• Rebecca Eckstein, MA, CEC

Timelines for College Planning


You think you are the only parent out there that doesn't know where to begin with your son or daughter's college search. That is not true. I talk to parents every day with questions about what to do and when to do it. I have provided these quick lists to help you and your son or daughter with the search. Let's get started. This can be exciting and fun.

Freshman Year

1. Look at your curriculum closely to ensure that it matches your abilities so that you can make the best grades possible. GPA matters.

2. Begin to consider your college choices and the types of programs offered.

3. Take a career pathway assessment to determine your interests and your skills and talents.

4. Take the PSAT.


5. Visit colleges informally when you are on vacation. I know it takes a full half day out of your vacation but it will be worth it in the end.

6. Add depth to your college application by ensuring that you do at least one meaningful thing during the summer, either a camp in your field of pursuit, an internship, or a community service project.

7. Keep track of your activities. Join clubs. Universities like to see activity on your application. They want well-rounded students.

8. Attend college fairs so you can begin to get a feel for the different colleges.

Sophomore Year

1. Repeat everything you did in the Freshman year above, and do all of the things above that you missed.

2. Take the PSAT if you haven't taken it. If you have to take the SAT or the ACT at least once. You want to take these tests 3 times unless you are an excellent test taker. The competition is fierce. If you are not testing well. Sign up for Khan Academy.

3. Continue your log of activities. By now you should have several activities. If you do not have several community service activities, become intentional and seek them out.

4. Begin talking to college representatives when they come to your school.

Junior Year

1. This is the most important year of your college search. By now you should have a good idea of the Top 10 schools you want to apply to next year.

2. Hopefully, your GPA is good and getting better. It matters. Study.

3. Consider an SAT or ACT prep course if your initial PSAT or SAT/ACT score is not in the range you need it to be for entry into your Top 10 Schools.

4. Take the SAT subject tests at the end of your Junior year if you need them for your Top 10 List of Schools.

5. Work on your community service hours and run for a leadership position during your senior year. Colleges love admitting seasoned leaders.

6. If you are an athlete sign up for NCAA and NAIA.

7. Visit all of your schools on the Top 10 list. It is imperative that you visit. You may decide that one or two of your schools is not a good fit. Or it may change your 1st choice school. If you plan to apply ED (Early Decision - Binding); you absolutely must know what your 1st Choice School is before your senior years begins. You can do some of this during the summer.

8. Create an account on www.fastweb.com and www.schoolsoup.com. These websites will send you scholarship information by email. This is also a good time to ensure that your social media posts and your email address are mature and professional. Colleges look at your FaceBook page. If you have disparaging posts they might include that information in your admission committee review. Clean it up now. Also, your email address should be respectable.

9. Take the SAT or ACT again.

Senior Year

1. If you plan to submit the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), apply for an ID from the U.S. Department of Education.

2. Complete the FAFSA. You can do this in October now (www.fafsa.ed.gov).

3. Have your guidance counselor send our your midyear transcript to colleges. This is the grades they will see to review your admission to their college. Work hard in the fall semester.

4. Make a list of your Top 10 college deadlines and put them on the refrigerator. You can't miss them there.

5. Write your application essays.

6. Send in college applications.

7. Get to know your college representative and keep in touch with them via email or visits. Send them your materials, if possible.

8. If you are a male, you must register for the selective service by your 18th birthday to receive federal funding.

9. Fill out state applications by the deadline for financial aid.

10. Ask for teacher recommendations for your applications.

11. Make sure you send your SAT or ACT scores to your Top 10 Colleges. If you have narrowed your list of colleges that is great.

12. Check and recheck with your colleges to ensure your applications are complete.

13. If you apply ED, be ready to accept if you are admitted, and do not apply to other colleges and universities, or withdraw your applications.

14. By mid-April, you should receive acceptance letters and financial aid offers.

15. Compare your financial aid offers; seek assistance for this aspect of your choice. Affordability is important for persistence in college. You want to graduate, and you want to do it in 4 years. It is less costly that way.

16. Accept entrance to your desired college.

17. Decline acceptance to all others. Do not forget this important step. Colleges need to know if you are not coming. It makes room for your friends.

18. Ensure that your guidance counselor sends your final transcript to your college of choice.

19. Select your dorm room, get your health record up to date. Make sure you make an appointment for a physical in the summer. Some colleges do not let you arrive with our certain immunizations.

20. Consider getting a meningitis immunization. This is a fatal, contagious disease that impacts young adults in their teens and twenties. Don't be uninformed. Some colleges now require it. Other immunizations are also important. Talk to your doctor.

21. Get a summer job, so you will have spending money for college.

22. Set up a bank account that corresponds with the ATM machine on campus or the closest bank to your new college. There will be times when you need cash and you do not want to pay ATM fees.

23. Get to know your roommates over the summer, and plan who is bringing the college refrigerator, tv, etc. Those rooms are small on most campuses.


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