College Search Planning for the New Year

Published by Wendy Nelson on

I heard from a mother recently whose family had just moved to a new state and she was told that her son had enough credits to graduate early.  He had a knock-out ACT score and was looking for a top-tier school.  They scrambled to get applications in before the early deadlines.  She wanted to make sure he got great scholarships too.  She sounded very stressed!  They were compressing their college search timeline down to weeks.  Yes, it was doable, but they couldn’t perform a full search for schools and scholarships.  I told her there were even automatic full-ride scholarships her son could qualify for based on his great ACT score.  I felt like they weren’t getting the full opportunity to get the best deal on the best education.

I was glad to hear back from her a week later saying that the new school evaluated her son’s coursework and determined he didn’t have the right types of classes to graduate in their new state.  He would need to attend another year.  I could tell she was relieved to have an extra year to plan out a complete college search and find a lot of great

At the start of this new year, it’s a great time to do some planning for the college search.  Here are some important steps based on your child’s year in high school.

Sophomore Year:

  • If you haven’t done any college visits yet, start planning for the first ones.  Late spring of sophomore year is a great time to start getting a general feel for the types of colleges your child may be interested in.  Plan to visit a few schools of different sizes and in different settings.
  • Start planning for the ACT or SAT test in the fall.  If your child will be taking the ACT test, see my post ACT Test Prep – Time to Start for Fall!
  • Make sure your child is on target for a great Junior year. This should include challenging classes, leadership opportunities and high-quality extracurricular activities.   Junior year is the one that counts most when filling out college applications in the fall of Senior year.

Junior Year:

  • If your child took the ACT or SAT test in the fall, evaluate whether or not he or she will take it again.  If scores need an improvement, it’s not too late to look at test prep resources.
  • Now is definitely the time for college visits.  Spring Break can be a great opportunity.  Look for colleges that are in session during your child’s Spring Break so that he or she can attend classes and see the campus in full swing.
  • Have your child work on an activity resume.  This will be important for college applications and scholarship applications.
  • If you don’t have a college list started, now’s the time.  My Excel College Search Spreadsheet template is a great way to keep track of schools.
  • Keep track of your child’s school progress through the semester.  Great Junior Year grades are key!
  • Help your child plan for a great summer experience.  It could be a meaningful summer job, a mission trip, an internship, summer classes or a college summer program for high school students.

Senior Year:

  •  If you haven’t already, fill out the FAFSA.  Read my article, FAFSA – To File or Not to File?  Some schools also require the CSS profile.  Read about it here – Thoughts About the CSS Profile.
  • Make sure your child’s first semester school transcript gets to every college he or she has applied to already.
  • Start looking for local scholarships.  These usually have spring deadlines.  Good places to find these include the high school counseling office, local newspapers and local chambers of commerce.  Use my Scholarship Tracker to keep track of deadlines and requirements.
  • Schedule final college visits.  When your child is down to the final few colleges, overnight visits can be a great way to help make decisions.  If you want to wait until acceptances come in, at least plan out dates that will work for visits.
  • Encourage your child to work hard all the way through to the end of the semester!  Colleges do look at second semester grades.
  • Read up on how to evaluate financial aid packages so that you are prepared when these start arriving.


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