College Planning Timeline: High School Checklist

college planning timeline for students

Getting ready for college doesn’t have to be complicated. Just map it out with our handy college planning timeline.

Junior Year

For high school juniors preparing for college, it can be difficult to know where to begin. The first step to college planning is research and gathering application materials. See our checklist below to understand what to do your junior year of high school:


  • Research colleges online. Visit college’s websites as well as popular college search sites like CollegeWeekLive, Unigo, and the College Board.
  • Share what you’ve learned. Talk with your family, teachers, and high school counselor as you learn more about each school.
  • Start narrowing down your choices of colleges. Mobile apps can help you build and track your college list.
  • Take a practice test of the SATs or ACTs. You can sign up for practice tests for free at the College Board or the ACT.
  • Explore financial aid options. The US Department of Education offers online tools that help families plan ahead financially for college.


  • Meet with your high school counselor to plan for next year’s classes. It’s important not only to get good grades but also to take challenging courses.
  • Search for scholarships. Find the latest tips for scholarship success.
  • Start gathering letters of recommendation. Ask people who you know well, such as your teachers, guidance counselor, employer, or other mentor.
  • Take the SATs or ACTs. Register at the College Board or the ACT.
  • Learn about the admissions process. There are many reputable sites, such as the College Board, that offer free articles and webinars about college admissions.
  • Tour Campuses! Can’t make it to campus? Check our virtual tours at sites like YouVisit.
  • Talk with current students at the schools you’re considering. Connect with students you know who are attending the school, or check out services like CollegeWeekLive to chat online with students from a wide variety of colleges and universities.

Tip: Use a scholarship matching tool to find a list of scholarships best suited for you. Visit for more details.


  • Visit college towns. Research online to learn about the nation’s top college communities.
  • Do volunteer work. Strengthen your experience and your college applications by giving back to an organization you care about.
  • Get a summer job. Earn extra money for college expenses.
  • Apply for grants. Find winning strategies for getting college grants.
  • Practice writing your application essay. You’ll find a lot of handy tips online from education experts on the types of essays admissions counselors are looking for.

Senior Year

After researching all junior year and understanding what your options are for college, it’s finally time to apply! Make sure you pay attention to application deadlines, so you’re fully prepared with all the required materials. Follow our high school senior checklist below to ensure you’re on track:


  • Complete the FAFSA and other financial aid forms. The US Department of Education offers free resources to help you complete the FAFSA.
  • Do your college research. Visit in person and research online to learn more about schools you’re interested in.
  • Write your admissions essay. Ask your parents, teacher, or high school counselor to proof it before you submit it.
  • Finish your applications. Pay attention to deadlines. Early decision and early action applications are usually due between October 1-November 1.

Tip: View 10 common FAFSA errors to avoid on


  • Pay attention to your grades. Have your high school counselor send your midyear grades to the schools you applied to.
  • Review your student aid report. Learn why this report is important for getting financial aid, and get tips on understanding your report.


  • Consider acceptance letters and financial aid awards. Use a comparison tool to keep track of financial aid offers.
  • Research student loans if needed. Carefully review the terms, such as repayment lengths, repayment options, and interest rates. You can use College Ave Student Loans’ calculator to see your loan options before applying.
  • Formally choose your college! Notify the school of your decision to enroll, and write to the other schools you were admitted to as well to let them know your plans.
  • Send in your deposit. Be sure to have a letter of acceptance from the school in hand before you send in your deposit.


  • Make a college budget. You’ll find many free college budgeting templates online.
  • Apply for student loans if needed. Apply for student loans, keep copies of applications and keep a spreadsheet to track responses.
  • Keep tabs on college bills. Bills for tuition and other fees will start rolling in by mid-June and usually are due by mid-August.
  • Attend orientation. Many universities offer in-person orientation sessions, as well as online sessions for those who can’t visit campus before classes start.
  • Pick your fall classes. Popular classes may fill up quickly. Choose classes as early as possible so you can get into your top choices.

Find more helpful advice and tips at the College Ave Blog.


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