Here's a College Prep Timeline You'll Actually Stick To


Your Junior year is when you’ll start making major plans that will affect the rest of your life. (No pressure or anything.)

Actually, it’s not as scary as it seems. Sure, you have a lot of important things to do this year, but the good news is, you’re here, and we’re going to walk through it together.

Below, is a guide, and timeline of sorts, to ensure you complete the right steps at the right time so that you’re completely prepared for college. This guide will help you decide when to take standardized tests, tour and compare the best colleges, and give you a time table for figuring out financial aid.

Let’s get started!

Here’s What to Do in the Fall of Your Junior Year


In the beginning of your Junior year, it’s time to roll your sleeves up and get busy with preparing for college.

The very first thing you can do is decide when you’ll take your tests because you’ll need to register early.

The most important tests to consider during the first quarter of your Junior year are the PSAT/NMSQT®, ACT, and SAT.

Unless you are at a rare school (usually private school) that doesn't require it, you are probably already signed up to take the PSAT/NMSQT® test. Many high schoolers also take the PSAT/NMSQT® during their Sophomore year, but the one you take Junior year is the one that will put you in the running for a National Merit Scholarship. By winning this scholarship, you’ll get $2,500 to apply towards college... and most importantly, it looks FANTASTIC in the Awards section of your college applications!

No sweat, though, if you don't make the cut.  The PSAT/NMSQT® is also a great practice for the SAT, if that's your test of choice.

Start scoping out the colleges you’d like to attend. Your school will likely host a college fair in the fall. Don’t miss it. This will probably be your first up close interaction with colleges. Use this time to learn more about each college. Start creating a list of college contenders.

Decide which classes you’ll need. Consider adding AP classes, which look great to prospective colleges. Here’s more information about AP classes: The Easy Way to Choose the Right AP Classes for YOU.

Make a commitment to focus on your GPA. Many colleges may not give your Freshmen GPA much weight, but they DO really scrutinize your Sophomore and Junior year grade performance, as well as whatever grades you've earned the fall of Senior year. If your Sophomore year was rocky, the best antidote is to make up for it with a rock-solid Junior year. You can do it!

You’ll also need to create a study schedule for each of your tests. Prepare way ahead of test time to give yourself as much time as possible to really study.

Last but not least, participate in extracurricular activities. Colleges also look at your activity outside the classroom to determine whether or not to accept your application.

Here’s What to Do in the Winter of Your Junior Year


It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas (and Hanukkah!), but you’ve got a lot more to do than trim the tree or light the Menorah. The winter of your Junior year (January through March) is all about testing. Whether you’re studying for standardized tests or taking them, it’s time to get busy.

I recommend taking your SAT exam early in the calendar year, like January if you're super prepared or March, so that you have plenty of time to take a second (or even third) exam. Remember that with the new SAT Score Choice policies, you can take the SAT as many times as you’d like and submit only your highest score to certain colleges. (Of course, I don’t suggest taking too many SAT exams—not only is that the quickest way to burnout, but also, some colleges want to see everything!)

The SAT is offered seven times a year, in October, November, December, January, March, May and June.  Starting in 2017, there will even be an August test date!

If you're taking the ACT, see if you can prepare yourself to take your first test in February. Unfortunately, if you live in New York state, you'll have to hop to border to New Jersey or Connecticut to take the February test, as it's oddly not offered in NY.  If February doesn't work out, April might be your best bet.

The ACT is offered six times a year, in September, October, December, February (not NY state), April and June.

Winter is also a great time to start planning for financial aid. Get your parents involved. It’s time to have a serious talk and ask those difficult questions about what college your parents can afford.

Here’s What to Do in the Spring of Your Junior Year


Spring is in the air! And this is probably the most crucial few months for your testing and academic timeline (sorry!).

Academically, you will need to balance keeping up your GPA, acing final exams and projects, passing AP exams, and nailing any state-required tests (like Regents exams in NY). Test-wise, you will likely be taking a 2nd attempt at the SAT or ACT—or switching gears and focusing on SAT II Subject Tests.  You're going to need to pace yourself—mentally, emotionally and physically—to get through April, May and June with flying colors. But I know you can do it!

Before school lets out is the perfect time to start asking for letters of recommendation. Ask your counselor, teachers, coaches and employer.

Keep an eye out on the future and decide which classes you should take during your Senior year. Don’t take the easy electives route. Challenge yourself and choose electives that will look good to your dream college (did someone say APs...?).

Plan to visit colleges. While it’s popular to tour during the summer, you can also take advantage of spring break to tour a college or two.

No matter when you decide to go, be sure to set up an appointment with the college admissions office first. They’ll connect you with a tour guide for your campus visit. You’ll be able to tour student housing, departments, campus grounds, and the neighborhood and see if the vibe is right.

Start looking for an internship. Find a summer job that relates to what you’d like to study in school. It will definitely look good on your application and can even beef up your resume when it’s time to start looking for a job in a few years.

Here’s What to Do in the Summer After Your Junior Year


Summertime! But, before you head to the beach, visit your top college choices. Before you do that, you’ll definitely want to narrow it down to your top three to five choices. You can’t visit every school, afterall.

Then, take a roadtrip to your favorite schools to see what the campus is really like.

It’s also a good time to start writing essays for your applications. Start earlier than you think is necessary because writing always takes longer than you think it will. You’ll need to make edits, so give yourself plenty of time to write something worthy of your submission. Ask a parent or mentor to proofread it and share his or her thoughts.

Not happy with your previous SAT or ACT scores from Junior year? Here’s your opportunity to come back recharged, refocused, and ready to ace your standardized test.  Summer is the perfect time to gear up for the September ACT or the October SAT. Just make sure to catch a break, too! 

Here’s What to Do During Your Senior Year


Woohoo! You’re a Senior. Let’s take a moment to acknowledge your accomplishment... but only a moment, because we’ve got a lot of college prepping to do!

I just mentioned that you're likely going to retake the SAT, ACT, and/or SAT II Subject Tests in the fall of Senior year. But make sure you balance it with a few other things, too...

Now’s the time to narrow down the colleges you’d like to apply to. Apply for your top schools as early as possible. Consider Early Decision or Early Action applications to boost your chances of getting into your dream school.

Fortunately, the application process is now streamlined for over 600 colleges around the country. These colleges use what’s called the Common Application. It’s an online application that you fill out once and use to apply to multiple colleges.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean you’re done with one click— the school you’re applying to may have additional requirements such as another essay (or FIVE!), more questions, or other supplementals.

If you plan to do an Early Action or Early Decision application, remember that they’re typically due by early- to mid-November. This means that you should plan to do your ACT or SAT test in October at the latest.

For Regular Decision, the deadlines are usually around New Year's (January 1st or 10th-ish). That said, check with your schools to make sure. They're all different!  Depending on the deadlines, you could take more tests in November, December, or perhaps even later.

Start collecting your letters of recommendation. Ask early and be sure to follow up. Make it easy for them to know what to say by providing with them a printed list of your accomplishments and also directions on where to send the letter.

Check that your counselor or high school registrar has sent your transcripts. It’s always a good idea to verify, not assume.

Apply for financial aid. Fill out FASFA for financial aid and apply for grants and scholarships if you need to. If you haven’t already, meet with your guidance counselor to find hidden scholarships you may qualify for. In addition to national scholarships, consider looking at local businesses and organizations where competition may not be as tough. 

Final Thoughts

I hope this timeline guide helps you. The good news is that you can start planning right away. Before you go, be sure to check out this post: 6 Easy Steps to Get Into College.