College Planning the 12th Grade Year
Senior year is often an extremely busy time, with schoolwork, activities, and special events. Be sure to stay on track with the college admissions process. Get organized, be aware of deadlines, and don’t procrastinate.
College Planning Calendar for Students
Continue to visit schools.
Fall is a great time to look at colleges because classes are in session and you are better able to meet and talk with students and professors. You may even be able to sit in on a class or two.
Finalize your college list.
Use the information you’ve gathered from visits, interviews, and your own research to decide which schools you will apply to. It’s okay to apply to colleges that you think will be more difficult to get into. But it’s also important to put a few safety schools (where you’re sure you’ll get in) on your list. Talk to counselors, teachers, and parents about your final choices.
Stay on track with your grades and extracurricular activities.
Colleges will look at what you’ve done in your senior year, so stay focused on doing well in your classes and maintaining a commitment to other activities.
Take standardized tests.
Register for and take the ACT, SAT, or SAT Subject Tests as necessary. Be sure you have requested (either by mail or online) that your test scores be sent to the colleges of your choice.
Keep track of deadlines.
You’ll be filling out lots of forms this year, so it’s important to know what form is due when. Make a calendar showing the application deadlines for admission, financial aid, and scholarships.
Ask for letters of recommendation.
Give recommendation forms to the teachers you have chosen, along with stamped, addressed envelopes so your teachers can send them directly to the colleges. Be sure to fill out your name and address and the school name on each form. Discuss your goals and ambitions with your teachers so they’ll be more prepared to write about you.
Meet with your guidance counselor.
Your counselor can help you stay on track with admissions requirements. Make sure they know which colleges you want transcripts, score reports, and letters sent to. Give your counselors any necessary forms much earlier than the actual deadlines so they’ll have time to send the forms in.
Finish the application forms for the schools you’re interested in. Proofread them and make extra copies before you send them. Make sure you and your school’s guidance office have sent all necessary materials, including test scores, recommendations, transcripts, and essays. You should plan to get all this done before winter break, so you won’t be rushing to make deadlines.
Continue your scholarship search.
Apply for scholarships whose deadlines are approaching and keep searching for more scholarship and grant opportunities. Ask colleges about what scholarships you may qualify for. The downtime after applications have been sent is a great time to focus on financial aid.
Act on the results of early decision applications.
If you applied early decision, you’ll soon find out if you were accepted. If you get in, you have to withdraw your applications from other schools. If not, keep your other applications out there and focus on those colleges.
Follow up on your applications.
Verify with your counselor that all forms are in order and have been sent out to colleges. Check with the schools to make sure they have received all your information, including test scores, transcripts, and recommendations.
Submit financial aid forms.
Fill out the FAFSA, and if necessary, the PROFILE. These forms can be obtained from the College and Career Center. No matter what your family’s income level is, the FAFSA is your main priority for financial aid purposes because it will determine how much you’re expected to pay. Don’t send the forms until after January 1, because they can’t be processed before then.
Send mid-year grade reports.
Ask your counselor to send your mid-year grade reports to the colleges that you applied to. Remember that the schools will continue to keep track of your grades, so it’s important to keep working hard throughout your senior year.
Watch your mail for notification from colleges.
If you applied under the regular application process, you should receive an admissions decision by March or April. Notifications of financial aid awards should arrive by the end of April.
Check out your options if you’re put on a wait list.
Being put on a wait list is not a rejection. Keep watching your mail; you should receive a decision by May. In the meantime, keep your options open in case you don’t get in. Check out schools that have late or rolling application deadlines.
Compare financial aid packages.
Make sure to consider each financial aid award carefully. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to contact the financial aid office of the college to get more information. Financial aid is a key factor in deciding where you will attend.
Prepare for any last standardized tests.
You may be taking AP or CLEP tests to earn some college credit as the school year winds down.
Make your final college decision.
Notify all schools of your intent by May 1. If you’re not sure which offer to accept, make one more campus visit to the schools you’re considering. Make sure to send your deposit to your chosen school and ask your guidance counselor to send your final transcript to the college in June.
Follow up on financial aid information.
Make sure you have received a FAFSA acknowledgment. If you applied for a Pell Grant, you will receive a Student Aid Report statement. Review this notice, make a copy for your records, and send the original to the college you plan to attend. If necessary, apply for loans.
Complete enrollment paperwork for the college you will attend.
Once you accept an offer, you should receive information from the college about course scheduling, orientation sessions, housing arrangements, and other necessary forms. Be sure to complete all required paperwork by the appropriate deadlines.
You’ve finished high school and are about to embark on an exciting new phase of life. Good luck.
College Planning Calendar for Parents
Take a moment with your child
Start the year off right by planning an evening out (perhaps dinner at a favorite restaurant) with your college-bound child. Go over your strategy for the school year. Discuss plans and goals and review your child's list of target schools. Also discuss plans to attend college fairs and meet with any college reps that may be coming to the school. (The school guidance office will have a schedule.) Go over which college sites have been visited and which ones haven't. Finalize plans for visits. If it all seems overwhelming, reassure your child (over dessert!) that you'll be there to support them every step of the way.
