College prep 101: The high school years

Blog Header: College Planning 101

To make sure you are ready to apply to your top choice colleges, start planning early. Taking steps each year in high school will help you be a strong applicant.

Ninth Grade

#1. Start talking with your family about going to college and explore different college websites, making note of the big-picture options: Big or small college? Public or private? Urban or suburban? Close to home or in another state? It helps to picture what you want life at college to look like for you and consider the environment where you think you’ll succeed.

#2. Become familiar with the kinds of courses and grades colleges will be looking for when you finally do apply. Talk with your high school guidance counselor each year about your ideas and make sure to take challenging classes throughout high school.

#3. Think about what subjects interest you the most and participate in school activities that go deeper into those topics. It’s also great to sign up for service projects and find ways to give back to your community.

Tenth Grade

#1. Plan to take courses every year in English, math, science and social studies, along with a second language, if you can. Test yourself with challenging classes, such as pre-AP or AP (advanced placement) courses, honors seminars, or accelerated courses. Strive for grades of B or better in all your classes.

#2. CSU does not require ACT or SAT testing to apply for admission. If you are still planning to take the test, you can prepare by taking practice tests. Free online resources include Khan Academy and ACT test preparation. Another good way to prepare is to take the PSAT or Aspire tests if they are offered by your school.

#3. Colleges and universities offer hundreds of academic programs, many of which you may not learn about in high school. Research different careers that sound interesting and find out what people in those jobs studied in college. Your high school counseling/career center is a great resource. There are also tools like MyMajors — a free, 15-minute assessment that will connect your academic strengths and interests with college academic programs.

Eleventh Grade

#1. Consider all your options this year. You may be feeling a lot of stress about college as a junior. It’s okay if you don’t have everything decided. Create a list of the colleges that interest you the most based on the research you’ve already done.

#2. If you haven’t yet, be sure to request information from those colleges. Attend college fairs, and talk with the college representative if they visit your high school. Visit or take a virtual tour to get a feel for the culture of the college. If you’re already thinking you might want to leave your home state, we have tips for that conversation.

#3. Keep up your grades and check in with your guidance counselor to make sure you’re staying on track. College-bound students continue to take challenging and advanced courses in three to five core subject areas through junior year. Combined with the activities and work you may be committed to, this can demand a lot of your time. But it will give you great experiences to address in your admissions essay.

#4. Begin to explore scholarship and financial aid opportunities. How to pay for college is a complex topic and the answer varies by family. Check the cost of attendance at each college on your list and discuss financial fit as a family, keeping in mind that tuition and scholarships are just part of the equation.

Twelfth Grade

#1. It’s time to narrow down your list of colleges and decide which are your top three or four where you will apply. Be sure to pay attention to the deadlines for each college.

#2. CSU does not require ACT or SAT testing to apply for admission, but if you still want to, you can take the ACT or SAT if you haven’t yet or retake it if you want to try to improve your scores. Send your scores to the schools where you have applied.

#3. Request transcripts and any other supporting documents to complete your applications.

#4. Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and apply for scholarships. Colleges have different FAFSA priority deadlines, so be sure to look for those dates.

#5. Colleges will usually schedule preview days for high school seniors in the fall and special events for admitted students in the spring. Talk with your family about attending those visit programs virtually or in person if that’s an option. Do not hesitate to ask admissions counselors, faculty, and current students questions that will help you make your college decision.

#6. Once you’ve decided, officially accept or decline the offers of admission. Follow the admitted student steps to prepare for enrollment. And congratulations! You’ve made it through the college search.

Other things to think about

If you’re just starting to think about colleges, here are a few ideas and tips to get things started.