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College Action Plan

It is important to get on the right track early when preparing for college and to inform yourself on the necessary steps to take by making a college action plan for yourself. The more involved preparation steps, such as taking the SAT, are not in a college prep plan until later in high school, but taking the right classes in middle school is important to set yourself up for success later in high school. Other parts of a college prep plan, such as maintaining your grades through each of the high school years, are important because being a diligent student will prepare for college work, and it will open up college options and scholarship opportunities upon graduation.

Below you will find a recommended college preparation calendar for students grades 8-12 and links to valuable resources. Follow the links, ask admissions and financial aid experts on our forum, or ask your guidance counselor for advice at any point if you have questions about the action steps below.

8th Grade College Prep Plan

Grade When Activity
8th Grade N/A Take algebra I if available and also any other advanced classes that will help get you ready to take "college prep" or advanced classes in high school. You should also try to find out what courses you can take next year in high school to get ready for college.

Freshman College Prep Plan

Grade When Activity
Freshmen
Fall
Find out who your guidance counselor is and schedule a meeting to plan out your academic course work. You can build strong academic skills by taking challenging courses and colleges will look for this. You should also plan on getting involved at school. Participating in sports, drama, band, student government, clubs, or volunteer work makes high school more fun and will help you develop leadership and teamwork skills that colleges value.
Freshmen
Fall
Start talking to your parents about paying for college. Ask them how much they think they can help you with paying for your future education. Start saving for college, either on your own or by contributing to a savings plan that your parents have established. Also make sure your parents are aware of 529 college savings plans!
Freshmen
Fall
Start and plan on maintaining a list of your activities, awards, community service, and other unique educational experiences throughout high school. You would be surprised at how hard it will be to remember when filling our your college applications if you do not start now. This will serve as the beginning of a resume that you can use when writing college and scholarship applications.
Freshmen
Winter / Spring
If at all possible try to visit college campuses. Even just driving through them will give you a feel for different campus settings.

Sophomore College Prep Plan

Grade When Activity
Sophomores
September
Inquire about taking the PLAN (practice test for the ACT) and the PSAT/NMSQT (Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test). These tests are important practice tests which will prepare you for the ACT and SAT I and II, respectively. Consult your school guidance counselor about which test you should take. Be sure to find out the test date, time, and place. Both tests are scheduled from October through December.
Sophomores
October / November
Take the PSAT/NMSQT or PLAN on a test date offered at your high school. (Note: Sophomore year PSAT/NMSQT scores do not count for the National Merit Scholarship competition, but it is still a good idea to take the test to familiarize yourself with it.) Begin to look at college catalogs and college search engines.
Sophomores
December
You should receive PLAN or PSAT/NMSQT results. Read the materials sent with your score report and consult your school guidance counselor to discuss remaining courses that may be required or would be beneficial for college.
Sophomores
April
Register for the June SAT II: Subject Tests. These are one-hour exams testing you on academic subjects that you have already completed. Many colleges require three SAT II: Subject Tests. Two of these should be in a math and writing subject. It is a good idea to take these tests during your junior year, if want to take your third test in a subject you have studied this year (i.e. biology or chemistry); you may want to complete that exam now while the subject is fresh in your mind. You can take the math and writing subjects now as well if you want to practice.
Sophomores
May
Consider a summer courses or other study programs. You should certainly have some fun but also be sure to make wise use of your summer. If you work, be sure to save some of your earnings for college.
Sophomores
June
Take the SAT III: Subject Tests if appropriate. Your school guidance counselor should be able to tell you this.

Junior College Prep Plan

Grade When Activity
Juniors
September
Meet with your school guidance counselor to review your classes and plan for your senior year. Inquire about the PSAT/NMSQT test, date, time, and test location in October. You should also read our Financial Aid 101 material and investigate private sources of financial aid. There are several free online scholarship search services listed in our "paying for college" section.
Juniors
October
Take the PSAT/NMSQT to prepare for the SAT I and II, and to be eligible for the National Merit Scholarship competition (scores from your sophomore year will not count in the competition).
Juniors
November
Refer to our Financial Aid 101 material to start doing research on government, as well as private, financial aid programs
Juniors
December
Receive the results of the PSAT/NMSQT. Read your score report and consult your school guidance counselor or teachers to determine how you might improve. Sigh up for the February ACT.
Juniors
January
Begin to make a list of 15-20 colleges you would like to explore. Show the list to your parents and discuss their ideas and preferences about the kind of college you should attend. Apply for a social security number (if you do not already have one), it is required on many college applications.
Juniors
February
Meet with your school guidance counselor to begin preparing a list of colleges to explore. Sigh up for the March SAT I. Begin to prepare for the SAT II or ACT.
Juniors
March
Send letters or e-mails to the colleges on your list requesting information, and evaluate the materials they send you. Share the materials with your parents. Take the SAT I. Continue your research on private scholarships by find out what awards students in your school and community are receiving.
Juniors
March
Try to visit colleges during your spring break so you will be on campus when classes are in session. Call the college's admissions office before you visit a campus. The admissions staff will schedule you for a campus tour and arrange an interview, if necessary. If possible, schedule an appointment with a financial aid counselor to learn more about the college's financial aid opportunities. Be sure to bring your parents, their opinion is important and they can gain very valuable information by talking with a financial aid counselor.
Juniors
April
Sign up for the May/June SAT I and/or SAT II: Subject Tests. Take the ACT. Look into summer jobs or internships. Continue to evaluate colleges and begin to eliminate some choices from your list.
Juniors
May
Attend college fairs and sessions with college representatives at your school to get more information. Be sure to ask questions about financial aid, as well as the academic program, student life, etc. Take the SAT II: Subject Tests. Take Advanced Placement exams, if appropriate.
Juniors
May
Consider enrolling in an academic course at a local college, pursuing a summer school program or working as a volunteer. Remember you'll want to be sure you've got some good extracurricular experiences for your college applications. Make wise use of your summer. If you work over the summer, put aside some of the money for college.
Juniors
June
Take the ACT.
Juniors
July / August
Write for private scholarship applications. Work on your high school resume and, if the schools or scholarships you are interested in require them, begin to assemble writing samples, portfolios, or audition tapes.
Juniors
July / August
Summer is a perfect time to begin work on college application essays; you will be very busy with coursework once school begins. If you are interested in an athletic scholarship, contact the coaches at the colleges to which you plan to apply.

