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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 11th grade

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12th grade college prep timeline

August

Get together and make a plan

Get together and make a plan

Make an evening of sitting down with your child and going over your mutual strategy for the year ahead. Some talking points: your teen’s goals, what to do when things get stressful, and how to make sure you’re communicating well.

August

The 5 best college admissions books

The 5 best college admissions books

There are lots of titles out there and you don’t need to read them all. But browsing one or two is a good way to prepare for college admissions season. Here are our 5 favorites.

August

Get organized

Get organized

Create a calendar with all relevant deadlines for applications, financial aid, and scholarships. Use labelled folders for the information you receive about each school.

August

Register to take the SAT or ACT this fall

Register to take the SAT or ACT this fall

Your teen may have already taken the SAT or the ACT, but just about everyone should take these tests twice and try to improve their score. Have your teen register now for a test date in the fall, so that scores are in before applications are due. And check out the best strategies for raising SAT and ACT scores.

August

Help your teen make a college list

Help your teen make a college list

Work with your teen to make sure the schools on the list meet their criteria in terms of location, size, cost, majors and courses of study. Feel free to suggest schools for your child’s list, but don’t disregard schools they are interested in out of hand. And remember that the most expensive schools often have more financial aid money. Here’s how to compile a list.

August

Consider applying “early action”

Consider applying “early action”

Investigate whether or not the schools your child is interested in applying to have Early Decision or Early Action admissions programs and whether early admission is a good strategy for your child.

August

Make contact and show interest

Make contact and show interest

Private colleges tend to weigh signs of interest (e.g. visiting the campus, interviews, even reaching out to ask questions) positively. If you can, it’s a good idea to visit schools your teen is considering applying to. If teens can’t go in person, they can take a virtual tour. Teens can also email the admissions office to express interest and ask thoughtful, sincere questions.

September

Ease college admissions anxiety

Ease college admissions anxiety

Let’s start with the good news: Nearly seven out of every 10 seniors who apply to a 4-year college get in. Knowing the latest college admissions trends can help ease your teen’s anxiety about the process ahead.

September

Meet with a college counselor

Meet with a college counselor

Whether it’s the college counselor at your child’s high school or a private college admissions advisor, make an appointment to review your teen’s college list, set expectations around reach and safety schools, and discuss application timelines and strategies. Ask if they can share historical admissions data — the number of applicants from your high school admitted each year and their GPAs and test scores — for the colleges on your teen’s list.

September

Apply early action/early decision

Apply early action/early decision

If your teen is applying early, it’s time to get to work on the application! Your teen should ask teachers to write recommendations and let them know she’s applying early and what the deadlines are. If your teen hasn’t yet, she must take (or retake) the SAT by October for early applications.

September

Teach your teen how to ask for letters of recommendation

Teach your teen how to ask for letters of recommendation

There’s an art to requesting letters of recommendation — determining who to ask, how to ask, and, crucially, when to ask.

September

Prepare to file for FAFSA and PROFILE beginning October first

Prepare to file for FAFSA and PROFILE beginning October first

FAFSA is the application for federal student aid (grants, federal work-study, and student loans). PROFILE is an application used by some schools for non-federal financial aid and scholarships. Both are available starting October 1. It’s a good idea to be an early bird, as grants and other aid are typically offered on a first come, first served basis. This month, register for a Federal Student Aid ID so you have one when FAFSA filing opens on October 1st.

October

Have your teen look at their social media presence

Have your teen look at their social media presence

It’s time for your teen to clean up their social media presence, if necessary; college admissions advisors will be looking at it to get an idea of who they are and what they’ll bring to campus culture if admitted. Learn more and check out 12 other surprising tips for applying to college.

October

Encourage revisions

Encourage revisions

Your child has worked hard on a draft (or a few drafts) of her college essay. Encourage her to take another pass at it before deciding it’s ready to submit. Here are six tips for helping your child hone, strengthen, and polish their essay.

October

Fill out the FAFSA

Fill out the FAFSA

You can now complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which is the application necessary to receive federal grants and loans, using last year’s tax return and forms. Some schools and states use the FAFSA to determine their grants and scholarship awards, too.

