TO DO: ALL YEAR
- Work hard all the way to graduation—second-semester grades can affect scholarship eligibility.
- Stay involved in after-school activities, and seek leadership roles if possible.
TO DO: FALL
- As soon as possible after its Oct. 1 release, complete and submit your FAFSA® form, along with any other financial aid applications your chosen school(s) may require. You should submit your FAFSA form by the earliest financial aid deadline of the schools to which you are applying, usually by early February.
- After you submit the FAFSA form, you should receive your Student Aid Report (SAR) within three days to three weeks. This document lists your answers to the questions on your FAFSA form and gives you some basic information about your aid eligibility. Quickly make any necessary corrections and submit them to the FAFSA processor.
- If you haven’t done so already, register for and take the standardized tests required for college admission. Check with the colleges you are interested in to see what tests they require.
- Apply to the colleges you have chosen. Prepare your applications carefully. Follow the instructions, and PAY CLOSE ATTENTION TO DEADLINES!
- Well before your college application deadlines, ask your counselor and teachers to submit the required documents (e.g., transcript, letters of recommendation) to the colleges to which you’re applying.
- Complete any last scholarship applications. Understand the FAFSA process better by watching the videos in the “FAFSA: Apply for Aid” playlist at YouTube.com/FederalStudentAid.
- Follow or like the office of Federal Student Aid at Twitter.com/FAFSA and Facebook.com/FederalStudentAid to get regular financial aid tips.
REMEMBER: Register for all tests in advance, and be sure to give yourself time to prepare appropriately! If you have difficulty paying a registration fee, ask your school counselor about getting the fee waived.
TO DO: SPRING
- Visit colleges that have invited you to enroll.
- Review your college acceptances and compare the colleges’ financial aid offers.
- Contact a school’s financial aid office if you have questions about the aid that school has offered you. In fact, getting to know your financial aid staff early is a good idea no matter what—they can tell you about deadlines, other aid for which you might wish to apply, and important paperwork you might need to submit.
- When you decide which school you want to attend, notify that school of your commitment and submit any required financial deposit. Many schools require this notification and deposit by May 1.
- Make informed decisions about student loans; the following resources are important at this point:
- Federal Versus Private Loans
- Federal Student Loans: Basics for Students
- Work with your child on filling out the FAFSA form.
- Make sure your child’s personal information is safe when he or she applies for financial aid. For tips, read Federal Student Aid and Identity Theft.
- Read IRS Publication 970, Tax Benefits for Education to see how you might benefit from federal income tax credits for education expenses.
- Understand the benefits of federal student loans.
- Help your child learn about the responsibilities involved in accepting a student loan by reviewing “What should I consider when taking out federal student loans?” with him or her.
- Look at communications from schools to which your child sent FAFSA information. If a school has offered you or your child Direct Loans, the Federal Student Loans: Basics for Students and Federal Student Loans: Direct PLUS Loan Basics for Parents booklets might be useful to you.
Try This Resource PDF Checklist TO DO: ALL YEAR Explore careers and their earning potential with the Occupational Outlook Handbook search tool. Or, for a fun interactive tool, try this career search. Learn about choosing a college and find a link to our free college search tool. Go to college fairs and college-preparation presentations hosted by college representatives. TO DO: FALL Take the PSAT/NMSQT. You must take the test in 11th grade to qualify for scholarships and programs associated with the National Merit Scholarship Program. TO DO: SPRING Register for and take exams for college admission. The standardized tests that many colleges require are the SAT, the SAT Subject Tests, and the ACT. Check with the colleges you are interested in to see what tests they require. Use a free scholarship search to find scholarships for which you might want to apply. Some deadlines fall as early as the summer between 11th and 12th grades, so prepare now to submit applications soon. Find out what government financial aid you can apply for, and how, in Federal Student Aid at a Glance. Learn how to avoid scholarship scams and identity theft as you look for financial aid and then attend college. REMEMBER: Register for all tests in advance and be sure to give yourself time to prepare appropriately! If you have difficulty paying a registration fee, see your school counselor about getting the fee waived. TO DO: SUMMER BEFORE 12TH GRADE Create a username and password called an FSA ID that you’ll use to confirm your identity when accessing your government financial aid information and electronically signing your federal student aid documents. Learn about the FSA ID, and create yours. Note: You must create your own FSA ID; if your parent creates it for you, that’ll cause confusion later and will slow down the financial aid application process. (By the way, you can watch a video about creating your FSA ID below.) Narrow down the list of colleges you are considering attending. If you can, visit the schools that interest you. Contact colleges to request information and applications for admission. Ask about financial aid, admission requirements, and deadlines. Decide whether you are going to apply for admission under a particular college’s early decision, early action, or regular decision program. Be sure to learn about the program deadlines and requirements. How to Create Your FSA ID Parent Checklist Try This Resource PDF Checklist TO DO: Take a look at your financial situation, and be sure you’re on the right track to pay for college. Get in-depth information on the federal student aid programs. Create your own FSA ID if you don’t have one yet. (The FSA ID is a username and password that you’ll use for such purposes as signing your child’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid.) Note: You must create your own FSA ID. If your child creates it for you, or if you create your child’s, that’ll cause confusion later and will slow down the financial aid application process. (Need help? You and your child should watch the “How to Create Your FSA ID” video above.) Talk to your child about the schools he or she is considering. Ask why those schools appeal to your child, and help him or her clarify goals and priorities. Attend college fairs with your child, but don’t take over the