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The Countdown to College:

Steps to Success

This page was written by Kalekidane K. from Georgia

Preparing to apply for colleges and ensuring that you are putting your best foot forward is like running a marathon, not a sprint. Each year of high school, you should be taking steps that lead you to the ultimate goal of applying and being accepted to colleges during your senior year. Refer to this easy to follow plan often to ensure that you're on the right track.  Make sure that you are involving your parents and college advisor/guidance counselor along the way. 

Freshman Year

  • Take advantage of your first year classes to have a solid GPA. This will help build a strong foundation for harder courses later. 

  • Sign up and get involved in clubs and organizations you're interested in. If you join freshman year, you have the ability to grow in the organization and eventually hold a position on the e-board. Colleges like to see if you can make commitments and follow through on them. 

  • If your school offers advanced classes your first year, take advantage of it!

  • Learn time management. 

Sophomore Year

  • Research colleges you may be interested in and what programs they may offer to highschool students. (Some programs that offer college credit are for rising seniors, but RESEARCH!) 

  • Take the PSAT to practice test-taking

  • Begin studying for the SAT/ACT (take both and focus on whichever one you did better on)

  • Start scholarship searching

  • Think about what interests you and what you may want to do in the future. (It’s okay for this to change! This is just to get you thinking about your future.) 

  • Getting a job during the school year or summer break. Example: Summer camp counselor, fast food, retail

Junior Year

  • Take AP classes 

  • Continue to study for the SAT/ACT {Visit our page on the SAT for lots of tips, tricks, and studying materials}

  • Take the SAT in the Spring

  • Attend college fairs. *Some colleges hand out fee waivers if you go!

  • If your school offers dual enrollment think about applying.

  • Keep applying to scholarships!

  • Visit the schools you're interested in attending.

  • Take note of who you would like to write your recommendation letters in advance and ask them. This saves time and stress during your senior year.

Senior Year

  • Know the schools you're applying to (10 is a good number) 

  • Make sure there is a mix of reach schools, match schools, and safety schools.

  • Start the application process

  • If you need to take the ACT/SAT again, take them in the fall.

  • Some colleges may require an interview/portfolio/audition included in the admission process. Make sure to read the instructions clearly and show up early!

  • Look at your financial package for each school and make a financial plan.

  • Have a discussion with your family to see which school would be the best decision to enroll in 

  • Have a backup plan

  • Commit to a school!

*Note: College may not be for everybody and that’s okay. There are other options other than College.

Examples of alternate options: Trade school, military, conservatory art/performance schools.

You can also take a gap year if you need to take a break from school. During this time, PLEASE DO NOT DO NOTHING! Take this time to volunteer, get a job, start a passion project, get to know what exactly you want to do with your life. Colleges like to see what you did during your time off. 


This book titled What to Know Before They Go is a great resource. Check it out on Amazon

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