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High School Freshman

High School Sophomore

High School Junior

High School Senior


High School Freshman Timeline


    It is never too early to start planning for college, especially how to pay for college, so there are several critical activities you can start as soon as you enter high school. Even if you are not yet a high school freshman, it’s never too early to start preparing yourself to pursue post-secondary education.


    Challenge yourself academically. Put yourself in the best position to win scholarships by getting and maintain a good GPA! This is a factor that is well within your control during this all important journey, so do what YOU can to insure that you are as competitive as possible when the time comes. Always keep this in the back of your mind – GPA is ALWAYS considered for “full-ride” scholarships! Make certain your GPA is as strong as possible!


    Get involved in community service and extracurricular activities! Be sure to keep a folder, either online or paper, documenting your community service and extracurricular activities. Keep in mind that oftentimes donors are reluctant to give money to students they do not believe are well-rounded, or haven’t learned the value in giving back to their community, even if they have a high GPA. Getting involved, in community service and extracurricular activities, such as clubs, school government, or the school newspaper, can help a candidate who might have not a strong GPA.


    Get organized! If you haven’t already, start to create and maintain folders of useful items related to financing your post-secondary education. Along these lines, create a calendar to help you track scholarships now and for the future.


    Keep a list of teachers and educators whom you have had as instructors, in addition to their contact information, as you may want to seek a letter of recommendation from them later on. Students frequently overlook this task and often have to scramble at the last moment. So prepare in advance by sending your instructors a note of thanks after the course(s) have ended and let them know you would like to keep in touch. This is not only a considerate gesture, it will also set you apart from the throngs of students who would never consider it even when strongly encouraged to do so.


    Start to attend college fairs. It is never too early to start thinking about what colleges you might be interested in, so attending college fairs can be an excellent research tool to assist you explore this endeavor! College fairs really help to familiarize yourself with the many college options that will be available to you, so by all means EXPLORE!


    Begin researching scholarships. There are so many generous scholarships available to high school freshman that not looking at this point would be a huge mistake. If you start applying at this early stage, by the time you junior and senior year arrive you will a wonderful grasp of the process!
    In addition, do not limit yourself to scholarships exclusively offered by a specific college or university, but look for scholarships in areas and fields in which you are interested, as well as any available general scholarships for which you might currently qualify. Be certain to organize the results of your research into an easily accessible format.


    Research the PSAT, as well as SAT and ACT college entrance exams! While I have never met a standardized test I liked, for many students they will figure prominently. For those of you that fall into this category, these standardized tests will become important to you quicker than you might imagine, so do yourself a favor and become familiar with them now. Remember, the famous quote, “Forewarned is forearmed,” as it is completely applicable here!


    Introduce yourself to your guidance counselor. Your high school counselor may know about specific scholarship opportunities for which you might qualify. Some scholarship applications require guidance counselor verification, so it will truly be helpful when that time comes! Guidance counselors oftentimes process applications for donor organizations, so again, it may very well prove indispensable that they are already familiar with you, your grades and extracurriculars!


    Take advantage of courses that might be helpful in a chosen career field! If your high school offers, for example, coursework in Advanced Placement (AP) Science, Math, History, or a Foreign Language, or extracurricular Art or Music course, and any of those areas interest you, plan to take those courses, in addition to those necessary for graduation. Do what you can to have a well-rounded high school experience.


    Take advantage of pre-college preparatory courses! While successfully completing a pre-college summer preparatory course is no guarantee of subsequent acceptance into a particular college, there is absolutely NO denying that it does convey one all-important fact: it confirms that a student is capable of performing college-level work BEFORE graduating from high school. For that reason alone, this should be a “no-brainer,” if the opportunity to participate in these programs presents itself. However, in addition to this obvious benefit, pre-college courses, on most occasions, permit high school students an opportunity to obtain college credits even before entering college as an undergraduate. Finally (as if any additional benefits need mentioning, given the above, it is conceivable that a high school student that takes advantage of four (4) years of pre-college summer programs can quite possible have taken an entire year of college (or certainly make a noteworthy “dent” in the same) at a significantly reduced costs. Need we say more?



