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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 10th grade 12th grade

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11th grade college prep timeline

August

Get organized for the college search

Get organized for the college search

There will be a ton of college info coming your teen’s way this year. Get ready with labeled folders, a notebook for jotting down notes and impressions, and a space to keep all the info close at hand.

August

Keep a reading list

Keep a reading list

A college counselor shares this forward-thinking tip: Have your teen keep a list of all the books she reads with a title and a short description of key themes. It’ll come in handy for essays and college applications. For inspiration, see our list of 101 books for college-bound teens.

August

Consider (affordable, online) help

Consider (affordable, online) help

Check out these four low-cost and free tools designed to help middle-class families with the college admissions process. For high-need, low-income, minority, and first-to-college students, check out these five organizations helping kids find the right college (and the money to pay for it).

September

Sign up for the October PSAT

Sign up for the October PSAT

Talk to the guidance counselor about getting your teen signed up for the PSAT — or use this tool to find a school near you that offers the PSAT if your school doesn’t. Teens who take the PSAT in October of their junior year may qualify for the National Merit Scholarship program, a great way to earn free money for college. Read more about taking the PSAT.

September

Understand college admissions tests

Understand college admissions tests

Learn more about the ACT vs. the SAT (and whether one may be a better fit for your teen than the other). Today’s ACT and SAT look very different from the tests parents remember. Here’s how they have changed.

September

Know your child’s Social Security number

Know your child’s Social Security number

Now is the time to make sure your child has a social security number and that you know it — your teen will need it for his college applications and financial aid forms.

September

Together, think about grades

Together, think about grades

Plan to meet with your child’s college counselor. Check your child’s regular and weighted GPA and class rank. If your child’s grades are already good, discuss strategies to help your teen stay on track. If your child’s grades aren’t so great, discuss strategies to improve. Colleges like to see an upward trend, so your child may want to think about the best ways to show improvement this year and next — through grades, class rank, and challenging classes.

September

Register your budding college athlete

Register your budding college athlete

If your child may play Division I or II sports in college, register your teen with NCAA Clearinghouse. It’s also a good time to meet with your child’s college counselor to learn more about what’s required and to make sure your teen is taking a core curriculum that meets college and NCAA requirements.

October

Help your teen make a college list

Help your teen make a college list

Start by making a list of the most important things your child is looking for in terms of location, size, cost, majors and courses of study, special programs, etc. Feel free to suggest schools, but experts caution not to omit schools your teen is interested in out of hand. (While finances are always a concern, many expensive schools have financial aid money to offer.)

October

Take the PSAT

Take the PSAT

Teens who take the PSAT in October of their junior year may qualify for the National Merit Scholarships program, a great way to earn free money for college.

October

Meet with a college counselor

Meet with a college counselor

Use this time to discuss your teen’s grades, courses taken and planned, testing strategies (like when to take the PSAT, SAT, ACT, etc.) and, of course, to get guidance on finding the right college for your child. If your child’s school doesn’t have a counselor, consider getting help from one of these organizations, an online advisor or a private admissions pro.

October

Start visiting colleges

Start visiting colleges

Now is a great time to plan a few low-pressure, low-key college visits. Visiting college campuses, whether they’re nearby or far away, helps your child envision life in college and think about what may be the right fit in terms of campus size, location, and areas of study. Find out what the college and career center has to offer. Some schools organize campus visits for juniors and seniors.

October

Considering a military academy?

Considering a military academy?

If your child dreams of entering one of the 5 U.S. military academies that train future officers, then talk to your child’s guidance counselor because your teen needs to start the military academy admission process sooner rather than later.

November

Prioritize, prioritize

Prioritize, prioritize

Your junior may feel overwhelmed by the many things on her plate. You can help by talking through her priorities. Skip debate club to babysit? Maybe not. Study for a math test instead of going to preseason track practice? Most likely. When time is limited, it all comes down to what’s most important.

November

Keep those grades up!

Keep those grades up!

Junior year grades speak volumes on your child’s college applications, so reinforce your teen’s good study habits, encourage him to get extra help and enough sleep, and don’t let him get overscheduled.

November

Help your teen understand the new SAT

Help your teen understand the new SAT

After the biggest revision in three decades — and a new suite of free online test prep tools — the new SAT is a different experience.

