How to Plan for College Throughout High School

Things to Include on your Timeline 📋


Academics look a little different at each school. Meet with your guidance counselor to find out how values like GPA and class rank are calculated, and which courses are offered at your school. Chat with some upperclassmen to learn more about the courses you're interested in taking. They can offer some valuable insight into which classes might be a good fit for you.

Key Factors:

  • Grades
  • Course rigor (challenge yourself with honors, AP, IB, dual enrollment, etc.)
  • Class rank (each school does this differently)
  • Test scores


With any exam, it's important to give yourself enough time to study. Get an accountability buddy or set up a schedule! It's important to remember that your score is just a number and not a measure of your worth, but it can show colleges what you know and even earn you some college credit.

College Entrance Exams:

  • SAT
  • ACT

Courses (For rigor/college credit)

  • AP
  • IB
  • CLEP


What are your hobbies and interests? What matters to you, and why? Join existing clubs or groups at your school or in your community that align with your interests, or start your own. You can also explore some groups that are completely new to you. You might discover that you love it! After you've explored a bit, narrow your focus so you can concentrate on just a couple of things that you are really passionate about. Don't stretch yourself too thin. After a year or two, take the extra step and go for a leadership position!


Impact is more important than involvement. Find an organization or cause that you are passionate about, and use your time and talents to make an impact. Impact can come in many different forms, shapes, and sizes; for example, one member might create graphics for the organization, while another could use their public speaking skills to promote the cause!


Connecting with colleges can be super helpful in determining if that college is the right fit for you. College admissions counselors have a wealth of information about each school and can answer any questions you might have. If you are able to visit a college campus in person, talking to professors and current students is a great way to get a feel for the vibe at the school. What kind of environment is it? What's the student culture like? Could you see yourself enjoying your time there? These events can help you identify colleges you might be interested in:

  • Campus Visits
  • Virtual Visits
  • College Fairs (in person or virtual)

Dates and Deadlines

Keep a planner or calendar of all the important dates and deadlines. Some are specific to each college or scholarship, others apply to everyone. Here are some dates you should be aware of as you continue your college planning:

  • Early Decision/Early Action Application Deadlines
  • Regular Decision Application Deadlines
  • Financial Aid Deadlines (FAFSA)
  • Scholarship Deadlines
  • SAT and ACT Test Dates

Timeline Checklist by Grade Level ✅


  • Meet with your counselor
  • Focus on your grades
  • Explore what classes you might want to take (Advanced, Honors, AP, IB, Dual Enrollment, etc.)
  • Explore extracurricular activities (clubs, music, sports, etc.)
  • Explore leadership opportunities
  • Get involved in volunteering
  • Find summer opportunities
  • Start saving for college


  • Meet with your counselor
  • Focus on your grades
  • Take the PSAT/PLAN
  • Take a career assessment
  • Narrow focus on extracurricular activities
  • Explore leadership opportunities
  • Continue volunteering
  • Find summer opportunities - internships, apprenticeships etc.
  • Attend virtual college fairs
  • Continue saving for college


  • Meet with your counselor
  • Focus on your grades
  • Take the PSAT
  • Take the SAT/ACT
  • Narrow extracurricular activities
  • Step into leadership roles
  • Conduct college visits (in person or virtual)
  • Attend college fairs
  • Build a college list
  • Find or create your summer opportunities
  • Apply for scholarships
  • Continue saving for college


  • Meet with your counselor
  • Focus on your grades
  • Take the SAT/ACT
  • Participate in extracurricular activities
  • Continue with leadership roles
  • Conduct college visits (in person on virtual)
  • Finalize college list
  • Fill out FAFSA/CSS profile
  • Find or create your summer opportunities
  • Apply for scholarships
  • Continue saving for college
  • Don't procrastinate your college applications! 😉


  • Talk to upperclassmen, or people you know that have recently graduated high school. They've already been through this process and will have a lot of advice to share.
  • Before you sign up for any extracurricular or activity, first ask yourself: Would I still want to do this if college applications didn't matter? There is no one set path to college, so choose things that you will genuinely enjoy doing, not what you think will 'look good' on an application.
  • Don't procrastinate! Get an accountability buddy or group so you can help each other. Use a planner that works for you, and stick with it. Give yourself more time than you think you need.
  • Stay organized. Use a planner, spreadsheets, or whatever tools work for you to organize deadlines, lists, and applications. You don't want to forget any dates or lose important documents.
  • Reflect on your values and what you want from college. Don't let other people decide for you. Check back with yourself regularly. Have your values changed or stayed the same?
  • Research scholarships. Ask your guidance counselor if they can point you towards any local scholarships. Google will help as well, just make sure that whatever you apply to is legitimate.
  • Enjoy high school! Remember to balance academics and responsibilities with building and fostering relationships. Take time for yourself and self-care. Those four years go by fast, so don't miss out on the amazing experiences high school has to offer.


What to Think About Next 🤔

Out of all the things included on your timeline, what are your strengths and weaknesses? Do you need to spend more time improving your academics, test scores, extracurriculars, volunteering, or researching colleges? Identify the next steps in your college planning journey and tackle them head-on. You got this!! 🙌

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