High School Sophomore Timeline


    As we will often state, maintaining a high GPA and taking more progressively challenging classes will aid in demonstrating your worth as a future scholarship applicant and also put you well on your way into become a more well-rounded student. You will do yourself a great service by developing good study habits and skills now because when compared to college coursework, most of your current school assignments are quite manageable. As an example, if  you go back and look at any of your middle school assignments, the notion that they were ever challenging will more than likely seem inconceivable. This feeling will persist because, more often than not, we work at a lower level than our full potential. Do what you can to eliminate the chances of that experience happening in the future and push yourself to excell!


    Plan to meet with your assigned high school guidance counselor more frequently to discuss topics such as possible careers or colleges/universities/vocational/trade schools that you may be interested in. Also use this opportunity to periodically make sure you are on track for graduation.


    Review academic requirements for the colleges and universities that you may want to attend. Keeping them cataloged will help you more easily keep track and focus on what may initially appear to be an overwhelming number of possibilities. Focusing on organization now will save time and energy in the future when you are narrowing your choices. Continue to explore college and university programs in which you might be interested. If, for example, you plan to study abroad be sure to confirm that the colleges and universities you’re interested in offer a program in your desired location. There are some really incredible programs out there!


    Continue extracurricular activities and community service and obtain the necessary documentation to verify these activities. There are many generous scholarships based solely on volunteer work. Demonstrate commitment by giving back to your community. This will not only put you in good stead when applying for most scholarships, but will put you well on your way to becoming a lifelong philanthropist. While that may seem like a far-fetched notion at this early stage of your life, it will hopefully come to make sense further down the line!


    Keep a list of teachers and educators whom you have had as instructors, in addition to their contact information, as you may want to seek a letter of recommendation from them later on. Students frequently overlook this task and often have to scramble at the last moment. So prepare in advance by sending your instructors a note of thanks after the course(s) have ended and let them know you would like to keep in touch. This is not only a considerate gesture, it will also set you apart from the throngs of students who would never consider it even when strongly encouraged to do so.


    Most high school sophomores take the PSAT during the month of October of their sophomore year. To find out what date your respective high school will administer the PSAT by following this link Find out in advance what the PSAT entails and how you can prepare for the test. Determine if your school offers any preparatory courses or other forms of instruction to prepare and do your best on this exam. Practice specific techniques to lessen anxiety and stress, so that we you take the SAT and/or ACT you are less likely to panic in anticipation of the test day. Take advantage year to use this as an opportunity to learn how to put an end to any and all standardized college entrance examination test-taking anxieties!


    This is the time to start scheduling regular scholarship search time into your daily/weekly schedule. The sooner you develop diligent scholarship search habits, the better. The goal is to make searching for scholarships part of a routine. In the beginning it be a meddlesome chore but once it becomes a regular part of your life—like any extracurricular activity—and you have taken other important steps such as establishing essay templates, it will get easier – I promise!



High School Junior Timeline


    First and foremost, while every year of high school is important, by far, when it comes to getting ready for college, the junior year trumps all. Much of the advice you see in this section will appear in a corresponding section for seniors in most other articles. Here’s where starting early pays off. If you’ve waited to do any of the following until senior year of high school, you’ve simply waited too late.


    Hopefully, during your sophomore year you have explored advanced coursework, such as Advanced Placement (“AP”) and International Baccalaureate (“IB”) programs, that not only better prepare you for college, but which may ultimately permit you to earn college credits while still in high school. If you are not already enrolled in more progressively challenging coursework consider enrolling, if not too late, since many colleges are really interested in your caseload during these final years of high school. They really want to know if you have been pushing yourself as you prepare for college.