December

SAT or ACT?

SAT or ACT?

Help your child figure out which standardized tests — SAT vs. ACT, SAT subject tests, AP exams, etc., — they need to take and when they might take them. Look up when these test are offered and put registration and test dates on your calendar. Learn how to get an SAT or ACT fee waiver.

December

Make a test prep plan

Make a test prep plan

Work backward from the dates when your child will be taking the SAT and/or ACT and decide on a test prep plan together. Read more about how you can help your child get ready for these tests.

December

Encourage your teen to stay involved

Encourage your teen to stay involved

Kids who participate in extracurriculars have higher self-esteem and get better grades. Sticking with extracurriculars shows colleges that your child can keep a commitment, plus kids who stick with the same activity for one year are more likely to graduate from college — and sticking with the same activity for two years is associated with getting a job soon after college.

December

Visit a school or two

Visit a school or two

Wherever you are during winter break, try to tour a school or two. Great if you can visit a school your teen may apply to, but all college visits are informative. Help your teen visualize their college life by eating at the cafeteria and attending an event or visiting the library. Here’s how to prepare for college visits.

December

College planning for teens with ADHD

College planning for teens with ADHD

A successful college graduate with ADHD shares how she and her parents worked together to plan for college.

January

13 surprising tips for applying to college

13 surprising tips for applying to college

From the lowdown on leadership and the “grandparent test” to free colleges (yes, free!), here are 13 tidbits all parents should know as your child heads into the college applications process.

January

5 best college admissions books

5 best college admissions books

There are lots of titles out there — and you don’t need to read them all. Check out our 5 favorite college admissions books.

January

Help your teen get ready for college reading

Help your teen get ready for college reading

Most high school students can still become stronger readers. Now is a great time to work on these skills. Here’s expert advice on how you can help your teen improve now — and avoid remediation down the line.

February

Don’t forget to register!

Don’t forget to register!

Which tests — SAT, ACT, SAT subject tests, AP exams — is your child planning to take this year? Decide and register to take the right tests this spring. It’s a good idea for teens to take the SAT and/or the ACT and any SAT subject tests in the spring of junior year. They can (and probably should) retake these tests in the fall of senior year.

February

Start planning next year’s schedule

Start planning next year’s schedule

Senior year is no time to slack off (especially not first semester). Encourage your child to choose a core course (or two) that’s a strong suit and encourage her to challenge herself by taking an AP or honors class. Remember that first semester next year will be busy with college applications, but colleges will consider your teen’s ongoing course load as a factor in those applications.

February

Visit (more) colleges on your teen’s list

Visit (more) colleges on your teen’s list

Decide which colleges your teen should visit — both locally and farther away — and sign up for official tours when possible because visiting shows the school your student is serious about attending. Upcoming spring and summer breaks can be excellent times for college tours. Here’s how you can help your teen get the most out of a campus visit. (Can’t make it in person? Many schools offer official virtual tours.)

February

Make the most of this summer

Make the most of this summer

How will your child spend this summer? Will they get a job, an internship, enroll in extra courses, or participate in a selective summer program? These options all look good on college applications — and may be fodder for an excellent college essay. Help your teen start their summer planning research (and, in most cases, applications) now.

March

Revisit that college list

Revisit that college list

What has your child learned about the colleges on her list since she made it last fall? Encourage your child to evaluate her list again. Are these really places she wants to study and live for four years?

March

Test prep!

Test prep!

Is your teen taking the SAT and/or ACT this May or June? If so, time to put your test prep plan into action.

March

Talk about letters of recommendation

Talk about letters of recommendation

Chances are, your teen will ask one or two of their current teachers to write a letter of recommendation for college. Talk to your child about cultivating positive relationships. Tips for getting to know teachers better: participate in class discussions, join a club a teacher mentors, stay after class to ask questions, ask for extra credit projects.

March

Let the scholarship search begin!

Let the scholarship search begin!

Now is the prime time for teens to start applying for scholarships. Start with this list of scholarships and check out this list of scholarships for first-generation college students, too. Bonus: In addition to free money, your child may get valuable essay-writing practice that’ll help with college apps next year. Learn more secrets of searching for college money. Note: beware these 13 common scholarship scams.

