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College Admissions Action Plan

It is important to get on the right track early when preparing for college. Start by creating a college admissions action plan for yourself. The more involved preparation steps, such as taking the SAT and/or ACT, do not appear in a college admissions action plan until later in high school, but taking the right classes in middle school is important to setting yourself up for success later in high school. Other parts of a college admissions action plan, such as maintaining good grades through each of the high school years, are important because being a diligent student will prepare you for college work, and will open up college options and scholarship opportunities upon high school graduation.

Below you will find a recommended college preparation calendar for students in 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 Admissions Action 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 academic classes you can take next year in high school to get ready for college.

Freshman College Admissions Action Plan

Grade When Activity
9th Grade 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. Colleges will look for this. You should also plan on getting involved at school. Participating in sports, drama, band, student government, clubs volunteer work or community service makes high school more fun and will help you develop leadership and teamwork skills that colleges value. Depth matters more than breadth. 
9th Grade 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.
9th Grade Fall Maintain 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 out your college admission and scholarship applications if you do not start now. This will serve as the beginning of a resume that you can use when writing college admission and scholarship applications.
9th Grade Winter / Spring If at all possible try to visit college campuses either in-person or through virtual tours on the college’s web site. Even just driving through them or viewing them electronically will give you a feel for different campus settings.

Sophomore College Admissions Action Plan

Grade When Activity
10th Grade 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 and SAT Subject Tests. Consult your school guidance counselor about which test(s) you should take. Be sure to find out the test date, time, and location. Both tests are scheduled from October through December. Only the October administration of the PSAT counts toward the National Merit Scholarship competition. 
10th Grade 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.
10th Grade 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 academic courses that may be required or would be beneficial for college.
10th Grade April Register for the June SAT Subject Tests. These are one-hour exams testing you on academic subjects that you should have already completed. Many colleges require three SAT Subject Tests. Two of these should be in a math and writing. 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 subject tests now as well if you want to practice.
10th Grade 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.
10th Grade June Take additional SAT Subject Tests if appropriate. Your school guidance counselor should be able to advise you if this is a good idea.

Junior College Admission Action Plan

Grade When Activity
11th Grade 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 How to Pay for College and investigate private sources of financial aid. There are several scholarship resources listed in the article.
11th Grade October Take the PSAT/NMSQT to prepare for the SAT and SAT Subject Tests and to be eligible for the National Merit Scholarship competition (scores from your sophomore year will not count in the competition).
11th Grade November Continue to do research on government, as well as private, financial aid programs.
11th Grade 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 your score. Sigh up for the February ACT.
11th Grade January Begin to make a list of 15-20 colleges you would like to explore. Show the list to your parents and high school guidance counselor 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), as it is required on many college applications.
11th Grade February Meet with your school guidance counselor to begin preparing a list of colleges to consider. Sign up for the March SAT. Begin to prepare for the SAT Subject Tests or ACT.
11th Grade March Visit the web sites of the colleges on your list to request information, and evaluate any materials on their web sites or they  send you. Share the materials with your parents. Take the SAT. Continue your research on private scholarships by finding out what awards students in your school and community are receiving.
11th Grade March Try to visit colleges during your spring break so you will be on the college campus when classes are in session. Contact 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 staff member 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 staff member.
11th Grade April Sign up for the May/June SAT and/or SAT Subject Tests. Take the ACT. Look into summer jobs or internships. Continue to evaluate colleges and begin to eliminate some choices from your list.
11th Grade 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 Subject Tests. Take Advanced Placement exams, if appropriate.
11th Grade May Consider enrolling in an academic course at a local college, pursuing a summer school program and/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.
11th Grade June Take the ACT.
11th Grade July / August Download or bookmark private scholarship applications. Work on your high school accomplishments resume and, if the schools or scholarships you are interested in require them, begin to assemble writing samples, portfolios, or audition tapes.
11th Grade 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 Admissions Action Plan

Grade When Activity
12th Grade September Meet with your school 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.
12th Grade September If you have not already taken the required tests, or you and your counselor feel that you should take it/them again to try to improve your score(s), sign up for the October ACT or October/November SAT and/or SAT Subject Tests.
12th Grade September Contact 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 academic 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.
12th Grade September Visit the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE web site to see if any of the colleges on your list require this financial aid application form. If so, register for the CSS PROFILE service.
12th Grade October Attend a regional college fair to further investigate the college(s) on your list. Make sure that your academic 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/Financial Aid PROFILE. If applying for “Early Action” or “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 submit including the date on which it was mailed.
12th Grade November Continue to file admission applications.
12th Grade December File your last college applications. If you've applied for Early Decision or Early Action, you should have an answer to your admission status by the middle to end of this month.
12th Grade January Request that your high school send your first term academic transcript of your grades to the colleges to which you've applied.
12th Grade January File the Free Application for Federal Student Financial Aid (FAFSA) online at Work with your parents to complete the FAFSA on or as soon after October 1 as possible. Submit it in no later than February 1 or the earliest financial aid deadline of the colleges to which you are considering attending. 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.
12th Grade February / March Monitor your admission and financial aid 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.
12th Grade 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.
12th Grade 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 about attending the college.
12th Grade April Use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to update the information on your FAFSA after you and/or your parents have filed your federal income tax returns.
12th Grade 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.
12th Grade April Decide on the one college that you will attend and send in your tuition and/or housing 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.
12th Grade 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.
12th Grade April Remind your parents to check their eligibility for the American Opportunity and Lifetime Learning tax credits when they file their taxes. Next year, they may be able to reduce their taxes by up to $2,500 by claiming one of these credits for college expenses.
12th Grade May Work with your parents to establish a budget for your college 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, how much from what you might earn at an academic year job and how much from a student loan.. 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.
12th Grade May If you want to live on campus, and have not already done so, complete a campus housing/meal plan application.
12th Grade May Take Advanced Placement exams, if appropriate.
12th Grade June Request that your high school send a copy of your final academic transcript to the college you will attend. Notify the college of any private grants of scholarships you will receive.
12th Grade 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.
12th Grade June Apply for a summer job. Plan on saving a portion of your earnings for college.
12th Grade July Look for information from your new college about housing, orientation, course selection, etc. If your financial aid package includes a part-time job (including a 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.
12th Grade 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.

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