Timeline for Success

Opening Your Options to Higher Education

College Planning Timeline for Success

Below is a snapshot of goals for Freshmen, Sophmore and Senior year high school students as you consider and plan your best path forward after high school. 


  1. Challenge yourself and take your study habits seriously. Develop success skills to make the most of your learning style.
  2. Focus on your grades. Colleges look at your transcripts starting freshman year.
  3. Get involved in activities or begin to explore your interests outside of class. If you are not the club type, research interesting fields and develop hobbies of your own. Find out what you like to do and do it!
  4. Explore what type of leadership skills you have. Are you an idea generator or do you like to carry it out? Are you an autonomous inventor or a collaborator?
  5. Get to know your guidance counselor. They will be writing your recommendation to colleges!
  6. Practice connecting with your teachers and view them as resources for success. Ask for individual help and get to know about them. Using all of your resources will be one of the most important factors of success in college. Now is a perfect time to start.


  1. Make an academic and extracurricular action plan to support your interests. This involves self-discovery. Take a strengths and interests assessment and explore some majors and activities that seem to match your results.
  2. Meet with your counselor and craft an academic plan that challenges you without pushing your grades down or sacrificing extracurriculars. Ask your counselor about AP/Honors/Concurrent and IB courses.
  3. Explore what goes into college planning and begin to think ahead as if it were real.


  1. Create a Common Application account and explore the website.
  2. Consider taking some test prep to get ready for PSAT.
  3. Consider diving into a foreign language with the goal of becoming fluent, or at least sticking with it throughout high school.
  4. Determine your academic strategy for next year with your guidance counselor.
  5. Take a writing course, or journal about your ideas about what you want in a college. Freewriting about anything will be an advantage when it comes to crafting your college essays!
  6. Attend a college fair.
  7. Visit a local college or two and keep notes. Summer vacation can be a chance to stroll through a nearby campus too.
  8. Begin to talk with your family about college budget and explore scholarship opportunities, especially in your own town.


  1. Register for and take the PSAT.
  2. Focus on keeping your grades up. Now is the time for an upwards trajectory if you had a less than perfect start to high school!
  3. Keep a notebook and begin writing down colleges that interest you, and why.
  4. Take an assessment that measures the criteria involved for finding your great fit colleges.
  5. Look for college fairs in your area and write down a list of questions you would want to ask the college representatives.


  1. Estimate financial need using the FAFSA 4 caster or the College Board EFC calculator.
  2. Explore academic planning for second semester: choose the courses that are challenging and support your interests and strengths. If you have a strong thread going that you love, keep it up.
  3. Maintain involvement in extracurricular and volunteer activities. Find new ways to display your talents and evidence of your interests.
  4. Take the ACT/SAT.
  5. Continue to research your financial aid sources.
  6. Work on your college list. Talk to your parents about possible visits for spring break.
  7. Look for ways to make the most of your summer. Register for summer programs.


  1. Attend college fairs and do college visits when possible.
  2. Search for scholarship opportunities and continue the college budget discussion with family.
  3. Take the ACT/SAT.
  4. Keep grades up and keep actively involved in your learning and your interests.
  5. Begin to ask teachers for recommendations.


  1. Find ways to develop and hone in on your interests. Whatever you do, do it well!
  2. Begin essay brainstorming and first draft of personal statement.
  3. Have a comprehensive college list and create a spreadsheet of deadlines and requirements, including essays (with supplements), recommendations, and financial aid.
  4. Get FSA ID in preparation for the FAFSA.
  5. Refine your resume on Common Application. Craft your activities list, honors, and additional information sections.
  6. Commit to a deep exploration of the colleges that are likely to be on your final list.
  7. Determine if any of your college prospects are Early Decision or Early Action candidates.


  1. Narrow down your college list to 8-12 serious candidates and begin to check off your application checklist.
  2. Get your teacher recommendations.
  3. Complete the FASFA, open October 1.
  4. Take the ACT/SAT again, if applicable.
  5. Meet with your counselor and give him or her your college list. Talk about your decisions.
  6. Prepare for and submit and Early Action or Early Decision applications.
  7. Finish essays plus all supplemental essays required by colleges.
  8. Keep checking your checklist!


  1. Submit regular decision applications--keep photocopies of all material submitted.
  2. Receive responses for Early Decision and Early Action. Deposit for Early Decision.
  3. Have high school send transcripts to colleges.
  4. Consider adding a safety college if you haven't already.
  5. Visit colleges that are on your list.


  1. Send any additional information to colleges if needed, including CSS profile and financial aid information.
  2. Receive decisions for regular decision applications.
  3. Compare financial aid packages.
  4. Submit deposit on your final choice college.
  5. Consider sending a financial appeal letter.

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