    As always, continue with your community service and extracurricular activities! When students ask “how much community service do I need,” I always respond by telling them that there is “No such thing as too much community service.” Use that view as a guidepost and give back to your community as much as possible under your particular circumstances because everyone (including prospective colleges and universities) recognizes that service as invaluable. Colleges and scholarship donors will reward you handsomely in the end!

  • THINK ABOUT YOUR LIST OF COLLEGESIf you have not already (hint:  you should have), start seriously thinking about the colleges and/or universities in which you’re interested in attending. I recommend thinking in terms of the following three categories:

    •  “Get In” Schools:” These are the colleges you are fairly certain you can “get in;”
    •  “Like to Get In” Schools:” These are the colleges and universities that you would would not frown upon attending;
    • Love to Get In” Schools:” These are the colleges and universities that are at the top of your list – the ones you’d absolutely love to get in.
      I got this gem from a very wise college professor, by the way (Thank you John Gates, Ph.D.)!  Thinking of prospective schools this way really did serve me well, not only as a college student planning to attend graduate school, but with my own children’s  college planning  as well. Of course, recognize it does not always work out the way you might plan. For example, I did not get into a school that I was POSITIVE I would have no trouble “getting in,” but got into my first choice (and several others), so keep that in mind when you are categorizing your choices. Hopefully, if you have made thoughtful selections, it will all work out in the end.

    Consider attendance at as many college fairs as possible as mandatory. If you wait until your senior year to begin attending college fairs, you have truly done yourself a disservice. While you are in the process of compiling your list of colleges, it makes perfect sense to use college fairs as an opportunity to learn even more about prospective colleges and universities. If you have an opportunity to make an actual college visit, even better! I was mortified when my youngest daughter was in her senior year and her school only provided for two or three days for so-called “discretionary” absences (during which time a good many parents carted their son or daughter off on a college trek). If the colleges in which you’re interested are geographically on opposite ends of the world, this could present a problem. With this in mind, I would recommend at least initially, splitting the number of colleges to which you plan to apply by the number of months you have remaining in school and us that as a starting point. Alternatively, and at a minimum, plan at least two or three college visits during your Fall of your junior year. You will be challenged for time during your senior year, so do what you can to reduce your college prep workload! I highly recommend visiting as many colleges as is feasible since there is truly no viable substitution for the actual college visit. There is nothing like physically being on the campus of a prospective school to give you a meaningful prospective as to what it would be like to actually attend. I can vividly recall visiting for the first time the campus of a college I had been in love with, well, “since forever” and being completely disappointed with every single aspect of it even before the visit was over. It truly can be an invaluable eye-opening experience.


    After you’ve got a working list of colleges that you are happy with, start looking into the cost of attendance and highlight that information next to the respective college. Be sure to include not just tuition, but room, board, books, transportation, etc. Also, begin reviewing the scholarships offered by each institution for incoming freshmen. Notate that information, alongside the cost of attendance, making sure to include specific requirements. For example, if there is any possibility that you would like to apply for a scholarship for student volunteers, plan to amp up your community service hours to insure you are a viable candidate. Remember, put yourself in the best possible position. Leave absolutely nothing to chance when it comes to college planning and applying for scholarships.


    While you are reviewing colleges, within your categories, preliminary consider whether you might be interested in Early Action and/or Early Decision and create a list of pros and cons for each. Find out whether your decision will preclude you from applying and/or accepting an offer of admission from other prospective colleges. In terms of your institutional scholarship opportunities, specifically check whether the timing of your application for admission will include (or exclude)  you from certain scholarship consideration.