October

Finalize the college list

Finalize the college list

Work with your child to nail down where they plan to apply — and what their early decision/early action, second round ED/EA, and regular decision application plans are. (Need help with the college list? Here are tips.)

October

Make a master checklist

Make a master checklist

It’s time to create one giant checklist — with deadlines — for your child’s college applications. Remember to include things like: filling out the FAFSA and/or the PROFILE, having transcripts sent, asking for recommendations, delivering recommendation materials, making sure recommendations are sent on time, having test scores sent, finishing short-answer questions, and timelines for writing drafts (and finishing) their college essays.

October

Find out if (and when) you need to fill out PROFILE

Find out if (and when) you need to fill out PROFILE

Is your teen applying to a school that uses the CSS PROFILE to determine financial aid? If so, look up the deadlines associated with each of the schools your child is applying to — you don’t want to miss financial aid deadlines.

November

Register for a final shot at the SAT or ACT

Register for a final shot at the SAT or ACT

If your teen is thinking about taking the SAT or ACT again, then early December is your child’s last opportunity for consideration for admission next year. (Check the SAT and ACT test and registrations dates.) If your teen plans to give either test another go, register for these final tests now.

November

Know the difference between federal vs. private student loans

November

Check out these scholarships

Check out these scholarships

Your teen has a lot on their plate right now, but applying for these scholarships now could save a lot of money down the road.

November

Plan a college visit

Plan a college visit

Can your child visit any of the local (or not-so-local) colleges on their list over the Thanksgiving weekend?

November

Prep for interviews

Prep for interviews

Will your teen be interviewed by an alum or admissions officer as part of the application process? If so, help him practice. Do a couple of mock interviews with your teen so he can practice answering questions about himself, why he’s interested in attending the school, and what he plans to study once he’s there.

November

Consider community college

Consider community college

Community colleges were developed to be a bridge from high school to college and to prepare students for the job market. Four out of 10 college-bound high-school graduates go this route. Here’s how to decide if community college is a good choice for your child, plus one family’s story of how community college gave their son a second chance at his first-choice college.

December

It’s crunch time

It’s crunch time

Your teen is likely preparing for finals, and college application deadlines are coming right up. Check in and see how you can support them through this final push.

December

Apply early to schools with rolling admissions

Apply early to schools with rolling admissions

If your teen is applying to any schools with rolling admissions, encourage them to get their applications in now, rather than waiting until the last minute. Since these schools admit applicants on a continuous basis, the earlier your teen applies, the better their chances of getting in.

December

How to talk to your teen about their reach school

How to talk to your teen about their reach school

Talk it up? Pretend it doesn’t matter? An expert shares how to support your child’s dream when they might not make the cut.

December

Was your child accepted early decision?

Was your child accepted early decision?

If so, congrats! Remind your teen to withdraw any applications they have submitted elsewhere.

January

Last chance at the SAT

Last chance at the SAT

If your teen is taking the SAT this month, take a moment to check the application deadlines for the schools your teen is applying to. Will your teen need to request (and pay for) “rush” scores? Now’s the time to find out.

January

Submit a mid-year grade report

Submit a mid-year grade report

If any of the colleges your teen has applied to require a mid-year grade report, your teen should check in with their high school counselor to make sure those grades are reported as soon as they’re available.

January

Plan to visit the colleges on your teen’s short list

Plan to visit the colleges on your teen’s short list

Has your senior visited his top-choice schools yet? It’s a good idea for him to see schools in person before making a final decision to attend (or not). Here’s how to make the most of a college visit.

January

Does your teen have these 14 life skills?

Does your teen have these 14 life skills?

The end of high school will be here before you know it. How prepared is your teen for adult life?

January

If your teen is thinking about a gap year, talk it over

If your teen is thinking about a gap year, talk it over

Although the term is generally used to mean taking time off after high school, technically, a gap year is when students who’ve been admitted to college formally request to delay their start date for a year to travel, work, or volunteer. Is a gap year a fantastic idea, or risky, expensive procrastination? These questions will help you decide if a gap year is right for your child.

