What High Schoolers at all Levels Should Be Doing to Prep for College Application Season


Preparing for college isn't something to take lightly, nor can it happen overnight. In today's post, we'll learn what high schoolers at all grade levels should be doing to ready themselves for college application season.

College Prep

Attention, high schoolers! It might seem like college is far ahead in the distance, but it will actually be here before you know it. So, what can you do to ensure that you're prepared when it comes time to submit your college application(s)? Believe it or not, there are certain steps that students can take during each year of high school that can help ease the stress of college application season. Let's take a closer look.

diverse high schoolers

Freshman Year

  • In the fall of freshman year, high schoolers should plan on meeting with their school's guidance counselor to discuss their goals and possible college/career plans. This information will help to determine which types of classes (e.g., college-prep, tech-prep) students should take throughout high school to properly prepare themselves for the future.

  • It's a good idea for high schoolers to invest some time into extracurricular activities during their freshman year (and every year, for that matter). Sports, clubs and organizations offer worthwhile experiences for students and can be attractive on a college application when the time comes.

  • Grades matter! Students should make it a point to do as well as they possibly can in school. Many freshmen don't realize how important it is to establish—and maintain—a strong GPA from the very start.

  • It's never too early to think or talk about college. Freshmen should take advantage of any and all opportunities to educate themselves about colleges and careers. They should also talk to their parents about potential future plans and financial aid matters so that everyone is on the same page from the get-go.

high schooler and mother doing college application prep

Sophomore Year

  • At the beginning of sophomore year, high schoolers should consider registering for the PSAT (Preliminary SAT), which takes place annually in early to mid-October. Although the test isn't typically required for tenth graders and is often taken in eleventh grade, the PSAT serves as prep for the upcoming SAT, gauges college readiness and puts students in the running for possible scholarships through the National Merit Scholarship Program—all of which can come in handy before and during college application season.

  • Tenth grade is the perfect time for students to ramp up their search for possible colleges and careers as well as begin familiarizing themselves with the college application process. Guidance counselors, college websites and older friends or family members who are attending or have attended college can all be very helpful. If certain colleges stand out as prospects, students should reach out for more information regarding application requirements, programs of study and tuition figures.

  • Near the end of sophomore year and in the summer after, high schoolers should begin preparing for the big tests that are commonly taken in eleventh grade. There are many handy prep courses for both the ACT and SAT available online.

high schooler studying on laptop

Junior Year

  • The college planning process really begins to pick up in eleventh grade. When junior year begins, high schoolers should register to take the PSAT in October if they haven't already taken it. As mentioned earlier, this test provides great prep for the SAT, among other perks.

  • Juniors should start narrowing down their future plans in order to prepare for college application season. This means creating lists of possible careers and colleges and then gathering as much information as possible about them. Job shadowing is a good way to discover if a certain career field is the right fit, while college fairs or college nights can provide the perfect opportunity to speak with college representatives and organize campus visits.

  • While researching colleges, high schoolers should find out which standardized tests each school requires and then register for the appropriate ones. Many juniors take the ACT and/or SAT during the winter or spring, which allows for time to retake the tests if scores are lower than anticipated.

  • Eleventh graders (and their families) need to learn all that they can about financial aid. There should also be a discussion about financial resources and the possibility of borrowing money for college. The spring of junior year is a good time to start searching for scholarships as well.

college scholarship application

Senior Year

  • When senior year arrives, it means that college is right around the corner! If high schoolers haven't already taken the ACT or SAT, this is the time to do it.

  • Seniors should continue thinking about what they want in a college, begin writing their college application essays and start asking for letters of recommendation from their high school teachers or other respected adults.

  • Students should make sure that they're keeping track of all important deadlines related to college applications. Not all schools use the same timeline, so it's crucial to keep a detailed log of important dates so that none get forgotten or overlooked. Using that information, seniors should apply to their top choice colleges before their deadlines in order to up their chances of being accepted.

  • High schoolers in twelfth grade should make it a priority to fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). This detailed form determines how much and which types of financial aid prospective college students are eligible for. The FAFSA can be filled out as early as October 1, which allows for plenty of time to make final financial aid arrangements before college begins the following fall.

FAFSA form

Wrapping Things Up

See? There really are a bunch of things that high schoolers at all levels can do to prep for college application season. It might seem like there are tons of steps, but breaking them down by year can make the entire process much more manageable.

Interested in earning college credit from home or learning more about the college admissions process? Consider a subscription to's College Accelerator plan.

By Erin Riskey
September 2018
k-12 college prep

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