conversation with the college representatives. Just listen, and let your child do the talking. Take your child to visit college campuses, preferably when classes are in session. Make sure your child is looking into or already has applied for scholarships. Ask your employer whether scholarships are available for employees’ children. Learn about student and parent loans in Federal Student Loans: Basics for Students and Federal Student Loans: Direct PLUS Loan Basics for Parents. From <https://studentaid.gov/resources/prepare-for-college/checklists/11th-grade> Schedule your SAT or ACT exam. It can be intimidating to set a date for your first standardized test, but keep in mind that you can retake either one as many times as you need to, so try not to put it off. Once you receive your scores, you’ll have a better idea of which areas to focus on improving for next time, whether that is by hiring a tutor or buying test prep books to work through at your own pace. Take challenging classes. One benefit of AP or Dual Enrollment classes is that you can earn college credits while you’re still in high school without paying college tuition. As a bonus, graduating high school with a few college credits under your belt will allow more time to explore interesting classes or electives while you’re in college. Talk to your guidance counselor about which options would be the best fit for you. Take on a leadership role. Are you involved in an extracurricular activity? If not, now is the time to join. Be selective in your activities by prioritizing the things that are most important to you. Those will be different for each person, whether it is a school club or organization, volunteering, or a job. You don’t have to be the best at something to take the initiative. Does your school club need new supplies? Head up a fundraising event. Does your volunteer group need a team leader for a certain project? Offer to lead or co-lead it. Keep your eyes open for opportunities to take on the role of a leader in some way. Narrow down your list of colleges. Do you learn best in a large lecture or a small, intimate seminar? Are school sporting events or on-campus social activities important to you? Does the campus atmosphere fit your personality? You can answer these questions by visiting your prospective colleges and experiencing the campus culture for yourself. Alternatively, you can attend college fairs, information sessions, and panels in your area. Be sure to keep a notebook with your list of pros and cons for each school, so that you can refer back to them as you decide where to apply. Apply for scholarships. You don’t have to wait until senior year to start applying for grants and scholarships! At Scholarships.com, we are constantly updating our database to bring you scholarships year-round. Be sure to keep your profile information updated, so that you are ready to apply when new scholarships become available.
Student Checklist TO DO: Meet with your school counselor or mentor to discuss colleges and their requirements. Consider taking a practice Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT), or check out the ACT Aspire exam "sandbox." Explore the College Scorecard for information about test scores of students accepted at the colleges you want to attend. Work to achieve those scores or higher. Plan to use your summer wisely: Work, volunteer, or take a summer course (away or at a local college). Go to career information events to get a more detailed look at career options. Research majors that might be a good fit with your interests and goals based on your results from the U.S. Department of Labor’s career search. Learn the differences between grants, loans, work-study, and scholarships. Parent Checklist TO DO: Find out whether your child’s school has college nights or financial aid nights. Plan to attend those events with your child. If you aren’t able to start visiting colleges yet, now is a great time to get key information using the College Scorecard for the schools your child is thinking about. Visit each school’s website to see if virtual tours are available. Help your child develop independence by encouraging him or her to take responsibility for balancing homework with any other activities or a part-time job. Learn about the standardized tests your child will be taking during 10th through 12th grades. Get a brief overview of financial aid from Do You Need Money for College? Apply for Federal Student Aid. From <https://studentaid.gov/resources/prepare-for-college/checklists/10th-grade>
- Take challenging classes in core academic subjects. Most colleges require four years of English, at least three years of social studies (history, civics, geography, economics, etc.), three years of mathematics, and three years of science, and many require two years of a foreign language. Round out your course load with classes in computer science and the arts.
- Get involved in school- or community-based activities that interest you or let you explore career interests. Consider working, volunteering, and/or participating in academic enrichment programs, summer workshops, and camps with specialty focuses such as music, arts, or science. Remember—it’s quality (not quantity) that counts.
- Ask your guidance counselor or teachers what Advanced Placement courses are available, whether you are eligible, and how to enroll in them.
- Use the U.S. Department of Labor’s career search tool to research your career options.
- Start a list of your awards, honors, paid and volunteer work, and extracurricular activities. Update it throughout high school.
- Check out KnowHow2Go: The Four Steps to College, which suggests some actions you can take as you start thinking about education beyond high school.
- Browse the College Scorecard to see what types of schools interest you. Big or small? Close to home or far away? Programs focused on engineering or art? Keep your preferences in mind as you talk with your parents and school counselors.
- Learn about managing your money (pdf download)
- Explore reasons to consider college, and don’t be afraid to ask for help from your parents, school counselor, and older students as you prepare.
- Talk to your child about college plans as if he or she will definitely go to college.
- Keep an eye on your child’s study habits and grades—stay involved.
- Encourage your child to take Advanced Placement or other challenging classes.
- Add to your child’s college savings account regularly; and make sure you are fully aware of the provisions of the account.
- Address your concerns about whether your child can or should go to college.
- Use the College Scorecard to instantly compare expenses and projected loan payments across schools that your child is interested in attending.
- Read “Parent Power” to access ideas for remaining involved in your child’s progress. From <https://studentaid.gov/resources/prepare-for-college/checklists/9th-grade>