College Checklist

Freshman Year Parent

  • Discuss the importance of lifelong learning and the value of a college education.
  • Create a space and time for your student to establish good study habits.
  • Promote extended, well-paced study rather than short-term cramming.
  • Discuss the impact of grades and course selection on college admission.
  • Check curriculum requirements for college entrance.
  • Encourage involvement in extracurricular activities, volunteering, and internships or other work experiences.
  • Engage your student in decision-making so that he or she learns to look at options carefully, to act decisively, and to take responsibility for final decisions.
  • Plan for college expenses… explore your savings options.

Freshman Year Student

  • Take challenging classes in English, mathematics, science, history, geography, a foreign language, government, civics, economics, and the arts.
  • Get to know your career counselor, guidance counselor, or Talent Search advisor as well as other college resources available in your school.
  • Talk to adults in a variety of professions to determine what they like and dislike about their jobs and what kind of education is needed for each kind of job.
  • Increase your study skills.
  • Grades matter now—work on making good grades.

Sophomore Year Parent

  • Start to network with your student’s teachers and counselors.
  • Talk about his or her interests and career possibilities.
  • Begin exploring appropriate college options with your student.
  • Continue your support of extracurricular involvement and encourage participation in leadership roles.
  • Inquire as to whether your student should take the PLAN (pre-ACT) or the PSAT exam.
  • Keep college correspondence in a well-organized file.

Sophomore Year Student

  • Continue to take challenging classes.
  • Become involved in school or community-based extracurricular activities that interest you and/or enable you to explore career interests.
  • Meet with your career counselor, guidance counselor, or Talent Search advisor to discuss colleges and their requirements.
  • Take the practice SAT or ACT test. If you wish to take the complete SAT or ACT test this year, you must register early. If you have difficulty paying the registration fee, see your guidance counselor, or Talent Search advisor about getting a fee waiver.
  • Take advantage of opportunities to visit colleges and talk to students.
  • Keep up the good grades.

Junior Year Parent

  • Your student should develop and follow a plan of college search.
  • Attend information sessions and college nights sponsored by the high school.
  • Consult with your student’s high school counselor for college search ideas and advice.
  • Review all options… if a school seems too costly, find out what scholarships and other financial assistance may be available to you.
  • Your student should prepare for and take the ACT/SAT exams.
  • Find out if your student should take the Advanced Placement or SAT II exams.
  • Network (check progress and commiserate) with other parents.

Junior Year Student

  • Continue taking challenging classes.
  • Meet with your career counselor or guidance counselor to discuss colleges and their requirements.
  • Continue involvement in extracurricular activities.
  • Decide which colleges most interest you. Contact them to request information and an application for admission. Ask about special admissions requirements, financial aid and deadlines.
  • Talk to college representatives at college fairs.
  • Visit colleges and talk to students.
  • Consider people to ask for recommendations—teachers, counselors, employers, etc.
  • Investigate the availability of financial aid from federal, state, local and private sources. Talk to your guidance counselor, or Talent Search advisor for more information.
  • Investigate the availability of scholarships provided by organizations such as corporations, labor unions, professional associations, religious organizations, and credit unions.
  • If applicable, go to the library and look for scholarships for women, minorities, and disabled students.
  • Register for and take the SAT, ACT, or any others exams required for admission to the colleges you might want to attend. If you have difficulty paying the registration fee, see your guidance counselor, or Talent Search advisor about getting a fee waiver. (Also taking the PSAT will allow you to be eligible for the National Merit Scholarship.)
  • Enroll in duel credit classes for your senior year as early as possible.
  • Keep up the good grades.

Summer Before Senior Year Parent

  • Help your student to sort through college mail as it arrives.
  • Review ACT/SAT results and discuss whether your student should retest.
  • Visit different types of schools: small and large, vocational and liberal arts, private and public.
  • Develop a list of questions for colleges and take them with you on your visits.

Senior Year Parent

  • Send in applications and be aware of deadlines.
  • Make additional visits and encourage your student to spend the night and attend classes at the schools that spark his or her interest.
  • Remain open-minded as the short list develops.
  • Stay positive — the search for the right school can be exhausting and stressful at times.
  • Meet deadlines when applying for merit-based scholarships and need-based assistance (for example, FAFSA). Do this before March 1.
  • Collect all of your tax information and file for financial assistance in a timely fashion (and keep copies).
  • Remain helpful and supportive while the final college choice is made.
  • Notify the chosen school of the final decision and send in the tuition deposit. It also is common courtesy to notify all other schools that granted acceptance.
  • Take a deep breath and relax! You and your college-bound student will encounter new decisions and create new checklists during the summer ahead.

