- Make a checklist for each college with important deadlines for applications and any other documentation needed for financial aid or scholarships
- Register for the SAT or ACT (Fall semester)
- Provide your counselor with a list of schools you’ll be applying to that year
- Begin filling out online applications
- Make a list of your personal statement requirements and begin writing
- Ask an English teacher, family member or friend to proofread your personal statement(s)
- Continue taking challenging coursework, such as AP and IB, wherever possible
- Determine which, if any, of the colleges you plan to apply to require SAT II subject tests
- Determine which, if any, of the colleges you plan to apply to require interviews
- File FAFSA beginning October 1
- Continue applying for external scholarships
- Compile a list of your college acceptances and begin to compare financial aid packages
- File any special circumstance appeals with each school’s financial aid office
- Attend an Admitted Student event or Open House
- Make your final decision and deposit by May 1
Make a checklist for each college with important deadlines for applications, FAFSA forms, and any other documentation needed for financial aid or scholarships
This will help you to stay on track throughout the fall and spring of senior year.
Both the SAT and ACT will be offered in October of your senior year. This will be your last opportunity to take the test before submitting your college applications. (Note: While there are SAT/ACT test dates after October, these scores will not be available in time to be considered as part of your application – especially if you are applying Early Action or Early Decision). You can register for the SAT exam here: http://sat.collegeboard.org/register/. You can register for the ACT exam here: https://services.actstudent.org/.
Notify your counselor about which schools you’ll be applying to and let them know which colleges will require a counselor recommendation form
Be sure to share your final college list with your guidance counselor as soon as possible. This will let them know how many colleges you’ll be applying to and how many recommendation letters and forms they’ll be responsible for completing. Just as with teacher recommendation letters – the more time you give your counselors to write a recommendation letter, the better the letter will be.
College applications typically become available on August 1st of your senior year in high school. Creating an online account and starting your applications early can give you a good idea of what information will be required by each individual college as well as what your personal statement prompts will be.
If possible, print the page of the online application that lists the essay prompts that you will need to complete for each college you are applying to. This will allow you to continue working on your personal statement without being logged into your online application form. DO NOT write your personal statement in the online application form. Instead, do all of your writing and editing in a Word Document and then copy and paste the final version when you are ready to submit. This way if there is an error in the submission you will not lose all of your work and have to start from scratch. Working on your personal statements in Word Documents also allows you to send them to teachers and family members for editing.
Ask an English teacher, family member or friend to proofread your personal statement(s) and provide feedback before you submit the final version
The importance of editing and proofreading your work before submitting cannot be overstated. There is nothing worse to an admission counselor than reading a beautiful personal statement with the wrong college’s name at the end. Remember, there are some things Grammar and Spellcheck cannot pick up. Misused words, auto-corrected words and misspellings of proper nouns are all things that a family member or teacher will be able to catch that a computer won’t. Therefore, be sure to have a second set of human eyes read your personal statement before submitting your application.
While colleges will not be able to see your senior year grades when they receive your application (these come on the final transcript submitted by your counselor later on in the spring), they will be able to see what classes you are registered for and whether you have continued to challenge yourself in senior year. Any decrease in rigor can be a red flag to a college admissions counselor that a student is losing his or her motivation heading into the homestretch. Ideally, senior year should be your most challenging schedule of classes as it will be the last academic preparation you have before the transition to college.
Go through your college list and determine which colleges require SAT II exam scores. Keep in mind that while some colleges may not require these tests for general admission, certain programs within the program – such as the Honors Program – may. If you are unsure about a school or program’s requirements, feel free to call the Office of Admission and ask – admission counselors are there to help! Once you know which schools will require SAT II scores be sure to request that these score reports be sent through The College Board website.
A small handful of colleges will require all applicants to interview as part of the application process. Be sure to check with your colleges to know whether you will need to schedule an interview as part of the application process. Oftentimes, these interviews will be offered in your area either by an alumna/alumnus of the college or a visiting admission counselor. Be sure to schedule early in order to get the location and date that works best for you and your family. If your college does not require interviews, but does offer them talk to your guidance counselor about whether it would be a good idea to schedule an interview. Good reasons to interview could include: wanting to explain something on your application that might cause the admission committee concern (i.e. a low grade in a class or a high number of absences), having a dynamic personality that you know connects well with other people, etc.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) becomes available to all high school seniors on October 1st of their senior year. In order to complete this form you will need both your tax information (if you’ve been working a part-time job) as well as your parents’ tax information. You will also need an electronic PIN for both you and your parents to electronically sign and submit the document. Be sure to request this PIN in advance so that when the time comes to submit, you are ready to go. You can begin filing your FAFSA and request a PIN (one for you, one for your parents) here: https://fafsa.ed.gov. Be sure to check with each school to determine: 1) their FAFSA filing deadline, 2) whether they require additional paperwork such as a CSS Profile, and 3) whether you are allowed to file using last year’s tax returns or if you must wait until you’ve completed the current tax year’s returns to submit your FAFSA application.
Continue to search for external scholarships (i.e. scholarships offered by organizations outside of your college). These scholarships can help you with the cost of tuition, books, and potentially housing (if they are not tuition-restricted).
Depending on whether you apply Early Action/Early Decision or Regular Decision, college acceptance letters can start rolling in anywhere from December through April. Be sure to note how each college will communicate their final decision (i.e. via email, online application portal or mail) and note all notification deadlines. Once you receive your acceptance letters, start to compare financial aid packages and total costs for you and your family. Determine which schools are within your reach and where you will need more financial aid in order to make the college viable.
It’s important to know that every school’s financial aid process is different and unique to that institution. This means that some schools will negotiate financial aid packages while others will tell you that what you received with your acceptance letter is their best and final offer. If there is a particular college that you have been accepted to, but the net cost of attendance is still too high for your family – call the Office of Financial Aid to see whether anything can be done. Be sure to have all the necessary paperwork ready – scholarship and financial aid offers from other schools, financial information that may not have made it into your FAFSA originally, new information about your financial circumstances which may affect your award amount (i.e. if there has been a job loss in your family or if you have taken on caring for an elderly relative, etc.) Any changes to your family’s financial situation since you filed FAFSA can usually be captured and considered through a “Special Circumstances Appeal” with the Office of Financial Aid. Be sure to file this appeal early in order to have a decision in time for the May 1st deposit deadline.
Many colleges will offer their accepted seniors a dedicated day to come to campus and learn more about the school before making their final decision on May 1st. These events are a wonderful opportunity to meet with the Office of Financial Aid about lingering questions or concerns, talk to faculty and current students about course offerings and life on campus, eat at the dining hall, and explore any other aspect of the college that is of particular interest to you as you make your decision. Remember, this is your opportunity to ask questions and gather all the facts you need to make a good decision – don’t be shy!
Finally – the day you’ve been waiting for! Hopefully at this point you will have gathered all of the information you need to make a good choice – both personal and financial – for your post-secondary future. Once you have made your decision be sure to notify the college by sending in the decision form and enrollment deposit. If for any reason the deposit should prove cost prohibitive, call the Office of Admission to determine whether an exception or reduction can be made. Be sure to confirm that your deposit was received by the college either by calling the admissions office or logging into your online student portal 7-10 business days later. Congratulations – you are now college-bound!