    I’m no fan of standardized testing. However, if your prospective college requires it, plan to take the SAT and/or ACT at least once this year. A few years ago, the SAT changed its reporting policies, so today, rather than a college or university receiving all of your test scores, only the highest test scores will be sent by College Board. Prior to that time, ALLl scores were reported. Accordingly, we encourage students to take the tests as many times as they can afford and/or until they have scores with which they are happy. Taking the SAT and/or the ACT in your junior year will allow you to familiarize yourself with the process and help you prepare, should it be necessary, to take it again in your senior year. If you are not comfortable with your standardized test taking skills, we strongly urge you to avail yourself of many of the qualified college entrance exam preparatory services. It will be money well spent.
    As a viable alternative, consider applying to colleges or universities that are test-optional, or test-prohibitive. (Link list of test-optional colleges)


    Start preparing general/basic scholarship essays (It will be helpful to look at past scholarship essay questions and a good many colleges and universities keep them posted on their websites) during the summer before your senior year. Plan to revise frequently, as it will certainly pay off later. Begin creating a template of what you think might be an introduction of yourself to a prospective college. Have a working idea of who you are and how best to convey that to your prospective schools because this will be useful not only when it comes to college admission, but for scholarship consideration as well.


    Start thinking seriously about which instructors, civic leaders, etc., you would like to approach to request a letter of recommendation for your application for admissions. At this stage, hopefully you have had occasions to request a letter of recommendation, because ideally you have been applying for scholarships already. Prepare draft (and then final) requests for recommendation(s) for any and all scholarship applications for which you intend to apply. Don’t forget to attach a current resume illustrating your community service and extracurriculars!


    Prepare a list of all the scholarships for which you intend to apply. You should have a folder that you created previously in which you have maintained information about scholarships in which you are interested! Begin researching possible scholarship sources/donors of which you might be potentially interested. Our advice is to cast a wide “scholarship net!” Research not only your college scholarship options, but local, regional and national scholarships as well. There are so many generous scholarships that if you started this process in your senior year, you would be wholly behind. There are some scholarships for which you can only qualify for as a high school seniors: Know what those scholarships are, when their applications become available and know their specific requirements. It would be unwise to first learn of them in your senior year, because you may not have sufficient time to submit the best application possible. Add this invaluable/critical information to your calendar of important deadlines.


    Find out if your school or community hosts a Financial Aid Night and make plans to attend. You very well may discover valuable financial aid information of which you were previously unaware, so in our opinion, these can be a “Can’t Miss” event! Typically, they discuss the FAFSA, and the different types of aid for which you might qualify, but attend because if there is the slightest chance you may learn of a new financial aid resource, then it is absolutely worth attending.


    Plan to meet with your school guidance counselor even more often than you did in your sophomore year (Hopefully you have been meeting with them frequently as earlier advised)! If you have not meet with your guidance counselor during the summer preceding your junior year, meet with them as possible after the academic school year begins. They are the individuals you will turn to when your college and/or scholarship donor needs documents, e.g., official transcripts, as well as when verification is required. Plan to stay in touch throughout the year, contacting them to find out if there are new scholarships available. It can be as simple as scheduling an appointment, or sending an email! Whatever the mode of contact, do it and do it often! Above all else, keep them in your “Scholarship Loop !”



    If you have not previously taken a pre-college summer course, if at all possible, plan to take one during the summer between your junior and senior year. While these courses can be pricey, they carry with them the added distinction of illustrating your ability to do college-level work prior to your high school graduation. Most of these courses allow you to acquire college credit, so in addition to your high school transcript, you will also be sending official college transcripts when you begin applying for college admissions AND scholarships! Here too, your money will be well spent. You have got an entire academic year to save up for these pre-college courses, so estimate the costs and put in place a savings plan.



High School Senior Timeline


    First, and foremost, “Congratulations!” You are almost to the high school ‘finish line! Soon you will be able to pat yourself on the back; just not yet! We still have some work to do! Get ready, be organized start early and DO NOT procrastinate!


    Hopefully, you have been following all the advice in the preceding years: If you have not, you are REALLY behind. Does that mean you are facing an insurmountable obstacle? No. It simply means you have to work overtime (but hopefully, you do not find yourself in that situation).