Start the application process
Does your child still need to take the ACT or SAT? Find out the dates and get them registered!
Make a decision on early decision
Go over options for early decision and early action and determine if it's an option you and your child want to pursue. Help your child draw up a master schedule of application and financial aid due dates, and put them on the family calendar.
Move them in the "write" direction
Monitor the start of applications and encourage your child to mull over various essay topics to determine if any can be overlapped to reduce the workload. Your child should also start requesting teacher recommendations now; that way, they'll be done well in advance of any deadlines.
Hit the road
Start making college visits, and schedule any interviews that can be completed on campus or with college alumni. Attend college fairs, gather more information, and take a little time to laugh about the process by renting a good comedy and taking a night off!
Think dollars and cents
Certain colleges require a supplemental financial aid form, known as the CSS/PROFILE. This has an earlier deadline than the FAFSA. Check the schools to which your child is applying to find out if you'll need to complete this form in addition to the FAFSA.
Nag (but just a little)
You might have to start nagging your teen about early application deadlines, if applicable. Narrow your college list to those schools to which applications will be sent. Try to use time over the Thanksgiving break to get in a campus visit. As your child starts working on (or completing) applications, offer to proofread and provide constructive criticism.
Start coordinating paperwork
If your child plans to have another go at the SAT or ACT, make sure they register. The January sitting (February for ACT) is their absolute last chance for certain private schools.
Keep an eye on the calendar
Get your federal financial aid forms (FAFSA) from the guidance office or the Web and attend workshops at your school site. Leave gentle reminders about any January or February application deadlines and have your child confirm that teachers and guidance staff are up-to-date with reference forms. Also make sure that transcripts are being sent to all short-list colleges.
Usher in the New Year with a family toast to the future, whatever it may bring.
Remember "parent" deadlines
If you have everything you need, file your income taxes and begin filling out financial aid forms, such as the FAFSA. Finish and mail these forms as soon as possible - and never late! Keep in mind that many schools list earlier FAFSA filing dates than that which is listed on the form itself.
Finish up applications
Encourage your child to complete all of his or her applications, even those with later deadlines. Make copies of everything and save them! If SATs are being taken this month, find out if "rush" scores are required for any of your child's choice schools.
When the last application hits the mailbox, CELEBRATE!
Unless confirmations have arrived, your child should consult colleges by phone or online to check the status of applications. They should keep track of who they speak with and find out if there are any materials that still need to be sent in.
Work through the waiting game
After nearly four years, the wait is nearly over! There may be some decision letters arriving this month and, hopefully, they will bring great news.
Resist the urge to open letters addressed to your child. (Though holding them up to the light is an option.) Also, don't despair when thin envelopes show up - that doesn't always mean it's a rejection letter. Some schools send out enrollment forms later.
If your child is accepted, cheer and applaud! If a rejection letter arrives, try to put things in perspective with a comment like "It's an extremely competitive college and your math test scores must have hurt." (Don't say something like "The admission folks at that school seemed like a bunch of Bozos from the get-go." Even if that's what you think!)
Take a second look
Compare financial aid offers and contact financial aid offices with any questions. If you feel you need to, appeal the awards. Plan crunch-time visits to campuses, as needed, to help with the big decision: which school to attend.
Was your child placed on a waitlist? Make sure to return any waitlist cards and follow up with the admission offices regularly. Send updated records and other information, if available.
Take a deep breath
If you and your child have made a final decision about which school to attend, then congratulations! Now, make sure you send in any required deposit. Be sure not to dawdle and miss the May 1 deadline or your child may lose their spot to some other hopeful student. Last but not least, notify the schools that weren't chosen that your child won't be attending, particularly if an aid offer was made.
Polish off the details
Make sure your child takes any needed AP exams.
Remember P's and Q's
Encourage your child to write a thank you note to anyone who may have been especially helpful in the college-planning process. Guidance counselors are often unsung heroes, as are teachers who write recommendations, scholarship agencies, admission counselors, financial aid officers, secretaries, tours guides, or other students. Of course this isn't obligatory, but recipients are sure to be pleasantly surprised.
Buy some extra-long sheets
Stay on top of housing plans in case there are any forms that need to be returned. You and your child may also consider alternatives to the dorms, if there are any. Find out the dates for freshman orientation, as some schools have them in spring or summer. And of course, make sure your child knows when course registration is.
Play the waiting game
You and your child may both be a little jumpy around mail-delivery time each day. Keep your eye out for "the envelope," but also keep your cool.
Give your child (and yourself!) a pat on the back
Help your child organize a file to keep track of summer mailings from the college. Categories might include orientation, housing, course registration, and finances.
Attend to the details
Your child may want to consider summer courses to accelerate or place out of required courses, but make sure the college has confirmed that it will accept the credits. Also have your child confirm that the high school has forwarded a final transcript to the college.
On a less stressful note, take your child shopping for supplies and dorm décor. Don't forget about suitcases for packing clothes!