College Prep Steps by Grade Level
- Take challenging classes in core academic subjects. Most colleges require four years of English, at least three years of social studies (history, government, geography, economics, etc.), three years of mathematics, and three years of science and many require two years of a foreign language. Round out your course load with classes in computers and the arts.
- Work with one of your parents to estimate your financial aid using FAFSA4caster and be sure to save for college.
- Get involved in school- or community-based activities that interest you or let you explore career interests. Consider working, volunteering, and/or participating in academic enrichment programs, summer workshops, and camps with specialty focus such as music, arts, or science. Remember—it’s quality (not quantity) that counts.
- Ask your school counselor or teachers what dual credit courses are available, whether you are eligible, and how to enroll in them.
- Use the U.S. Department of Labor’s Career search tool to research your career options.
- Start a list of your awards, honors, paid and volunteer work, and extracurricular activities. Update it throughout high school.
- Learn about managing your money.
- Explore reasons to consider college and ways you can get help preparing.
- Talk to your child about college plans as if he or she will definitely go to college.
- Keep an eye on your child’s study habits and grades – stay involved.
- Encourage your child to take dual credit courses or other challenging classes.
- Add to your child’s college savings account regularly, and make sure you are fully aware of the provisions of the account.
- Address your concerns about whether your child can or should go to college.
- Meet with your school counselor or mentor to discuss colleges and their requirements.
- Consider taking a practice Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT).
- Plan to use your summer wisely: work, volunteer, or take a summer course (away or at a local college).
- Go to career information events to get a more detailed look at career options.
- Research majors that might be a good fit for your interests and goals based on your results from the U.S. Department of Labor’s career search.
- Learn the difference between grants, loans, work-study, and scholarships.
- Help your child develop independence by encouraging him or her to take responsibility for balancing homework with any other activities or a part-time job.
- Learn about the standardized tests your child will be taking during 10th through 12th grades.
- Explore careers and their earning potential in the Occupational Outlook Handbook www.bls.gov/ooh/
- Learn about choosing a college.
- Go to college fairs and college-preparation presentations by college representatives.
- You have two college days that you may use this year. Make sure you bring back verification from the college that you were there and give it to Mrs. Arnett.
- Take the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT). You must take the test in 11th grade to qualify for scholarships and programs associated with the National Merit Scholarship Program.
- Register for and take exams for college admission. The standardized tests that many colleges require are the ACT, SAT, and the SAT Subject Tests. Check with the colleges you are interested in to see what tests they require. Most, if not all, will accept all three tests.
- Use the U.S. Department of Labor’s scholarship search to find scholarships for which you might want to apply. Some deadlines fall as early as the summer between 1th and 12th grades, so prepare now to submit applications soon.
Summer before 12th grade
- Narrow down the list of colleges you are considering attending. If you can, visit the schools that interest you.
- Contact colleges to request information and applications for admission. Ask about financial aid, admission requirements, and deadlines.
- Decide whether you are going to apply under a particular college’s early admission or early action program. Be sure to learn about the program's deadline and requirements.
- Use the FAFSA4caster financial aid estimator, and compare the results to actual costs at the colleges to which you will apply. To supplement any aid FAFSA4Caster estimates you might receive, be sure to apply for scholarships. Your goal is to minimize the amount of loan funds you borrow.
- Learn how to avoid scholarship scams and identity theft as you look for financial aid and then attend college.
- Take a look at your financial situation, and be sure you’re on the right track to pay for college.
- Talk to your child about the schools he or she is considering. Ask why those schools appeal to your child, and help him or her clarify goals and priorities.
- Attend college fairs with your child, but don’t take over the conversation with the college representatives. Just listen, and let your child do the talking.
- Take your child to visit college campuses, preferably when classes are in session.
- Ask your employer whether scholarships are available for employees’ children.
- Get in-depth information on federal student aid programs. You can google this information.
- Learn about student and parent loans. You can go to https://studentloans.gov
Find out how the federal student aid application process works. This is the FAFSA.
- Work hard all year – second-semester grades can affect scholarship eligibility.
- Stay involved in after-school activities, and seek leadership roles if possible.
- Attend college and career fairs if you are still undecided about where you want to attend college.
- You have two college days that you may use throughout the year. Just bring back verification that you were there to Mrs. Arnett.
- Meet with your school counselor to make sure you are on track to graduate and fulfill college admission requirements.
- If you haven’t done so already, register for and take the standardized tests required for college admission. Check with the colleges you are interested in to see what tests they require.
- Apply to the colleges you have chosen. Prepare your applications carefully. Follow the instructions, and PAY CLOSE ATTENTION TO DEADLINES!!!
- Well before your application deadline, ask your counselor and teachers to submit required documents (e.g., transcript, shot records, letters of recommendation) to the college to which you’re applying.
- Encourage your parent(s) to complete income tax forms early. If your parent(s) has (have) not completed tax forms, you can provide estimated information on your federal student aid application, but remember to make necessary changes later.
- As soon as possible after January 1, complete and submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), along with any other financial aid applications your school(s) of choice may require. You can complete the FAFSA online or on paper, but completing the application online is faster and easier. You should submit your FAFSA by the earliest financial aid deadline of the schools to which you are applying, usually by early February. www.fafsa.gov.ed
- After you submit the FAFSA, you should receive your Student Aid Report (SAR) within three days to three weeks. Quickly make any necessary corrections and submit them to the FAFSA processor.
- Complete any last scholarship applications.
- Visit colleges that have invited you to enroll.
- Attend any financial aid nights and/or FAFSA nights.
- Review your college acceptances and compare the college's financial aid offers.
- Contact a school’s (college) financial aid office if you have questions about the aid that school has offered you. In fact, getting to know your financial aid staff early is a good idea no matter what – they can tell you about deadlines, other aid for which you might wish to apply, and important paperwork you might need to submit.
- When you decide which school you want to attend, notify that school of your commitment and submit any required financial deposit.
- Make informed decisions about student loans.
- Federal vs. Private loans
- Direct loan basics for students
REMEMBER: Register for all tests in advance and be sure to give yourself time to prepare appropriately!! If you have difficulty paying a registration fee, see your school counselor about getting a fee waiver.
- Work with your child on filling out the FAFSA.
- Make sure your child’s personal information is safe when he or she applies for financial aid.
- Read IRS Publication 970, Tax Benefits for Education to see how you might benefit from federal income tax credits for education expenses.
Understand the benefits of federal student loans.