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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:

10th grade 11th grade 12th grade

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9th grade college prep timeline

August

Teach your teen time management

Teach your teen time management

Help your 9th grader develop time management skills. These skills are key to raising grades, reducing stress, and thriving in school and life.

August

Play now, benefit later

Play now, benefit later

By joining school teams, groups, and clubs that interest them, kids get more out of their high school experience. And, when students stay involved with an extracurricular for all four years of high school, it looks great on college applications.

August

Print (and post) this list of vocabulary words

Print (and post) this list of vocabulary words

Teens who know these 9th grade academic vocabulary words can better understand what they read and hear in class. Post this list on your fridge and use these words in everyday conversation with your teen. Your teen’s school work and future PSAT, SAT, and ACT scores will thank you.

August

Set the tone for high school

Set the tone for high school

Encourage an academic environment at home by incorporating these four research-backed practices that help kids get into college, and take a moment to consider these 10 tips for helping teens thrive in high school.

September

Know the difference between graduation requirements and college requirements

Know the difference between graduation requirements and college requirements

There’s an important truth about high school. What your child’s school requires for students to graduate is almost always less than what colleges require for students to be accepted. Check in with your child’s counselor (many will even let you email) to make sure your teen’s courses will apply toward both goals. While you’re at it, you can ask the counselor for college-ready course recommendations for the next four years.

September

10 tips for better test taking

10 tips for better test taking

Learn how to help your child ace tests and use them as a tool for learning.

September

4 things to know about your 9th grader’s GPA

4 things to know about your 9th grader’s GPA

Learn 4 key things about freshman year grades — and talking points to explain them to your teen.

September

Prop those STEM doors open

Prop those STEM doors open

Find an extracurricular activity to cultivate your teen’s STEM skills outside of school. Research suggests that enrichment experiences such as math circles, coding classes, and science projects influence kids’ passions as much as or more than their high school classes. So if you want your child to find STEM subjects fascinating, expose them to fascinating STEM activities.

October

Coach your child on how to write a great paper

Coach your child on how to write a great paper

No, you’re not supposed to write (or outline) it for them. But you can help your teen think through their key points. Learn how.

October

Help your child be the first to go to college

Help your child be the first to go to college

If your child will be the first in your family to attend college, here are specific tips and resources to help you get your teen successfully through high school and into college.

October

Learn why Algebra is so important

Learn why Algebra is so important

Algebra is known as a gatekeeper subject, so when should your child take it?

November

Help your teen practice group discussion skills

Help your teen practice group discussion skills

Practice group discussion skills with your child at home. Though they’re crucial in high school, college, and beyond — these skills are rarely explicitly taught.

November

Think about a challenge

Think about a challenge

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

December

Study, study, study

Study, study, study

Support your teen as they prepare for finals because grades count now. For many freshmen, this first round of high school finals is a critical test, since kids are typically taking tough, comprehensive tests for the first time. Make sure your child is studying effectively, eating well, and getting enough rest. It may seem far off, but these grades contribute to the GPA and class rank that colleges — and scholarships — will consider with your child’s application.

December

Think about helping your teen improve their reading speed and comprehension

Think about helping your teen improve their reading speed and comprehension

Yes, high school students can become stronger readers. Here’s expert advice on how you can help.

January

Time for your teen to take a personality test!

January

Encourage your teen to join in

Encourage your teen to join in

Your child may have been overwhelmed at the beginning of the year, and that’s okay. Now’s a great time for teens to explore sports, groups, and clubs to find out what they’re interested in. Bonus: when students stay involved in one or two extracurriculars for at least two years, it looks good to colleges (and it’s linked to long-term success).

February

Chose smart electives

Chose smart electives

In addition to challenging academic classes, college-bound teens should choose electives that cultivate their interests, strengths, and talents.

February

Tame your social butterfly

Tame your social butterfly

Now that your freshman has the lay of the land, teachers may tell you your teen is talking in class or being disruptive. Talk to your child about being respectful and listening to teachers and peers.

