The following checklist can be used as a tool for high school juniors and seniors in preparing for college. Planning for college requires a lot of research, and many important decisions have to be made by prospective students and their parents.
High school students should plan for college at the beginning of their Junior year (and attain high grades previous to that). Many universities require high school transcripts as part of their application process, and grades should be maintained as high as possible. Two hours of homework per day should be considered the norm, as college standards are more stringent than in high school, and one should prepare for a challenging regime of reading and writing in college.
In today's economy, where millions of unskilled jobs have been exported overseas, it is of paramount importance that Americans attend college and also acquire marketable job skills. Degree programs should be evaluated based on a student's personal affinity and ability levels, but also on whether there will be job opportunities after college. Salaries are based on the supply and demand of skilled workers, and generally the more specialized the training or education, the greater the salary. Salary is of course not the most important factor in employment for many people, but this should be a consideration when planning for college and a future career.
High school students should not be intimidated by the college application process. College is quite often the most challenging period in a young person's life, but many years later is often considered one of the most rewarding times during life. Preparing for college in your Junior year, or even sooner by studying vigorously, will make the application process smoother, and the first semester of college less stressful.
- Achieve the highest possible grades, as most colleges require a high school transcript when applying to the school.
- If possible, volunteer for a community service or participate in extra-curricular activities, as many colleges evaluate the commitment and leadership skills of applicants.
- Make an appointment with your guidance counselor to discuss your college plans and potential career paths.
- Talk to family members about college, including the cost of school and possible career paths.
- Evaluate college options, such as local vs. distant school, small student population vs. large, degree programs, faculty achievements, public vs. private school, rural vs. urban location, diversity level, athletic programs, living at home or independently, needing a car or other transportation, and social activities, etc.
- Register and take the PSAT (Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test).
- Attend a college fair.
- Investigate the colleges that were appealing to you during the college fair.
- Develop a list of 5-15 colleges that you may apply to.
- Register and take the March SAT and/or April ACT.
- Select courses for your senior year, keeping in mind college academic requirements and potential career paths.
- Consider teachers for recommendation letters.
- Complete a financial aid checklist.
- Investigate and apply to early scholarship programs.
Senior Year (September and October)
- Research scholarship opportunities on your college list, and note application deadlines.
- If possible, attend a Financial Aid seminar that are often presented at high schools, libraries, and colleges.
- Narrow your college selection to 3-5.
- Immediately research the selected 3-5 colleges, including admission application forms, application requirements such as recommendation letters or essays, transcripts, deadlines, fees, financial aid forms, scholarships, etc. Also request catalogs that contain required courses for specific degree programs, and course schedules if available. Set up a file for each college to keep the documents organized and easily available.
- Meet with your guidance counselor again for advice about your college choices and application requirements.
- If possible, purchase a SAT study guide and/or attend preparation classes for applicable scholastic tests.
- Register and take October SAT, ACT, ELPT, or other tests. SAT scores often influence scholarship awards, and is a major criteria in accepting new students.
- Some private schools require completion of a College Board CSS/Financial Aid Profile as a screening tool for Financial Aid qualification, with a September or October deadline.
- Visit the schools on your college list. Stop at the student union and interview current students about their academic experience there. Prepare questions for students such as a personal narrative of the application process, difficulty of courses, quality of faculty, etc. Observe the body language of students in the campus and imagine student life at each school. Meet with admissions officials to assure you have all required material and information.
- Decide what colleges you will apply to. Evaluate the full cost of attendance (tuition, books, labs, room & board, transportation), and full academic experience (size of school, degree programs, intellectual challenge, faculty skill, campus location, diversity, sports, social life).
- Consider applying Early Decision or Early Action, which usually have application deadlines in October or November.
- Write college essays with the help of a teacher, family member, or close friend.
- Ask two or three teachers that you know well to write recommendation letters for the colleges you will apply to. Give the teachers a copy of your current resume, recommendation forms, and stamped addressed envelopes to the schools.
Senior Year (November through May)
- Fill out college applications. Make a copy of all application forms and supporting documents. Finish any draft essays you have written and have a trusted friend critique them. Thoroughly review all forms and double-check instructions and deadlines.
- Mail college applications, financial aid forms, transcripts, essays, etc., to each school.
- Contact colleges and verify they have received your application and other forms.
- Apply for available scholarships.
- Your parents may need to complete their taxes in January to ensure documents are available for the Federal Financial aid application.
- If you are male and over 18 years old, you are required to register for selective service to be able to receive Federal Financial Aid.
- In early January, fill out FASFA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid system operated by the Federal government. Review the overview section which includes eligibility and other worksheets. Note application deadlines for Federal and State programs.
- Fill out and mail any state Financial Aid forms (if not linked through FASFA). Massachusetts has many financial aid programs and scholarships available.
- Receive acceptance or rejection letters from colleges applied to.
- Receive financial award letters.
- Make your final decision on what college you will attend. Again, analyze the full cost of attendance (tuition, books, labs, room & board, transportation), and full academic experience (size of school, degree programs, intellectual challenge, faculty skill, campus location, diversity, sports, social life). Use a cost/benefits or pros/cons method of making this extremely important decision.
- Notify the other colleges that you will not attend their school.
- Pay the deposit of the college you will attend.
- Make note of the housing deadline if you will be living in a dormitory or school sponsored facility.