Senior College Prep Plan

Grade When Activity
Seniors
September
Meet with your guidance counselor to review your college plans and evaluate them in light of your test scores and junior year grades. It's a good idea to involve your parents in this meeting and to discuss your prospects for financial aid at this time.
Seniors
September
If you have not already taken the required tests, or you and your counselor feel that you should take it again to try to improve your score, sign up for the October ACT or October/November SAT I and/or SAT II: Subject Tests.
Seniors
September
Write to the colleges on your list and request admission, financial aid, and, if appropriate, housing applications. Keep a checklist with all the admissions and financial aid deadlines for the colleges you are considering. Check with your school to make sure your transcripts and other records are up to date and accurate. Ask teachers, employers, or coaches to write you letters of recommendation. Give them any forms that colleges require and follow up to make sure the letters are mailed on time.
Seniors
September
Pick up a copy of the CSS Profile Registration Guide from your high school guidance office to see if any of the colleges on your list require this financial aid application form. If so, register for the profile service.
Seniors
October
Attend a regional college fair to further investigate the college on your list. Make sure that your transcript and test scores have been sent. Set aside plenty of time to draft, edit and re-write application essays. Be sure to give your parents enough time to help you fill out any college financial aid forms, such as the CSS Profile. If applying for 'early decision,' send in your application now. Sign up for December/ January tests, if necessary. Begin to send in applications; be sure to keep copies of everything you send, with the date on which it was mailed.
Seniors
November
Continue to file admission applications. You should also file the Free Application for Federal Student Financial Aid (FAFSA) online at http://www.fafsaonline.com/
Seniors
December
File your last college applications. If you've applied for early decision, you should have an answer by now.
Seniors
January
Request that your high school send the transcript of your first semester grades to the colleges to which you've applied.
Seniors
January
Work with your parents to complete the FAFSA on or as soon after January 1 as possible. Send it in no later than February 1. If the financial aid processor requests additional information in order to process your application, submit it promptly. Check with your high school to find out if your state student aid program requires an additional application.
Seniors
February / March
Monitor your applications to make sure that all materials are sent and received on time. Review your Student Aid Report (SAR) for accuracy. If necessary, correct any inaccurate items on the SAR and return it to the FAFSA processor (if you had a college transmit your FAFSA data directly, you must notify the college of any changes or corrections). If you have not received an SAR four weeks after you file your FAFSA, call 1-800-4FED-AID to inquire about your application status.
Seniors
February / March
When a corrected SAR is returned to you, review it one more time. Then, if it is correct, keep a copy for your records. If a college requests your SAR, submit it promptly. DO this even if the SAR says you are not eligible to receive a Federal Pell Grant, as the college may be able to offer you other aid based on the information in that report.
Seniors
February / March
If you haven't decided on a favorite campus, try to arrange a second visit. Talk to students and sit in on some classes so you can make an informed decision.
Seniors
April
Review your financial aid award letters with your parents; be sure that you understand the terms and conditions that apply to each type of aid offered.
Seniors
April
Decide on the one college that you will attend and send in your tuition deposit. Notify in wiring the other colleges that accepted you that you have selected another school. This is an important step. Other students will be hoping to receive your spot! Be sure to respond by May 1.
Seniors
April
If your first choice college places you on its waiting list, do not lose all hope. Some students are admitted off the waiting list. Contact the college, let the admissions office know you are still very interested, and keep the college updated on your activities.
Seniors
April
Remind your parents to check their eligibility for the HOPE and Lifetime Learning tax credits when they file their taxes. Next year, they may be able to reduce their taxes by up to $1,500 by claiming one of these credits for college expenses.
Seniors
May
Work with your parents to establish a budget for your books, supplies, and living expenses. Determine how much of that budget grants and scholarships will cover, how much your parents will contribute, and how much you will need to supply. Then determine how much of your contribution will come from savings, from a student loan, and from what you might earn at an academic year job. Then, if necessary, complete a loan application form. Be sure you understand the terms of the loan before you and/or your parents sign a promissory note.
Seniors
May
If you want to live on campus, and have not already done so, complete a housing/meal plan application.
Seniors
May
Take Advanced Placement exams, if appropriate.
Seniors
June
Request that your high school send a copy of your final transcript to the college you will attend. Notify the college of any private grants of scholarships you will receive.
Seniors
June
Find out when payment for tuition, room, board, et. Will be due and investigate whether your college offers a tuition payment plan that lets you remit these charges in installments. Be sure you understand how financial aid will be disbursed and whether you can defer bill payment until the funds are available.
Seniors
June
Apply for a summer job. Plan on saving a portion of your earnings for college.
Seniors
July
Look for information from your new college about housing, orientation, course selection, etc. If your financial aid package included a Federal Work-Study award, it may be your responsibility to find an appropriate job. Plan to follow up with the financial aid office as soon as you arrive on campus.
Seniors
August / September
Pack for college and look forward to a great experience.

Note: This calendar is adapted from the American Council on Education's College Admission and Financial Aid Calendar. It's based upon on material from the National Association for College Admission Counseling and the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. The dates in this calendar are approximate. Be sure you know and adhere to all college deadlines.