College Planning Checklist

If you’re in high school, it’s never too early to start planning for college! There are quite a few things you’ll need to complete over the next four years, so this college planning checklist will help ensure you’re ticking off all the boxes of jobs you need to get done!

1. Get Involved

  • Volunteer at charities, non-profits, or other organizations in your area.
  • Participate in sports, clubs, or other extracurriculars that interest you.
  • Consider getting a job, especially ones that are related to your intended field if possible.
  • Attend summer and/or winter camps.

2. Take the Right Classes in High School

  • Review your schedule and class options every year with your guidance counselor. Also, talk to them about career fields and majors that interest you.
  • Don’t settle for “easy” classes in your final years; colleges want to see a rigorous schedule, not senioritis.
  • Sign up for AP classes, college classes, college programs, and similar options to add depth to your schedule and get a head start on college credits.
  • Take classes related to your major and desired career field.

3. Review Your Wants and Needs in a College

  • Small vs large campus?
  • Small vs large classroom sizes?
  • Desired major?
  • Desired career?
  • Cost?
  • Location?
  • Urban vs rural?
  • 2 year college vs 4 year?
  • Extracurricular needs/wants?
  • How will this college help with your career goals?
  • Other needs and wants important to you

4. Narrow Down College Choices 

  • Use College Raptor’s College Match tool to identify the best colleges for your needs, wants, achievements, budget, admission chances, and more.
  • Use pro and con lists for each college on your list.
  • Attend college fairs.
  • Talk to your guidance counselor about your goals and current list.
  • Review college websites and social media pages.
  • Compare majors, programs, teachers, student to faculty ratios, and similar aspects of the colleges
  • Look at schools’ employment rates.
  • Review admission chances.
  • Visit campuses.
  • Talk to current college students of the schools on your list as well as alumni.
  • Narrow your list to include a good mix of safety, match, and reach schools.

5. Sit for Exams

  • Prepare for the PSAT in your sophomore and junior years.
  • Take the PSAT in your sophomore year.
  • Take the PSAT and try to qualify for the NMSQT scholarship in your junior year.
  • Take the pre-ACT in your junior year.
  • Decide on the SAT or the ACT by taking practice tests.
  • Prepare for the SAT or ACT.
  • Sign up for an SAT or ACT test date.
  • Sit for the SAT or ACT.
  • Take the SAT or ACT additional times.

6. Apply for Colleges

  • Decide whether you’re applying during regular decision, early action, or early decision.
  • Know and note application due dates.
  • Review application requirements (every college is different!).
  • Complete the college applications.
  • Write college essays.
  • Gather letters of recommendation.
  • Talk to your guidance counselor about your applications.
  • Schedule interviews with colleges if necessary.
  • Submit your applications well before the due date to avoid any mishaps.

7. Think About Affording College

  • Talk to your parents about finances, 529 plans, and other ways to pay for colleges.
  • Complete your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as soon as possible in your senior year (it becomes available every October 1st) and complete it every year of your college application.
  • Review and compare financial aid packages that you receive from colleges.
  • Compare student loans, including federal vs private if necessary.
  • Research scholarships and apply (and keep doing it even when you’ve started college).
  • Talk to your prospective colleges about grant programs.
  • Reach out to your prospective colleges’ financial aid departments with any questions.
  • If you’re low-income, consider talking to organizations that specialize in resources and financial aid.

8. Get Ready to Attend 

  • Collect your acceptance letters.
  • Compare your colleges again to help you make a final decision.
  • Decide on a school before May 1st (unless you applied under Early Decision which is a binding contract) and notify the college of your choice.
  • Submit deposit to school before May 1st.
  • Inform other colleges of your decision not to attend.
  • Sign up for orientation.
  • Select classes.
  • Compare your options and select your dorm room.
  • Read over any documentation and information your college sends you.
  • Finalize financial aid.
  • Buy things and pack for your dorm room (but don’t pack too much or too little – it’s a common mistake first year college students make!).
  • Move in on first year move-in day!

There’s no doubt a lot you have to get done in your four years of high school, and especially during your senior year. This college planning checklist, however, should help you keep track of everything you need to do. It’s important to get a move on soon though, as it will be graduation day before you know it! Don’t let those deadlines creep up on you.

If you’re planning on going to college, College Raptor has several tools that can help you make an informed decision about your education. Get started with our College Match tool (it’s free!) to uncover more details about schools that interest you.