In September, sophomores and juniors should register to take the PSAT, a practice run for the SAT, or the PLAN, which is a pre-test for the ACT. The PSAT is given in October, and the PLAN is given on different dates at different schools. A good result on the PSAT can also help you qualify for The National Merit Scholarship Competition and the National Achievement and National Hispanic Scholars programs.
Seniors who have not taken the SAT or ACT (or those who want to take them again in hopes of higher scores) should sign up for the SAT Reasoning Test and/or SAT Subject Tests, which should be taken in October and November, or the ACT, which should be taken in September or October. Seniors should also make sure they have all of the applications for colleges they're targeting, and the forms needed for financial aid.
Sophomores, juniors and seniors who are concerned about their test-taking skills and those who need to strengthen their content knowledge should consider test preparation programs. The best programs offer personalized instruction, provide real education as opposed to simple tips and tricks, and use official SAT and ACT exams to help students strengthen their skills. Students should not wait until the last minute to prepare; school counselors can direct students to the programs that are best for them.
In October (or earlier), sophomores, juniors and seniors should attend college fairs. Also in October, if not before, seniors should ensure that they have lined up character recommendations for any colleges that may ask for them. Teachers, employers and coaches can all write letters of recommendation. Seniors who are applying for early decision should send their applications in now. Seniors who haven't taken the SAT Reasoning and/or Subject Tests or the ACT (or those who want to take the tests again in hopes of better results) should sign up to take them in December.
In November, all students in need of financial aid should be searching for grants, scholarships and work-study programs, with help from counselors and other sources, such as the National Research Center for College and University Admissions (www.nrccua.org) and the National Association for College Admission Counseling (www.nacacnet.org). If you're hoping for federal aid, you'll need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (www.fafsa.ed.gov)
In December, sophomores and juniors should receive the results of the PLAN and the PSAT. Review the results carefully to determine the skills and knowledge that you need to strengthen prior to taking the ACT or SAT. If you're planning to take the ACT in February you should register now.
If you're a senior, make sure you send your official test scores to the colleges and universities you're considering.
In January and February, and throughout the spring, students should continue investigating colleges that suit their interests. Visiting during the months that classes are in session will give you the best sense of campus life.
If you're a junior and you've completed the math courses covered on the SAT Reasoning Test, you should register to take this test in April. If you haven't done the coursework, you can register to take the test in May or June - but make sure you prepare.
If you're a senior hoping for financial aid, encourage your parents to complete their income tax forms as soon as possible, since you'll need the data from those forms for your FAFSA. If you've already completed your FAFSA, you might receive your Student Aid Report (SAR) in February. Review this carefully and correct any errors. If you sent in the FAFSA more than four weeks earlier and haven't received your report, contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 319 337 5665.
If you're a sophomore, you should register now for the June SAT Subject Tests. These are one-hour exams testing your knowledge of subjects that you've completed. Talk with your counselor to determine which tests you should take, and when.
If you're a junior, you should register now for the May or June SAT Reasoning Test and/or the May/June SAT Subject tests. Sophomores and juniors who want to take the ACT in June can also register up until May 4.
Seniors should be reviewing college acceptances and financial aid awards. If you've decided on a college, inform the institution of your decision. If other colleges have accepted you, you should inform them that you're not going to attend so slots can be filled by other students.
If you're a sophomore, you should be thinking about summertime activities that will build skills suited to the academic tracks or careers you're considering. Juniors should likewise be looking at activities that strengthen their academic records.
Seniors should decide by May 1 which college they want to attend. Seniors should also affirm when payments for tuition, room and board are due.
Many students prefer to visit colleges during the year for a good view of campus life, but the summer is also a good time. If possible, make it a family event.
While it's easy to become overwhelmed with the college preparation process, being well-organized and well-informed will lessen the pressure considerably, giving you more time to experience what can be one of the most important - and exciting - phases of your life.