College Planning Guide for High School Students

Getting into the college of your choice has become extremely competitive. That’s why it’s important for you to develop your college plan early in your high school career. Although you probably won’t start applying to colleges before your senior year, planning for college includes much more than just filling out applications. You’ll need to closely study the school(s) that you would like to attend and set goals so that you can meet their admissions criteria. Your plan should be well-rounded and encompass a wide range of objectives, from high test scores and academic achievements, to extracurricular activities.

Don’t wait until the last minute to start your college plan. We’ve put together a college planning guide below to help you get started:

Start Looking at Colleges

It’s never too early to start looking at colleges. You’ll need to start comparing the location, admissions criteria, majors and cost at various universities. Don’t be afraid to take some college visits to make sure you like the college city or town and the campus life as well.

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College Admissions

Planning for college has a lot to do with college admissions. Once you’ve selected several (or many) target schools, you’ll want to really understand the admissions criteria used by those colleges.

For example, your college test scores will need to meet the school’s requirements; for competitive school targets, you’ll want to be above the school’s average scores. Make sure you read our sections on preparing for the SAT and ACT tests.

Your high school accomplishments are your resume that you will present to prospective colleges. Your ”resume” will need to demonstrate academic performance, extracurricular activities, volunteer work, and anything else your target schools require.

College Majors

Start thinking about what kind of college majors and careers interest you. Use the subjects you like in school to research related professions.

Work with your high school’s career counselor to develop a plan for choosing a college major. Your counselor may have access to tests that can suggest career paths based on your talents and enjoyments.

Remember, now is the time to research a college major that will allow you to enjoy both your college classes and your future profession.

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College Applications

The college application process is your chance to show your favorite schools what a great addition you would make to the student body. College applications generally consist of basic information forms, test scores, academic transcripts, essays and letters of recommendation.

Although college application deadlines differ from school to school, the general application “season” is Fall/Winter of your senior year in high school. If you’re applying to several colleges, you’ll want to keep your schedule as open as possible to allow time to perfect your applications.

Remember, college applications can be extremely time consuming to put together. Make sure you give your teachers, coaches, bosses, and community leaders plenty of notice if you intend to ask them to write letters of recommendation to include with your college application.

College Financial Planning

You and your family will need to review the costs of your target school choices and develop a plan for how you are going to pay for college. If you think you might need financial aid, you should start by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Before you make your final college decision, you should compare the financial aid packages from all of your target school choices. See our section on how to compare colleges for more information.

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Once you’ve selected the school you plan to attend, you’ll want to complete your college financial plan by determining all your anticipated college costs, including tuition, rent, books, parking, travel, food and other bills. Use free tool from CollegeBoard to help you identify and add up all of your college expenses. Then, you and your family need to understand the various types of financial aid and come up with a plan on how to pay for college.