision to enroll, and write to the other schools you were admitted to as well to let them know your plans.
Send in your deposit. (May 1)
Be sure to have a letter of acceptance from the school in hand before you send in your deposit.
Submit your housing form.
Send in your housing form promptly for the best chance of getting into the dorm you want.
Summer – Senior Year
Make a college budget.
You’ll find many free college budgeting templates online.
Apply for student loans if needed.
Bills for tuition and other fees will start rolling in by mid-June and usually are due by mid-August. Once you apply, keep copies of applications, and keep a spreadsheet to track responses.
Keep tabs on college bills.
Bills for tuition and other fees will start rolling in by mid-June and usually are due by mid-August.
Many universities offer in-person orientation sessions, as well as online sessions for those who can’t visit campus before classes start.
Pick your fall classes.
Popular classes may fill up quickly. Choose classes as early as possible so you can get into your top choices.
Meet your new roommate!
If possible, text or call your roomie before you meet in-person. It’s a nice way to break the ice before the semester starts.