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Welcome to GreatSchools’ interactive college prep timeline!

Here’s what to do month-by-month, year-by-year, to get your high school student prepped for and successfully through the college application process.

See college prep timelines for:

9th grade 11th grade 12th grade

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10th grade college prep timeline

August

Reality-check the schedule

Reality-check the schedule

Make sure your teen will have time for homework, recreation and rest. Teens need to get enough sleep for their health and learning. Consider instituting a digital curfew for the whole family; research shows that late-night cell phone use has dangerous consequences for teens’ mental health.

August

Make sure classes count

Make sure classes count

Sophomores should be taking courses that will count toward high school graduation and getting into college. If you’re not sure if your teen’s courses count, double check with the school counselor.

August

Talk up the extracurriculars

Talk up the extracurriculars

Students who participate in extracurricular activities like sports, drama, debate, and music get better grades and have higher self-esteem and lower rates of depression than those who don’t. Kids who devote more than one year to the same activity are more likely to graduate from college.

September

Help your child develop organizational skills

Help your child develop organizational skills

Staying organized and on top of a demanding schedule is something many adults struggle with. Help your teen develop this important skill for thriving in school and life.

September

If college sports are in your child’s future…

If college sports are in your child’s future…

If you think your teen may play Division I or II sports in college, register them with NCAA Clearinghouse this year. Check with your child’s college counselor to make sure they’re on track with a core curriculum that meets college and NCAA requirements.

September

A high school parent’s guide to saving for college

A high school parent’s guide to saving for college

It’s never too late to start a college savings plan. Here are 13 smart steps you can take now.

October

Do a mini grade check—and offer support if needed

Do a mini grade check—and offer support if needed

One of the most important things sophomores can do to prepare for the college admissions process is keep their grades up. If your child is struggling with a particular class or could use a study skills boost, now’s the time to seek help and get her the support she needs.

October

Could your child study smarter?

Could your child study smarter?

It might surprise you to know that the most effective study technique isn’t highlighting key passages or re-reading material.

October

Get the PSAT on your radar

Get the PSAT on your radar

Taking the PSAT now is a low-stakes way for your teen to get some practice for the SAT, and the more comfortable and familiar she is with the format, the better. The scores have no bearing on college admissions. If your child isn’t yet ready to take this test, there will be more opportunities in the spring and next fall. Here’s how to formulate a PSAT strategy.

November

Apply for scholarships (Really!)

Apply for scholarships (Really!)

It’s not too early; sophomores are eligible for more scholarships than you might think. By applying now, your teen can start amassing funds for college and get valuable practice writing essays, too.

November

College admissions 101

College admissions 101

Consider checking out one of these books on college admissions to help your child get started learning what the process involves.

December

Talk about career goals

Talk about career goals

What does your child want to do they grow up? Have your child pick two possible careers (they can use this list or take a personality test for inspiration) and research what sort of degree they’d need and what the day-to-day life and salaries are like for each.

December

Encourage a challenge

Encourage a challenge

Have your child talk to teachers and/or the school counselor about the options for taking honors and AP classes in the next two years. It’ll help your child think about taking on academic challenges.

December

If your child isn’t thriving, consider alternatives

If your child isn’t thriving, consider alternatives

Is high school holding your ambitious teen back? Or is something getting in the way of his success? There are alternatives to high school that may help your teen succeed.

December

Consider summer volunteering opportunities

Consider summer volunteering opportunities

Lots of programs send high school kids overseas to volunteer. Here’s how to know whether your teenager is mature enough to go abroad, find the right match for his interests, evaluate programs, and figure out how to finance the trip.

January

Do a grade check

Do a grade check

While some colleges don’t consider freshman year grades, sophomore year grades are a different story. With your child halfway through his sophomore year, this is an excellent time to sit down together and talk about his grades.

January

Make an appointment with a college counselor

Make an appointment with a college counselor

If you haven’t yet, start exploring your child’s college options with the school counselor or a private admissions advisor.

January

Help your child ease test anxiety

Help your child ease test anxiety

Watch this video for two effective techniques to help kids relax before a test. (And in this podcast, a psychologist explains why a little bit of worry before a test is not a bad thing.)

February

Check if your child needs reading help

Check if your child needs reading help

Did you know that 70 percent of high school students need some form of reading help? Make sure your 10th grader is developing the skills he needs; it’s not too late to impove.

