This calendar identifies key steps that students and parents should take each year as they plan for college admissions. See also the College Financial Aid Planning Calendar for steps related to planning to pay for college.
The Early Years
Read aloud with your child.
Turn off the TV and share an enriching activity together.
Ask your child age-appropriate questions to nurture curiosity.
Lead by example. Share your own love of learning by learning new things together. This will help lay the foundation for future educational achievement.
Continue to help your child develop an interest in reading.
Check your child’s homework and follow his/her progress in school by looking at report cards and attending parent-teacher conferences.
Prepare fun reading ideas. Look for magazines or newspapers your child may like and talk about the books you loved reading when you were your child’s age. If your family makes reading enjoyable, it can become a daily habit.
Middle School and through 11th Grade
Talk to your child about his/her interests and help match those interests with a college academic major and career.
Build upon your child’s interests instead of trying to steer those interests in a particular direction.
Help your child develop good study habits such as studying at the same place and time every day and having the necessary materials to complete assignments.
Maintain contact with your child’s teachers and counselor so they can let you know about any changes in your child’s schoolwork or behavior.
Keep an eye on your child’s grades, tests and overall academic performance. Help him or her find tutoring assistance, if necessary.
Visit colleges together. It’s a great way to get your child excited about college. If you live near a college, look for upcoming events on campus that are open to the community or see if the college offers classes for local children and families. Just being on a campus may get your child interested in college.
Middle School through College Matriculation
Help your child set goals for the year. Working toward specific goals will help your child stay motivated and focused.
Review the school calendar together. Note important dates and put them in a shared online calendar or in an easy-to-view place, such as a bulletin board in your kitchen.
Review schoolwork regularly. If you keep up with your child’s tests, papers and homework assignments, you can celebrate successes and head off problems as a team.
Talk about extracurricular activities, hobbies and volunteer activities. Getting involved in clubs and other groups is a great way for your child to identify interests and feel more engaged in school. Discuss ways to take on challenges. Long-term involvement in a hobby or other activity makes a student more attractive to college admissions committees. Depth matters more than breadth.
Encourage your child to take the most-challenging courses that he or she can handle. Tackling tough courses can give your child confidence and prepare him or her for higher-level high school classes.
Summer before High School and through 11th Grade
Visit a college campus together, to plant a seed about preparing for college admission. Learn more about how you and your child can prepare for a campus visit.
Show your child how to explore career ideas. He or she can make a list of interests, talents and favorite activities and start matching them with occupations. Your child can talk with people who work in each occupation to learn what they like and dislike about their jobs.
Help your child make summer plans. Summer is a great time to explore interests and learn new skills — and colleges prefer students who pursue meaningful summer activities.
Encourage your child to read the first section of a daily newspaper or the entire Sunday newspaper. It is a great way of building vocabulary and awareness of current events.
Make sure your child meets with his or her school counselor at least once a year. Your child should schedule a meeting to talk about college and career options and to choose the most-appropriate classes. By the beginning of your student’s junior year, he or she should start to engage in the college admission and application process.
Discuss next year’s classes. Make sure your child is challenging him- or herself and taking the courses college admission officers expect to see.
Fall and through 12th Grade
Help your 10th-grader get ready to take preliminary exams. Taking the PSAT/NMSQT and ACT this fall can help your child prepare for college admission tests and assess his or her academic skills. Sophomores can use their score reports to figure out which academic areas they need to work on. Juniors who score well on these tests may also eligible for scholarship opportunities.
Your sophomore should schedule a meeting with his or her school counselor to talk about college and career options and to make sure he or she is taking the most-appropriate classes.
Find out whether your child’s school has college nights and/or financial aid nights. Plan to attend these events with your child.
Review PSAT/NMSQT and ACT results together. Your child’s score report indicates his or her academic strengths and weaknesses. Discuss ways to improve in areas that need attention. College admissions staff are impressed when a student’s grades show steady improvement.