Senior Year Student

  • Take challenging classes and investigate dual credit classes.
  • Meet with your counselor early in the year to discuss your plans.
  • Complete all necessary financial aid forms.
  • Write colleges to request information and applications for admission. Ask about financial aid, admissions requirements, and deadlines.
  • If possible, visit the colleges that most interest you.
  • Register for and take the SAT, ACT, or any others exams required for admission to the colleges you might want to attend. If you have difficulty paying the registration fee, see your guidance counselor, or Talent Search advisor about getting a fee waiver.
  • Prepare your college application carefully. Follow the instructions, and pay close attention to deadlines! Be sure to ask your counselors and teachers at least two weeks before your application deadlines to submit the necessary documents to colleges.
  • Keep those grades high.

What to Know About Grades

While “the higher the GPA, the better” is still standard practice, many admission counselors admit that they are more interested in a student’s trend of performance. Does the student start out strong freshman year and then gradually show less effort? Does the student struggle early on but show improvement by senior year? Is the student consistently working hard and achieving personal success? Admission staffs at selective colleges want to know in what direction the student is headed. A student’s GPA should reflect an increase in achievement or evidence of a student who consistently performs at the height of his or her ability. Since students apply to colleges during their senior year, grades and course selection during junior year need to be especially strong.

What to Know About Course Selection

Selective colleges look for a student who prepared for college as best as he or she could. A student who chooses to take classes beyond the school’s graduation requirements shows initiative and diligence. On a transcript, advanced classes like calculus or physics indicate that the student pursued courses that provide a strong academic background. Honors-level classes often help students prepare for the rigors of college academics and show that the student has sought extra challenges. Because these classes are more challenging, admission counselors typically will not penalize a student who earns a slightly lower grade in an honors level class, even if the student’s high school does not “weight” grades.

Check Curriculum Requirements for College Entrance

Often, meeting the minimum high school graduation requirements is not adequate preparation for a competitive college. While admission requirements vary from one college to another, colleges typically look for the following college preparation:

  • English ⇒ 4 years
  • Mathematics ⇒ 3-4 years
  • Science ⇒ 3 years
  • Social Sciences ⇒ 3 years
  • Foreign Language ⇒ 2 years

Remember to check with individual colleges and universities for their admission requirements, since specific requirements vary.

Some colleges’ admission standards may be less strict or more flexible than those listed, but students are always better off over-prepared.

Nearly all students who apply to colleges have been active in clubs, teams or performance groups in high school. Most students have volunteer and/or work experience as well. Since participation in extracurricular, volunteer and professional activities is expected of college applicants, a student’s record of involvement does not play as large a role in college admission as many think. However, a student’s activities are often examined later in competition for scholarships.

To stand out in scholarship interviews, a student needs to build the skills that extracurricular, volunteer and professional activities teach. With limited funds to award, admission counselors at selective colleges look for students who possess skills that ensure college success both inside and outside of the classroom.

Communication Skills… Within scholarship applications and interviews, above average communication skills will be sought after and easily evaluated. The student will likely write, speak, and listen better when he or she practices these skills through working with others.

A Team Player… The classroom is often a setting for competition between students, while extracurricular activities and work experience foster cooperation. Because working with others is a large part of college learning, interviewers look for students who are team players and can contribute positively to the learning environment they share with others.

Well-rounded… Through extracurricular activities, students can explore the areas of music, sports, art, and community service. College is a diverse place, so high school students who are well-rounded in their skills and interests are favored over students who have limited their efforts to only one area.

Leadership Potential… Students who demonstrate past or potential leadership skills are often awarded scholarships because of the positive impact they could have on the college campus. When a student participates in extracurricular activities or works at a job while maintaining good grades, he or she develops organization, discipline, and dedication — all of which are qualities of a good leader.

Confidence… Students who hold a job, volunteer, and/or belong to teams, clubs and performance groups are constantly reassured of their self worth. Students who feel good about themselves and are secure in their beliefs and abilities are active participants in the classroom and on campus, a positive attribute that gets the attention of admission staff.

Questions You Should Ask About a College

  1. How many students attend?
  2. Is it a diverse group?
  3. Do professors teach undergraduate courses, or do you use teaching assistants?
  4. What is the average class size, and what is the student-to-faculty ratio?
  5. Will I graduate in four years?
  6. Who will be my academic advisor?
  7. Are faculty members easy to reach outside of class?
  8. How many students participate in foreign study, and where do they go?
  9. How many students do an internship?
  10. What computer and other specialized facilities are available for student use?
  11. What do students do for fun?
  12. Do you have the extra-curricular activities that I’m interested in?
  13. What are admissions’ requirements and important deadlines?
  14. What types of housing are available?
  15. What are some special features of the campus?
  16. Do most of the students stay on campus during the weekend?
  17. Do you offer the academic majors or programs that interest me?
  18. How much does it cost?
  19. What types of scholarships and financial aid are available?
  20. Do you accept Advanced Placement Tests?
  21. What percentages of your students attend graduate or professional school?