February

Check out a college fair

Check out a college fair

Soon your child will start making a preliminary list of colleges she’s interested in. Do a search for upcoming college fairs in your area and plan to attend at least one together.

February

Think about leadership opportunities

Think about leadership opportunities

Encourage your teen to pursue a leadership role in a favorite extracurricular activity. Would student government suit him? Could she hold an office in her favorite club? Think creatively and let your child’s passion lead. (Kids can start their own clubs, too, which definitely shows leadership.)

March

Get familiar with college admissions tests

Get familiar with college admissions tests

Read about the two major college admissions tests: the ACT and the SAT. Learn about how these tests differ to understand if one may be a better choice for your teen than the other. (Hint: these tests have changed since most parents took them.)

March

Start thinking about summer

Start thinking about summer

What your teen does this summer can be a game-changer. Consider including enrichment activities and/or learning into your child’s summer plans. Summer jobs, internships, volunteering, leadership opportunities, and helping others (even in your own family) are all pursuits that look good on college applications.

March

Forget cramming: 3 better ways to teach kids how to remember what they learn

Forget cramming: 3 better ways to teach kids how to remember what they learn

To really learn something, kids need to move the information from their short-term memory to their long-term memory. Here are three strategies to teach your teen.

April

AP exams already?

AP exams already?

Yes, but only if your child is taking an Advanced Placement (AP) class this year. If so, encourage your child to take the AP exam this spring while the material is top of mind.

April

Should your child take an SAT subject test this year?

Should your child take an SAT subject test this year?

Most kids take these junior or senior year, but if your teen’s taking an AP or honors science, math, or foreign language class, it’s a good idea to take the associated SAT subject test this year while the information is fresh. See the list of SAT subject tests.

May

Choose the right classes

Choose the right classes

As your child chooses her junior year classes, the two keywords are challenge and balance. Encourage your teen to challenge herself by taking an AP or honors class (or two). Help her find balance by considering the demands of these tougher classes and making sure she chooses a course load that she’s excited about and will be able to handle next year.

May

Getting ready for college math

Getting ready for college math

Make sure your child is building the math skills needed for success in college and beyond.

May

For athletes, look into NCAA rules

For athletes, look into NCAA rules

There are a lot of misconceptions about getting into college (and getting scholarships) for NCAA sports. Now is a good time to look up the real rules and procedures so you and your child know what’s up.

June

Encourage summer reading and writing

Encourage summer reading and writing

College admissions pros have three suggestions for encouraging your teen to read and write every day this summer: 1) Have your child sign up for a daily source of in-depth articles and read two articles per day. 2) Encourage your child to read 10 books from this list. 3) Persuade your teen to keep a daily journal and write about what they’re feeling, reading, and doing each day.

June

3 ways to make summer count

3 ways to make summer count

There are many ways for your child to squeeze college-prep activities into summer. Here are just three: 1) Getting a job; 2) Volunteering; 3) Signing up for an enrichment program (e.g. a class at your local community college, a chess competition, a community theater production, a coding challenge).

About our 10th grade college prep timeline

The road to college can be complicated and confusing for students and parents alike. We’ve gathered unbiased and comprehensive input from multiple expert sources and compiled it into four inclusive timelines to help all aspiring college students — and their families — organize their college prep efforts.

Getting into college involves so much more than filling out an application. Our college prep timelines begin in 9th grade and continue, month by month, through the end of 12th grade.

For high school sophomores, our interactive 10th grade college prep timeline helps parents and students understand concepts like the important distinction between classes that count toward high school graduation but not for college admission, the importance of taking on academic and extracurricular challenges, the best strategies for communicating with teachers and college counselors, and the nuts and bolts of writing strong papers, making effective presentations, and practicing effective study habits.

For juniors and seniors, our timeline goes deeper into the details of helping students and parents navigate the college applications process as well as helping students consider their personal learning and career goals and the different routes they might take to achieve postsecondary success.

There are a lot of important decision points for high school sophomores, many of which students, parents, and even counselors can miss. Our interactive timeline offers 10th grade college prep information, tips, and insights to help parents help their high school students navigate the road to college without missing a single step.

Want more? Check out our articles about college prep, being the first in the family to go to college, and saving for college.