How to Start Planning for College in 12th Grade
In your senior year, college planning kicks into high gear.
There's a lot on your mind—getting ready for spirit week, thinking of the perfect yearbook quote—but you still need to keep your college application process on track.
Things you can do before winter break (July–December):
- Strengthen your college list and make sure it’s a balanced mix of at least 6 academic safety, fit, and reach schools.
- Safety is a college that you likely have a very good chance of getting into and you can afford. Safeties should also be colleges you’d be happy to attend.
- Fit is a college you likely have a good chance of getting into that’s also a good fit for you overall.
- Reach is a college that may be more of a challenge for you to get into. Getting in isn’t a sure thing, but it’s realistic enough to be worth the effort of applying.
- Stay organized and keep a master calendar or save application deadlines on your phone. Your calendar should include:
- Admission tests you plan to take and their fees, registration deadlines, test dates, and locations.
- College application due dates.
- Any forms and deadlines related to financial aid.
- Any materials needed for your application, such as: letters of recommendation, transcripts, and a portfolio.
- Take the SAT one more time
- Getting better takes practice, so use Official SAT Practice on Khan Academy® to help you prepare for the test and improve your score.
- Make sure to send your SAT scores to the colleges you plan to apply to. You can send 4 free score reports to colleges up to 9 days after taking the test. (If you took the SAT with a fee waiver, you can send as many scores as you need for free.)
- Complete the FAFSA, the free application for federal student aid. Remember to create your FSA ID and begin working on your application as soon as the FAFSA opens on October 1. The earlier you complete it, the better.
- You can also complete the CSS Profile, an online application used by hundreds of colleges, universities, professional schools, and scholarship programs to award financial aid from sources outside the federal government.
- Get ready for early decision, early action, or rolling admissions deadlines.
- Early Decision You can apply to only one early decision college, and if the college accepts your application and offers you enough financial aid, you must attend that college.
- Early Action You can apply to more than one early action college, and if they accept your application, you can accept right away or wait until spring to decide.
- Rolling Admissions This means the college will consider each application as soon as all required information has been received and will usually notify you with their decision quickly.
- Ask a teacher for letters of recommendations if required for an application.
- Your high school counselor may have a brag sheet to help you share your achievements, such as community service and volunteering, school clubs, leadership experience, employment, honors and awards, or other information that goes beyond your academic record.
- Write first drafts of your personal essays and ask teachers, classmates, or family members to read them and give feedback. Make sure you proofread everything before sharing and submitting your essays.
- Make a goal to complete at least one college application by Thanksgiving.
- Ask your counselor to send your high school transcripts at least 2 weeks before the colleges need them.
Things you can do before the school year ends (January–May):
- When you start receiving acceptance letters and financial aid offers around mid-April, let your counselor know your decision.
- If you have questions about housing options, talk to your counselor or call the college.
- Make sure you also review your financial aid awards and choose the aid package that’s best for you and your family.
- After reviewing your options, inform the colleges whether you accept or kindly reject their offer of admission and/or financial aid by May 1.
- Send your deposit to the college where you decide to enroll.
- If you’re waitlisted, stay active in school to show the college what you accomplished since you applied.
- Try to get a sense of your admission chances by contacting the admissions office about your ranking on the waitlist or asking if they have a priority list.
- If you intend to enroll if you’re accepted, reach out to the admissions director and ask how you can strengthen your application.
- If you took AP courses, consider taking AP Exams to show what you’ve learned throughout the semester.
- Depending on the college, you may also earn college credit and placement.
- Ask your high school to send a final transcript to your college.
Visit bigfuture.org for more free, comprehensive college planning resources.