February

Remind your teen that grades still matter

Remind your teen that grades still matter

Now’s a good time for a gentle reminder, if your teen needs one, that even though applications are done they still need to keep their grades up. Some colleges require a mid-year grade report. Others may revoke an offer of admission if a student’s grades on their final transcript don’t meet the school’s expectations. So as tempting as it may be, now’s not the time to slack off.

March

Support your child as decision letters arrive

Support your child as decision letters arrive

Accepted? Rejected? Here’s how parents can help their high school seniors put college admissions decisions in perspective.

March

Have conversations about consent

Have conversations about consent

If you don’t already have ongoing communication with your teen about this important topic, make it a part of your conversations about college culture. Talking with your teen about sex, safety, and consent is an essential parenting responsibility.

April

Follow up on wait lists

Follow up on wait lists

If your teen was waitlisted at a school he really wants to go to, he should politely reach out to the admissions office on a regular basis. Encourage him to write a positive, upbeat letter or email about why he wants to go there, ask a teacher to write an additional letter of recommendation, and let the school know about any new accomplishments. Persistence really can pay off.

April

Compare financial aid offers

Compare financial aid offers

Help your child compare financial aid offers to choose a school that’s truly the best fit. If your child has an incredible offer of aid from one school but has their heart set on another school that offered less, reach out to the financial aid office of your child’s top choice. Explain the dilemma and ask if there’s anything they can do.

April

Beware of for-profit colleges

For-profit colleges have been criticized for deceptive marketing, targeting low-income students and vets for the federal tuition money they’re eligible for, offering poor-quality programs, low graduation rates, and for leaving students with staggering debt and few job prospects. If your child is considering a for-profit college, here’s what you should know.

April

Acceptances are due soon!

Acceptances are due soon!

Most final decisions are due, in writing, by May 1st — and most need to be accompanied by a deposit. Check your teen’s school’s deadlines and requirements. (Also, remind her to decline the offers she won’t be accepting.)

April

Will your child live on campus next year?

Will your child live on campus next year?

Research shows there are academic benefits to living on campus in college. Also good to know: Some schools, including Duke University, are no longer letting incoming freshmen choose their first college roommates. Here’s why.

May

It’s time to enroll!

It’s time to enroll!

Offer support as your teen completes and submits enrollment forms for the school she’ll be attending in the fall; she should have received information on enrolling in courses, orientation sessions, on-campus housing, health insurance, and more.

May

Suggest thank you notes

Suggest thank you notes

Encourage your teen to write short, heartfelt thank-you notes to anyone who was particularly helpful in the college application process — the counselor, the teachers who wrote letters of recommendation, and anyone else who helped.

May

When your teen’s peers are headed to college, and he isn’t

When your teen’s peers are headed to college, and he isn’t

Help him formulate post-high school plans so he feels confident talking with family and friends who ask about his future.

June

Make a list of supplies to take to college

Make a list of supplies to take to college

Help your high school graduate pack for dorm life with this handy list of items they’ll need.

June

7 things to teach your college-bound teen about credit cards

7 things to teach your college-bound teen about credit cards

College students are flooded with credit card offers on and around campus. Here’s what to tell your teen now (before they’ve got a card — or a big balance).

June

12 tips for helping college students avoid theft

12 tips for helping college students avoid theft

Half of all on-campus crimes are thefts. Here’s how to help teens protect their laptops, smartphones, bikes, and other valuables.

June

Letting go: tips for parents of new college students

Letting go: tips for parents of new college students

After 18 years of parenting, it can be hard to let go. Here is a sneak peek at the challenges of the transition ahead and advice to prepare right now.

June

Don’t hover

Don’t hover

In recent years, colleges have reported that helicopter parents are making their presence felt on campus. These well-meaning parents intervene in roommate disputes, register their adult children for classes and question professors’ grades. Experts agree that this behavior has negative consequences for students. Here’s how you can avoid hovering.

About our 12th 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 out an application. 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 seeking out 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 sophomores and 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.

For high school seniors, there are a lot of important decisions to make. Our interactive timeline offers 12th grade college prep information, tips, and insights, month-by-month, to help parents help their high school seniors navigate the tests, essays, and applications necessary for college admission, without missing a single step. For example, our timelines advise students and parents about how and when to prepare for college admissions tests, how to make a college list, how to figure out which colleges would be the right fit, 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.