Preparing for College: What 11th and 12th Graders Should Be Doing Now

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If you are a high school student, it is never too early to begin thinking about and planning for the college process.  While you cannot actually complete your applications until the summer before your senior year, there are a number of steps to take along the way which will position you well to apply to selective colleges.  In 9th and 10th grades, we recommend you take rigorous courses, maximize enrichment opportunities, and engage in clubs and activities within your high school and in the larger community.  Additionally, we highlight here a number of important 11th and 12th grade milestones to help you navigate the college application process:

11th grade fall:

  • Take the PSAT at your high school to practice for the SAT, qualify for the National Merit Scholarship program run by CollegeBoard, and receive information by colleges who may be interested in students with your academic profile.
  • Make sure to stop by your guidance/college counselor’s office so they can start to get to know you. 

11th grade winter:

  • Begin test preparation for the ACT and/or SAT as necessary.  As you begin your preparation, remember that some colleges have “test optional” admission policies.  Click here for a list of selective colleges with test-optional policies courtesy of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing.
  • Start crafting the criteria according to which colleges fit you and your interests.
  • Visit a four-year college in your home community even if it is one to which you are not likely to apply in order to practice making the most of a college tour and asking questions of the admissions officers.
  • Attend college fairs at your high school, in your community, or in nearby towns.
  • Consider applying for pre-college summer programs that allow you to study on college campuses.  While these summer program opportunities can be costly, most offer substantial financial aid for high-achieving students with financial need.

  11th grade spring:

  • Take standardized tests (ACTSATSAT Subject TestsAP ExamsIB) that meet the requirements specified by the most selective colleges that you are considering.  You will need to get fee waivers from your guidance counselor in advance of the early deadlines in order to avoid paying the registration fees.
  • Make time to carefully plan your senior year courses with your school guidance counselor. Consider registering for the most challenging courses in which you are likely to earn grades of A or B.
  • Complete a college questionnaire and ask your parent(s)/guardians to complete a parent college questionnaire.  Discuss the results with one another.
  • Continue attending and making the most of college fairs.
  • If possible, visit colleges to which you are interested applying.  Note that many selective colleges and universities have fly-in programs to which you can apply.  If you qualify, these fly-in programs will allow you to travel to campuses free of cost.  Click here to see a list of colleges that offer fly-in programs.
  • Develop an initial college list based on the research you have done up to this point being sure to incorporate the notions of both balance and fit.

 11th grade summer:

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12th grade August:

  • Complete drafts of your Common Application essays.
  • Take the ACT as necessary.
  • Determine which teachers you’d like to ask to complete your teacher recommendations.  Draft a resume of your significant accomplishments and experiences during high school (to show your teacher and to submit with your college applications) and give some thought to which accomplishments and character traits you’d like each teacher to highlight in his/her recommendation. 

12th grade September/October:

12th grade November/December:

12th grade January/February:

  • Apply for financial aid by completing the FAFSA after January 1.
  • Submit Regular Decision applications, including any additional required financial aid forms (typically CSS Profile or institution-specific documents).
  • Confirm with your teachers that their letters of recommendation were submitted.
  • Check with your counselor that your transcript and school recommendation have been sent.
  • Follow up with each college 2-3 weeks after your application submission to make sure that the all components have been received and your application file is complete.
  • Complete other merit- and need-based scholarship applications as applicable. 

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12th grade March/April:

  • Receive via email and mail regular admission decisions from colleges by April 1.
  • Receive decision from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation regarding its College Scholarship.
  • If selected as a JKCF College Scholar, work closely with our staff adviser to compare financial aid packages, craft pro/con lists regarding your college options, plan campus visits, etc.
  • Compare financial aid packages to inform your final college decision.  If necessary, contact the financial aid offices to appeal or negotiate your packages.
  • Visit colleges to which you have been accepted.  Many colleges will offer fly-in programs or travel stipends for qualified admitted students.
  • Decide to which college you will matriculate.
  • Update FAFSA if there are any revisions to make after your family filed their taxes.
  • Complete other merit- and need-based scholarship applications as applicable.  

12th grade May/June:

  • Submit a tuition deposit to one school by May 1.  Pay attention to housing deposits which may be additional.  Call the Financial Aid office to ask if these fees can be waived, delayed or reduced.
  • Take Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate exams and have your scores sent to the college you will be attending in the fall.
  • Graduate from high school!
  • Ask your school counselor to submit your final high school transcript to the college you will be attending.
  • If selected as a JKCF College Scholar, continue communicating regularly with our staff adviser to discuss summer plans, select college courses, and prepare for the transition to college.
  • If selected as a JKCF College Scholar, submit final transcript for high school.