Last updateMon, 26 Aug 2019 4am

Applying to College: A Checklist

It's never too early to begin planning for college, whether by keeping up your GPA, participating in extracurricular activities, or saving money for tuition. When you reach your junior year in high school, however, you'll need to start preparing in earnest. The following checklist can help you stay organized and on track as you pursue admission to the college or university of your choice.

Fall of Junior Year

  • Make a list of the colleges you're interested in attending and begin to gather information online or by phone or mail.
    • Find out if there are any college fairs in your area.
  • Take the Preliminary Scholastic Assessment Test/ National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/ NMSQT).
    • This test helps you identify skills you need to hone before you take the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) or the American College Testing Assessment (ACT).
    • The PSAT/NMSQT will also determine if you are eligible to compete for a National Merit Scholarship.
  • Register for the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT).
    • You can take the SAT in November or December, but it's important to register early.
    • You can find test dates and register online at
  • Begin researching scholarships and other aid from both federal and private sources and from the schools you're interested in attending.
    • Check out our list of resources on page 310.
    • Most scholarship applications will require you to submit an essay, so start working on those now.
  • Stay focused on academics!
    • It's easy to get sidetracked, but colleges will look closely at your junior-year grades.
    • Are you taking any AP classes? Find out when you can take Advanced Placement exams.
    • Doing well on AP tests can earn you college credit and save money on tuition.

Spring of Junior Year

  • Now's the time to start looking for a summer job to earn money for tuition.
  • If you didn't take the SAT or ACT in the fall, make sure you register for the exam now.
  • By mid-Spring, narrow your list of colleges to no more than 10.
  • You'll need letters of recommendation for your college applications.
    • Make a list of adults who know you well, such as teachers, coaches, church leaders, and employers.
    • Provide everyone who agrees to write a letter with a stamped, addressed envelope.
    • Don't forget to write thank-you notes!

Summer of Junior Year

  • Schedule visits to as many college campuses as you can. Check out our list of HBCU tours here.
  • Request applications from the colleges you're interested in attending. Make a list of important dates and deadlines.
  • Complete your application essays.

Fall of Senior Year

  • Ask for feedback on your application essays from teachers, family, and friends. Make adjustments.
  • Complete all your applications. Find out your high school's deadline for requesting transcripts to the appropriate colleges.
  • If you want re-take the SAT, make sure you allow at least eight weeks for scores to be submitted to colleges.
  • Mail your college applications and keep copies of everything you send.
    • Ask your high school to forward copies of your transcripts to the colleges to which you are applying.
  • Find out if there are any financial aid informational events in your area.
  • Begin to gather everything you'll need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
    • You'll need copies of your family's most recent tax forms and bank statements, your driver's license, and W-2 forms.
  • Your high school guidance office will receive copies of FAFSA by December. You can also file your application electronically at
    • This not only saves a week or two in processing time, it makes it easier to track the status of your application.
  • Mail or file FAFSA online as soon as possible after January 1.
  • Depending on whether you filed FAFSA online or mailed it, processing takes two to four weeks.
    • Once processed, you'll receive your Student Aid Report (SAR) either in the mail or in an e-mail with a link to view it online.
    • Your SAR lists your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which will determine the amount of aid you receive.
    • An electronic copy of your SAR is also made available to the schools you've listed on your FAFSA.

Spring of Senior Year

  • Check your mailbox!
    • Acceptance letters usually arrive before May 1.
    • You'll also receive a financial aid award letter from the financial aid office of each college that accepts you. This letter will outline the amount of aid you're eligible for and in what form—grants, loans, and/or work study.
    • Different colleges may offer different award packages. You'll need to do your research and carefully compare each offer to make your final decision.
    • Make sure you inform each college that sent you an acceptance or financial aid award letter of your decision.
  • If you or your parents qualified for loans as part of your financial aid award, there's still work to be done!
    • If the school you're attending participates in the Federal Direct Loan Program, its financial aid office oversees the loan.
    • If your college of choice is part of the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program, they will provide you with a list of preferred lenders and you'll need to select a lender and work with the school to complete the application.

Summer of Senior Year

  • Make a list of items you'll need to purchase or pack for your first year at college.
    • Check with your college's student residence or housing office for guidance on what to bring.
    • Get in touch with your new roommate by phone or e-mail and introduce yourself. Compare notes on how to design your "ideal college home" and to avoid duplication (you don't need two stereos!).
  • Create a budget for your freshman year.
  • Don't forget to spend some time with your high school friends and celebrate your accomplishments!
  • If your college offers a freshman orientation program, make sure to participate. You'll make new friends and get a feel for the campus.

Congratulations, you're on your way!