March

Do a social media audit

Do a social media audit

Make sure your teen has a “professional” email address to use on college applications. Go through your child’s many accounts together and make sure to deal with any information that might ruin your child’s chances at a top school if an admissions counselor were to find it (and yes, about 40% do check social media accounts when evaluating applications).

April

It’s almost AP exam time

It’s almost AP exam time

If your child is taking an AP class this year, encourage them to register for and take the AP exam next month. A score of 4 or 5 on an AP exam qualifies for college credit at many schools.

April

Sign up for an SAT subject test

Sign up for an SAT subject test

Many colleges consider these one-hour tests for admission, course placement, or even to satisfy a basic requirement. If your teen is taking an honors or AP class with an associated SAT subject test this year, then spring is the time to take one of these tests. See the list of SAT subject tests.

April

Think about your family’s financial plan

Think about your family’s financial plan

Now is a good time to look into what college will cost and make an informed plan about how you (and your child) might pay for it. Here are 3 steps to get started:

  1. Read our high school parent’s guide to saving for college.
  2. Use Money magazine’s online tool to look up three schools on your child’s list for an estimate of what they’ll cost.
  3. Use the Dept. of Education’s net cost calculator to find out how much need-based funding your child may qualify for.

May

Help your teen show interest in a few colleges

Help your teen show interest in a few colleges

In the admissions process, private colleges value signs of interest from applicants — like visiting the campus (in person or virtually), doing an interview with an alumnus, and reaching out the admissions office to express interest and ask thoughtful, sincere questions.

May

Consider applying early decision and early action

Consider applying early decision and early action

Applying for early admission gives students better chances of getting in, but it’s important to understand what teens get — and maybe lose.

May

Track accomplishments!

Track accomplishments!

It’s been a busy year. Have your teen take the time to write down the details of any awards, recognition, or other accomplishments that help him stand out. This will be helpful when filling out college applications.

June

Summer homework: Scholarships

Summer homework: Scholarships

Can your teen apply to one, two, or even three of these scholarships each month this summer? It sounds like a lot, but those awards could add up (and the essay-writing practice can only help). Note: check this list of scholarships for first-generation college students, too, and be sure your child’s too smart for these common scholarship scams.

June

Summer homework: Essay writing

Summer homework: Essay writing

Encourage your child to brainstorm college essay topics. Have your child look up a few college essay prompts for the schools on their list, choose topics to write about, create outlines, and write rough drafts. Extra credit for getting feedback from at least one person (especially a strong writer, teacher or tutor). It’ll reduce the pressure next fall.

June

Summer homework: Read, read, read

Summer homework: Read, read, read

This summer, encourage your teen to read two long-form articles each week and 10 books from this list. The more teens read, the better they write.

June

Extra credit: Start applications this summer!

Extra credit: Start applications this summer!

The more your child gets done this summer, the less stressful fall will be. Challenge your child to finish as many parts of their applications as they can, so there’s less to do next year.

June

Go visit!

Go visit!

Any chance you and your teen can visit the top 5 schools on your child’s list during the schools’ summer session? Whether or not you can go in person, encourage your teen to do a little online research and networking. If you have relatives or friends in college, encourage your teen to talk to them about what they like and don’t like about where they go.

About our 11th grade college prep timeline

The road to college can be complicated and confusing for students and parents alike. We’ve gathered unbiased and comprehensive information from multiple expert sources to create an inclusive timeline to help all aspiring college students — and their families — stay on top of the steps involved in applying to college.

Getting into college involves so much more than filling in applications. Our college prep timelines begin in 9th grade, helping 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 identifying academic and extracurricular challenges, and the nuts and bolts of helping students learn to manage their time, participate in class discussions, and practice effective study habits.

For juniors, our timelines go deeper into helping students develop a college mentality, becoming stronger readers and writers, and helping students consider their personal learning and career goals and the different routes they might take to achieve their dreams.

There are a lot of important decisions for high school juniors to make. Our interactive timeline offers 11th grade college prep information, tips, and insights, month-by-month, to help parents and their high school juniors navigate the admissions tests, extra tests that can earn college credit, class choices, and academic skills necessary for college admission, without missing a single step. For example, our timelines help students and parents understand how and when to study for college admissions test, when to register and take them, why students should take them more than once, how to help students start thinking about college and make an initial college list, the pros and cons of applying early, and more.

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