Help your child develop independence by encouraging him or her to take responsibility for balancing academics with other activities, including, possibly, a part-time job.
Encourage your student to consider taking SAT Subject Tests. These tests can showcase your child’s interests and achievements. Many colleges require or recommend taking these tests to get a sense of your child’s skills in specific academic areas. In general, it’s best to take a Subject Test immediately after completing the relevant course.
Spring and through 11th Grade
Help your child start a college list. Discuss qualities he or she may want in a college in terms of location, size, academic majors offered, etc. Check out College Comparisons together to get tips on starting a college search and figuring out what matters most to your child when choosing a college.
Search together for colleges that meet your child’s needs. Once you have an idea of the qualities your child is looking for in a college, help him or her use these criteria to create a list of colleges to consider applying to.
Make sure your child meets with his or her school counselor. This meeting is especially important this year as your 11th-grader starts to engage in the college application process.
Help your junior get ready for the October administration of the PSAT/NMSQT and ACT.
Attend college fairs and financial aid events with your child. These events allow you to meet with college representatives and get answers to questions. Your child can ask the school counselor how to find events in your area. Don’t take over the conversation with the college representatives. Listen and let your child do the talking. Check out the College Fair Checklist for more information.
Review PSAT/NMSQT and ACT results together. Your child’s score report comes with a free SAT study plan. This online, customized plan is based on your child’s test scores and can help him or her work on areas that need improvement.
Winter and through 12th Grade
Help your child prepare for college admission tests. Many juniors take the SAT and/or the ACT in the spring so they can get a head start on planning for college. Taking practice tests in a realistic setting will reduce test anxiety. Teach them test-taking techniques, such as pacing themselves, identifying wrong answers, and checking work to prevent careless errors.
Discuss taking challenging courses next year. Taking college-level or honors courses as a senior can help your child prepare for college work — and these are also the courses that college admission officers like to see.
Again encourage your student to take SAT Subject Tests. Getting a 4 or 5 on these tests demonstrates mastery of the material.
Encourage your child to take Advanced Placement (AP) Exams. If your student takes AP or other advanced or others honors classes, have him or her talk with teachers now about taking these tests in May.
Ask how you can help your senior finalize a college list. You can help him or her choose which colleges to apply to by weighing how well each college meets his or her needs, for example. Consider academic fit, social fit and extracurricular fit, not just financial fit and reputation.
Make sure your senior includes a mix of colleges in his or her college list. The colleges should include four main types of colleges:
Match: These are colleges where the student’s academic performance is typical of the students who enroll at the college. Your student has a good chance of being admitted to these schools.
Reach: These are colleges where the student’s grades and admissions test scores are at or below the bottom end of the range admitted by the college. No matter how talented the student, Ivy League and other very selective colleges should be considered to be “reach” colleges. Odds of being admitted are very low even for the most talented students.
Safety: These are colleges where the student’s performance is at or above the top end of the range enrolled at the college. The student is very likely to be admitted by his or her safety schools.
Financial Aid Safety: This is a college that will not only admit your student, but where he or she could afford to enroll even if he or she did not get any financial aid.
Encourage your child to get started on college admissions applications. He or she can get the easy stuff out of the way now by filling in as much required demographic information on college applications as possible.
Ask your student to prepare an accomplishments resume. Not only can your student give this to the teachers who will be writing letters of recommendation, but it increases your student’s self-knowledge, making it easier for him or her to make college decisions and write college admissions essays.
Help your child decide about applying early to colleges and universities. If your senior is set on going to a certain college, he or she should think about whether applying early is a good option. Now is the time to decide because early applications are usually due in October or November. Understand the difference between early decision and early action. Early decision requires a commitment to enroll if admitted; early action does not.
Your student may want to apply early to his or her dream school. But the chances of being admitted early to a reach school are slim, which can cause disappointment if the student’s admission is deferred to the regular admissions pool or worse, rejected. It is better to apply early to a match school, where chances of admission are much higher. Getting it to this school eliminates the need to apply to most safety schools, saving a lot of money on application fees. It also will make the rest of the application process less stressful, since your student will know that he got in to at least one good school.