    During the summer months preceding your senior year, you should plan to effective “chart a course” for scholarships for which you intend to apply. Start your scholarship search early! You should have already created a list of scholarships for which you intend to apply. The fall prior to high school graduation has some very generous scholarships for which you can only apply as a high school senior! Do not let this opportunity to obtain much-needed financial aid pass you by! In many cases, this is a once-in-a –lifetime opportunity, so be certain not to squander it! Be organized with a calendar of all your important scholarship application deadlines! Have electronic reminders, either via email or telephone, to remind you, in advance, of impending deadlines. When you enter your senior year you will be overwhelmed with college applications, graduation requirements (to say nothing of your classwork/homework), so do what you can to be ready for the onslaught of important tasks and deadlines going into this final “stretch!’ Above all, do NOT wait until after you have applied for college to start searching for scholarships!


    Finalize your lists of schools you plan to apply for during your summer hiatus. Make decisions about Early Action, Early Decision and Regular Decision. This is important as it may relate to you being considered for certain institutional scholarships for incoming freshmen. Have your list of colleges divided accordingly and note important admissions deadlines.


    The summer prior to your senior year is also a great time to finalize your requests for letters of recommendation for the upcoming academic year. Knowing, in advance, which instructors, community/civic leaders, etc., you intend to ask for a letter of recommendation, will alleviate quite a bit of the anxiety and stress you will experience during this final year of high school. Be sure to attach a resume/student credential to your requests, as it will give the person providing the reference an opportunity to detail your activities and accomplishments. Keep in mind that you will not be the only senior requesting letters of recommendation, so as a practical matter, this will greatly assist the person providing the recommendation. Finally, in this regard, be sure to include stamped and properly addressed envelopes to persons from whom you are requesting a letter of recommendation.


    Do you scholarship research. It is important to know whether or not any of the colleges or universities in which you’re interested use your application for admission as your scholarship application. This is significant because in many instances, this will effectively be your only opportunity to be considered for those scholarships exclusively for incoming freshmen, which may be renewable. Accordingly, you would do well to commit to making your admission/scholarship application the best possible (hopefully, you have already made that commitment)! If you learn that the college(s)/university(ies) in which you are interested employ this process, plan in advance and put the necessary time and effort into making your admission/scholarship application unforgettable (in a positive way)!


    Continue to take progressively challenging coursework (Yes, even in your final year). A great number of schools request either your transcript through the first semester/quarter of high school and/or request information regarding the courses you are taking. It will bode you well to be viewed as continuing to challenging yourself academically, even on the “eve” of graduation.


    Meet early and often with your guidance counselor. Confirm you are on track for graduation. If your counselor has summer hours, schedule an appointment to meet with him or her to discuss any issues and/or post-secondary plans you have. Confirm that required documents have been forwarded to all the schools to which you have applied. Obtain an official transcript to keep on hand at home in the event you need a transcript at short notice. You will have to contact your counselor frequently during the final stage of this all-important process, so if you haven’t already, make yourself visible and known!


    You can’t win scholarships for which you don’t apply. Apply often and early in the event of an untimely and unforeseen circumstance (believe it or not, they happen and usually at the worst possible time)! As a rule of thumb, apply for as many scholarships commensurate with your financial need. Consequently, if you need a lot of financial aid, apply for a lot of scholarships! You can do much to reduce reliance on student loans, so do what you can to insure you are not bankrupt before you ever get your first job. There is a lot of money available for students willing to take the time and make the effort! Keep in mind that when you are applying for a scholarship, you are essentially asking someone who, more often than not, does not know you for free money. Make sure your application is illustrates your recognition of this oft-ignored fact. Take the time to make your application substantively meaningful and error-free. Make it a practice to have each and every application reviewed before you submit it. Two sets of eyes are always better than one. This will require you to start applications in advance, but you will find it well worth the effort.


    You are about to embark on what will likely be the best part of your young lives and we wish you nothing less than much success in both your educational and personal pursuits!!