It is never too early to start preparing for college. As soon as your child is begins high school, preparations should begin for the competitive process of applying for college. Here is a breakdown of what specific areas to focus on during the four years of high school.

Freshman Year:

  • Read
    • Read one non-school book per month.
    • This will not only improve your reading skills, but will also increase your vocabulary as well as your knowledge about the word around you.
    • Ask friends and family to recommend books, or go online to search for books with positive reviews. You may also consult my “Recommended Reading” list.
  • Learn
    • Pay close attention to Algebra, Geometry, and Grammar concepts taught in school, as these will be tested on the ACT and SAT.
  • Be active
    • Remain active in sport, extracurricular, and community service activities.
    • Start a document to keep track of these the dates, hours, descriptions, and contact information for each activity, as the details will be difficult to remember later.

Sophomore Year:

  • Read
    • Continue reading one non-school book per month.
  • Learn
    • Continue to pay close attention to Algebra, Geometry, and Grammar concepts taught in school, as these will be tested on the ACT and SAT.
  • Be active
    • Remain active in sport, extracurricular, and community service activities.
    • Continue to document the details as they occur.
  • Test Prep
    • Begin preparing for the ACT and/or SAT. To help you distinguish between these tests, consult this post.
    • Take and score a diagnostic test ACT and/or SAT Practice Test. Write down your initial scores for each section. Focus in on the sections with the lowest scores and do more practice. Keep track of your progress.
    • You may want to hire a tutor to teach you strategies and content that may help you to increase your score.
    • Do not let the official test be your first attempt. Look into taking a practice test in a real testing environment with a test prep company, such as Princeton Review or another nearby tutoring facility. Usually companies offer practice tests on a weekends for no more than $50.
  • Research Colleges
    • Start researching colleges.
    • Pay attention to majors available, class sizes, student to faculty ratios, percentage of students receiving financial aid, scholarship opportunities, accreditations, and activities.
    • Create a spreadsheet to keep track of your research, including important details like deadlines, costs, application requirements, as well as average GPA, tests scores, and rank. You can hire a tutor to help you keep your search organized.

Junior Year:

  • Take the ACT and/or SAT
    • Aim to take your first official ACT and/or SAT in the fall to get it out of the way. Junior year is difficult and it will be a relief to have one less stressor to focus on.
    • When you register for the ACT, choose the Test Information Release (TIR) Service to request a copy of your test questions and answers for an extra $20. If you forget, it can usually be ordered up to three months after your test date. Sent through the mail by the College Board, this is an excellent way to learn from your mistakes before taking the test again.
    • When you register for the SAT, choose the Question-and-Answer Service to request a copy of your test questions and answers for an extra $18. If you forget, it can be ordered up to five months after your test date. Sent through the mail by the College Board, this is an excellent way to learn from your mistakes before taking the test again.
    • Take the tests as many times as you see fit throughout your Junior year, though more than three times is not recommended.
  • Read
    • Continue reading one non-school book per month.
  • Learn
    • Continue to pay close attention to Algebra, Geometry, and Grammar concepts taught in school, as these will be tested on the ACT and SAT.
  • Be active
    • Remain active in sport, extracurricular, and community service activities.
    • Continue to document the details as they occur.
    • Begin informing your selected coaches, leaders, and managers that you will be asking them for letters of recommendation.
  • Narrow down colleges
    • Begin to narrow down your college choices, choosing at least two “Safety Schools,” four “In-Range Schools,” and two “Stretch Schools.”
    • Plan visits to the campuses, as the school environment may help to make your decision easier.

Summer Before Senior Year:

  • Choose colleges
    • Continue narrowing down your college choices through research and campus visits.
    • Follow each of these schools on Twitter and Facebook (make sure to clean up your profile first!)
  • Write personal essay
    • Begin working on your 650 word personal essay for The Common Application. See our YouTube tutorial on The Common App’s Personal Statement.
    • Chose two essays from Common App and have the drafts for each written by July. Even though only one essay is required for the Common App, it helps to have two to chose from. Plus, you may be able to use the second essay in a different college or scholarship application.
    • As such, it is important for you to keep these essays organized. Created a separate folder for college essays, then compose these essays in document, including the prompt and other pertinent information (school, deadline, link, etc.) before each essay.
    • Consider hiring a tutor to help organize and revise these essays. Conquering the College Admission Essay in 10 Steps 2nd Edition, by Alan Gelb is also an excellent resource.
  • Finish ACT and/or SAT
    • In many cases, the fall tests are your last opportunity to take these tests for application deadlines. Make sure to register in advance (registration deadlines for Fall tests are usually in August).
    • If you are finished with your testing, be sure to send your scores to the colleges you are applying to.
  • Ask for Letters of Recommendation
    • Prepare a packet for your recommenders that you will give them as soon as possible in the fall. The packet should include: a cover letter with your contact information, your resume, your transcript, your list of colleges (indicating your top choice).
  • Apply for Scholarships
    • Let your school counselor know you are interested in scholarships so that he/she can nominate you for particular scholarships that you might be eligible to apply for.
    • Get a good guide book. I recommend Winning Scholarships for College, 4th ed., by Marianne Ragins. Identify 5-10 scholarships that you might be eligible for. Many have fall application deadlines and require additional essays, so get started early. Add these essays to your document with the personal essays for the college applications. You may be able to use some essays more than once for scholarships with similar prompts.
  • Start The Common App
    • On August 1st The Common Application opens up. Log in and begin filling it out. You may request a tutor to help you with this process.
  • Learn more about your field of interest
    • Start reading a news periodical regularly and/or watching national news.
    • Consider reading a publication in your field of interest.

Senior Year:

  • Get Letters of Recommendation
    • Begin following up with recommenders about their letters.
    • Once you have received letters of recommendation, be sure to write thank you letters to your recommenders
  • Finish college and scholarship applications
    • Pay close attention to deadlines. Most applications must be in before the New Year.
    • Then sit back and wait for the acceptance letters to roll in!