To help plan, complete and submit college applications, create a calendar with your student. This should include admissions, financial aid and scholarship application deadlines and other important dates. Your child can find specific colleges’ deadlines on each college’s web site.
Keep your child’s college applications on track by gently reminding him or her about approaching deadlines.
Help your child prepare for college admission tests. Many seniors retake college admission tests, such as the SAT and the ACT, in the fall.
Offer to look over your senior’s college applications. But, remember that this is your child’s work so remain in the role of advisor and proofreader and respect his or her voice. Resist the temptation to write or rewrite the essays.
Encourage your child to set up college interviews. An interview is a great way for your child to learn more about a college and for a college to learn more about your child. Help him or her brainstorm a list of questions.
Help your student process college admissions responses. Once your child starts hearing back from colleges about admission and financial aid, he or she will need your support to decide what to do.
Help your child complete the paperwork to accept a college’s offer of admittance and financial aid, and housing, if applicable. Once your child has decided which college to attend, he or she will need to accept a college’s offer, mail a tuition deposit and submit other required paperwork. Learn more about your high school senior’s next steps after submitting the FAFSA.
Examine the bill from the college your child chooses to attend and make sure you understand all of the expenses listed and how they will be paid (through scholarships, part-time employment, student loans, etc.).
Check out the college’s web site to learn about important campus-event dates such as Freshman Orientation, Campus Move-in Day, and Parents/Family Weekend information. Look for parents’ programs for new students, and any newsletters, forums, or emails for new college students and their families.
Make connections. Attend local events for accepted students and summer send-offs with your student and those who are already attending the college. Connect with other first-time college parents and those who already having students attending the college. Ask lots of questions and share information. Encourage your student to join a Facebook group for students at his or her new college. Likewise, join a Facebook group for parents at the new college.
Calendar all upcoming dates from the school web site including academic holidays/breaks, exam periods, the last day of school and due dates for tuition/housing payments.
Make your travel plans early. You’ll save money on airline and hotel reservation if you book at least 21 days in advance of your travel. Check the college’s web site for possible discounts for college students and their families. The hotels closest to campus tend to have higher rates and fill up faster.
Remind your student to share with you any important forms for Orientation, Housing/Roommates, Health/Medical, Academic Advising/Registration, Tuition Payment Plans and privacy disclosures. Help ensure that your student submits these by their deadlines.
Make an appointment with your student’s doctor for a physical and to have the necessary health forms completed. Ensure your student is current on his/her immunizations. Review health insurance options and complete forms to waive the college’s health insurance, if applicable. Research options for handling your student’s prescription medications including the campus health center and nearby pharmacies, if needed.
Help your student to shop for his or her dorm room. Think about what items he or she will need to purchase and what you can send from home. Coordinate dorm room items such as printers, microwaves and televisions with dorm roommates. Explore online and retail options that cater to the college market. Watch for back-to-school sales beginning in early July.
Find out what banks are located on- and near-campus. Help your student open a bank account with a debit card at the local college branch. Find out what kind of campus cash card is used by the college (usually tied to the student ID). Talk about finances together and discuss allowances (when you’ll send money), expenses, (what expenses are the student’s responsibility and those that you will cover) and part-time jobs.
Have some important conversations with your student about alcohol, drugs, sex, campus safety and mental health. These discussions are never easy. But, underage binge drinking, drug use and sexual assault are critical issues facing colleges today. Your student will become part of his or her college community and, in so doing, bears a responsibility to make a positive contribution. Be aware of the resources available on-campus and remind your student that help is available.
PrivateStudentLoans.com recommends you consider all financial aid alternatives including grants, scholarships and federal loans
(Federal Stafford, Federal Parent PLUS, Federal Grad PLUS) prior to applying for private student loans.