February

Check out career day!

Check out career day!

Does your child’s school (or any local school) have a career day planned? It’s a fun, no-risk way to introduce teens to possible career paths.

February

Make the most of your teen’s summer

Make the most of your teen’s summer

Summer is a great time for teens to try an internship, job, summer courses, community service, or other enrichment activities. Summer accomplishments can be a critical part of a teen’s college applications. Read more about planning your teen’s summer after 9th grade.

February

3 smart steps toward paying for college

3 smart steps toward paying for college

Now is the time to look into what college will cost and to think about how you (and your child) might pay for it. Here are 3 steps to get started:
1. Read our piece 7 insider tips on paying for college.
2. Try an online calculator (like Money magazine‘s) to look up the estimated tuition at a few schools.
3. Use the Dept. of Education’s net cost calculator to see how much need-based funding your child might get.

March

Should your child take an SAT subject test this year?

Should your child take an SAT subject test this year?

Most kids take these sophomore, junior, or senior year, but if your child is taking an AP or honors science, math, or foreign language course with an associated SAT subject test, it may be a good idea to sign up to take the test this spring while the information is fresh in your child’s brain. See the list of SAT subject tests.

March

Visit a college campus

Visit a college campus

No need to take a formal tour. Simply walking around any college campus helps teens get a feel for the environment and start to envision college life. Try one of these 15 low-key ideas for visiting college campuses.

March

Make sure your teen has problem-solving skills

Make sure your teen has problem-solving skills

Here’s how to empower teens to solve problems on their own. Watch now.

April

Is your child being tracked in math?

Is your child being tracked in math?

The answer is likely yes — even if you don’t know what track your child’s on or where it’s leading. Learn how to identify — and maybe change — your child’s math track.

April

Smart tips for saving for college

Smart tips for saving for college

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

April

Start a trophy wall

Start a trophy wall

We’re kidding — sort of. College applications will be easier if you start keeping track of your child’s accomplishments, awards, and any recognition (for sports, community service, academics) now. Snap photos of certificates, note dates and official names, and jot down a few in-the-moment details. Keep it all in a folder or Google doc. By starting now, you’ll bypass the stress of trying to remember the details come college application time.

May

Give finals week support

Give finals week support

Support your teen as they prepare for finals — whether it’s encouraging them to get enough sleep, exercise, and eat well or making sure they’ve got a study space that really works. Some colleges will look at your child’s freshman year grades, so it’s important they do their best, but what’s really key this year is establishing effective study habits and routines that will help now and in college.

May

3 ways to make summer count

3 ways to make summer count

There are many ways to squeeze college-smart activities into your child’s summer. Here are just three: 1) Getting a job; 2) Volunteering; 3) Signing up for an enrichment program (think: an advanced summer school class, a music class, a summer reading challenge through your public library).

June

Read, read, read!

Read, read, read!

Reading for pleasure is a sign of intellect and drive. Encourage your child to make reading part of their everyday schedule over the summer in three ways: 1) Read two in-depth news articles a day from reputable sources. 2) Read one long-form New Yorker article a week for exposure to complex vocabulary, sentence structure, and story structure. 3) Read a few books from this list.

June

Find a worthy cause and pitch in

Find a worthy cause and pitch in

Have your child think about a cause he or she is passionate about and find a way to help locally. It can be an eye-opening and motivating experience.

June

Get a feel for college life

Get a feel for college life

Have your child do a little for-fun research into colleges. Ask your child what looks appealing about them.

About our 9th grade college prep timeline

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.

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

For most students, the road to college begins in 9th grade with pivotal choices about which courses and extracurricular activities will set them up for success. Our interactive 9th 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 helping 9th graders learn to manage their schedules and their time, practice effective study habits, and see themselves as future college students.

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 their dreams.

There are a lot of important decision points for high school freshmen, many of which students, parents, and even counselors can miss. Our interactive timeline offers 9th 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.