A Basic Timeline for the College Admissions Process

College admissions are not as daunting as they might seem if you plan ahead. There are a few basic steps that should be followed and will benefit students no matter what college they plan to attend or whether they change their minds at the last minute, as our teenagers have been known to do. This process is really about increasing the number of options for your student, and college admissions are the by-product of following the process. Focusing early and spreading out the work to get this done will ease the load and open up doors for your child.

Freshman and Sophomore high school students should be taking at least one each of the PSAT, SAT and ACT tests for practice each year. At this point in their schooling, they do not need to do any preparation before the tests, but they should be developing test maturity. This happens by removing the anxiety around these tests, getting familiar with them, and going through the process a few times. Going in “cold” a few times over these first two years of high school will really help with this.

In the summer between a student’s sophomore and junior year, they should do an extensive preparation course on taking the SAT and ACT, in preparation for the October PSAT that is administered each fall. This is the year that the PSAT will be considered for National Merit Scholarship competition, and so potential qualifiers will need to be sure to take this test in October of their junior year. They should also continue to take additional SAT and ACT tests in their junior year, with the goal in mind to have competitive scores in hand by the end of the year.

Also in the junior year, students should be considering the colleges that might be of interest to them. There is a wealth of information available on the College Board website, www.collegeboard.com to help direct students in this selection, but by January of the junior year, students should be confident of 5-6 schools that they will be applying to, and have made some determination about whether or not they will go directly to a four-year school, or start at a junior college.

Over the summer of this transition year, students should narrow down their college choices to the few that they will apply to. These applications should be in transit, whether mail or electronically, by the week after Labor Day to open up the most doors to them. It may be that some of the records such as transcripts or recommendations will still be pending, but having the application done as much as is possible for submission purposes will really help increase the options for students.

Once the college applications have been submitted in the senior year, students should begin working on scholarship applications. Ideally, these should be submitted by November 1, as each one will have specific non-negotiable deadlines. Be sure not to miss these, and get these scholarship applications in as early as possible.

Finally, while a student is continuing to work on meeting his graduation requirements and has taken all of the above steps, the final paperwork to be completed is by the parents. This comes in the form of the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid - http://www.fafsa.ed.gov). This form completion is required by many colleges and is the starting point for federal aid, so get this in as early as possible in the spring of the senior year. It will require tax information, so if you are unable to have your taxes done prior to completion, be sure to fill it out anyway using their estimator options. Final tax documents can be filed later, but will still be required.

Following these simple steps in order will be a tremendous help in keeping your child’s options open and giving him or her the largest opportunity for college choices. Write these out on a family calendar, take the steps, and relax for the process. It may take a little time, but spread out over the four years, it is no problem to get it all done!


Mrs. Camille Rodriquez is a wife and mother, with experience as a pastor’s wife for more than a decade and as a homeschool mom for almost 20 years. Visit her website at National Homeschool Academy.

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