Put Together a College Admission Timeline

You're looking forward to your freshman year in high school. Now blink. Before you know it, you'll be on the brink of entering your freshman year all over again — this time in college.

Although that day may seem far into the future, know that 9th grade is not too early to start planning your course of action toward applying to the college of your choice. If you take steps early in high school — and keep moving forward through your senior year — you're bound to have a better experience in the final sprint toward your new freshman year.

Here are some suggestions to put you on the right track:

Freshman year

  • Take classes that challenge you to be creative in your thinking and in your approaches to problem-solving.

  • Spend some time with your guidance counselor, discussing how your school and your goals can best mesh.

  • Try out some activities both in school and in the community. Figure out what's fun, rewarding, and a good fit your talents and interests.

  • Read all about it! Pick up a book, rather than the remote, to build your vocabulary.

  • Get out and about during your summer break. Find a job, see new sights, do something for someone else, sign up for a special program, like art classes or wildlife exploration.

  • Get the best grades you can. The difference between letter grades is often one big "E" — for Effort.

Sophomore year

  • Talk with your counselor about what you're doing to prepare for college in general and for the particular institutions that stand out in your mind right now.

  • Make your mark in the extracurricular activities. Accept a club officership, lead a committee, start a brand-new organization altogether.

  • Focus on your coursework, aiming for high grades in every class.

  • Get in as many AP and Honors classes as practical for your courseload.

  • Research scholarship opportunities and get the jump on applying.

  • "Test drive" the PSAT in the fall. You can become familiar with the exam before your score counts.

  • If you feel ready, take SAT II subject exams in May or June.

  • If you've finished any AP classes, take AP tests at the end of the school year.

  • If your family takes a summer vacation, stop in and visit some colleges along the way.

  • Do something fun and worthwhile during the summer.

Junior year (a biggie, academically)

  • Get serious with the college process. See your counselor early and often.

  • Choose your senior year courses wisely, with your counselor's advice.

  • Take the PSAT for real, knowing that your score shows how ready you are for SAT I.

  • Line up your resources for SAT preparation.

  • Register to take the SAT I or the ACT for the first time during your 11th-grade second semester.

  • Check out some college applications, to get an idea of what'll be expected.

  • Spend some time with college representatives who visit your school or who hold introductory sessions in the community.

  • Spend more time on the scholarship trail.

  • If your parents haven't initiated the conversation, start talking with them about how you'll finance your college education.

  • Identify a few of your favorite teachers as possibilities when you're ready to ask for references.

  • Make the most of your summer break by visiting campuses and realizing that this time next year, you'll be a few months away from your college freshman year.

Senior year (yippee — graduation at last!)

All school year: Fight off the urge to fade into the senior slump.

In the fall

  • Narrow your college choices to a handful and list out their application deadlines.

  • Take SAT I and SAT II: Subject Tests. If you took exams before to get the hang of what was expected, look forward to scoring better on this round — if you prepared.

  • Get going on your college essays. Never submit your work without having at least one other person review it, preferably someone trained as an editor or educator.

  • Approach teachers about completing your Evaluation Forms and School Report. Make sure you communicate a clear deadline for submission to each college.

  • Send in Early Action or Early Decision applications, you're interested in finding out sooner, rather than later, whether you've been accepted at the colleges of your choice.

In the winter

  • If you haven't already sent them in, now's the time to launch your applications!

  • Get your financial forms, including the famous FAFSA, in order and in the mail (also available online).

  • Stay in touch with your counselor. He or she should submit a completed Mid-Year School Report by the deadline, which usually falls in February.

  • Keeping tracking down scholarships. Check in with local civic and special interests groups, businesses and industries near and far, and your parents' employers.

In the spring

  • Be patient as colleges sort through hills and heaps of applications. You'll probably get the news (hopefully, all good) in April.

  • If you're placed on a wait list, talk with your counselor about your next best move with that particular college.

  • When you've heard back from every college, you have some deciding to do. Participate in on-campus events for the incoming freshman class at any or all of the schools that extended an acceptance. Then, figure out where you really want to spend the next several years.

  • Notify all the schools of your decision and send in your deposit to your top choice.

Take the time to thank everybody who helped you get to this point — the threshold of another freshman year!