college majors

MyMajors' College Planning Timeline

Throughout the High School Years

College planning is not just a senior year activity. Plan early. Prepare yourself for admission to the best colleges and universities and for making your transition to college as smooth as possible. The sooner you begin the better. Here are some general guidelines:

Ninth Grade

  • Discuss your class schedule with your counselor. Begin making a four-year plan for graduation. Take classes that correspond to the most demanding requirements of the kinds of colleges to which you are thinking about seeking admission.
  • Enroll in honors classes if you can succeed in them. Admissions counselors consider a strenuous course load through high school to be quite important when they are considering how to evaluate a somewhat lower grade point average. They often prefer students who have taken a demanding set of courses, but who have average grade point averages, over students with high grade point averages, but who have taken easy courses.
  • This does not mean that grades don’t count. They do. Even ninth grade grades count in calculating your grade point average.
  • Most universities and colleges seek to enroll students with a wide range of skills, interests and backgrounds. They value a student body with diverse backgrounds, experiences and talents. Plan to participate actively in in-school and out-of-school clubs, activities, and sports. Select extracurricular activities and community service opportunities that interest you and that position you to become a professional in a field that interests you.
  • Start thinking about the kinds of colleges you would like to attend. Consider keeping a college planning file where you keep information for future reference.
  • Find out who your counselor is and meet with him or her to explore your interests and college interests. See what printed and media materials the counseling office has for college and career planning.
  • Throughout high school, attend presentations with visit college representatives on campus to hear what they say about their institutions.
  • Start to meet and become friends with your teachers. When you are applying to college you may need letters of recommendation, so good relations with your teachers is important. Universities may require counselors to write letters of recommendation as well.
  • Each university and college has its own look and feel. Each institution’s academic demands, culture, and student bodies is different. As you have the opportunity go to college campuses, stop by to get a feel for what they are like.
  • Use the Internet to visit college Web sites, take their virtual tours, see what majors are offered and what makes them different from one another.
  • Take practice standardized tests to see how you are doing.
  • Sign up for challenging courses in your sophomore year.
  • If you acquire excellent computer skills in keyboarding, research, and project work, you will find success in college easier to come by.
  • Keep a portfolio of:
    • Your report cards
    • Lists of student government and club offices you have held and of awards and special recognitions you have received.
    • Lists of volunteer work, group projects, and work experiences you have engaged in.

Tenth Grade

  • Maintain a rigorous class schedule and keep your grades up.
  • Continue to engage in extra-curricular activities.
  • Attend a college fair.
  • Keep thinking about majors and careers. Ask people in the community about their education and about their profession. They might let you “shadow” them on the job for a day.
  • Continue visiting campuses when you can and collecting information about schools you may want to attend.
  • Attend the presentations by college representatives when they visit your school.
  • Take the practice SAT and/or ACT exams. Take these tests seriously and prepare for them. Find out what your scores indicate about your college planning. These tests can give you valuable clues about your strengths and weaknesses, as well as possible areas of career interests.
  • Meet with your counselor to evaluate your post-high school plans and your academic and co-curricular progress toward graduation. Review and change your plans, if necessary.
  • Begin to think more seriously about your career goals and interests. Use paper-based and computer-based attitudinal and values instruments to suggest careers that are appropriate for you to consider.
  • Take on leadership roles in your extra-curricular activities whenever possible. Keep a record of awards you receive as well as of important events you participated in. Target activities and positions that will make you stand out.
  • Plan your junior year carefully.
  • Take advanced placement and SAT II tests in the same year as you take those classes.

Eleventh Grade


  • Plan to take the Preliminary SAT, as well as the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.
  • Go to a college fair to find out more about colleges, their requirements and their offerings.
  • Recheck your high school courses. Will you meet college requirements?
  • Stay involved in activities. Genuine involvement in one activity is better than token participation in several.
  • Register for the December SAT IIs if appropriate.
  • Talk with graduates of your high school who are home from college to see what they have learned about their experience.
  • Make a list of possible colleges to attend. Consider criteria that are important to you (for example, academic program, the major you are seeking location, size, cost, athletics). Request information from these colleges and/or visit their website.
  • If you are planning on participating in college athletics, meet with your counselor to learn more about the NCAA Clearinghouse process.
  • Attend, with your parents, financial aid planning programs to learn more about the process of applying for and obtaining financial assistance for college.
  • Meet with college representatives when they come to your high school.
  • Sign up to take career planning and attitudinal tests that help to refine your potential college major and career interests.
  • Consider taking the ACT in early April the school(s) to which you are applying require it so that you will have more than one score from which to choose. If you are planning on participating in college athletics, you must take the ACT on a national test date.
  • Take the SAT in the spring if the school(s) to which you are applying require it.
  • Take the Advanced Placement (AP) exams in May if you are eligible to earn credit and/or advanced standing at many colleges and universities.
  • Meet with your counselor to discuss questions you have about college.
  • During registration in the early spring, make sure you sign up for challenging courses for your senior year. Don’t take an easy senior year—colleges want to know that you’ve challenged yourself during your entire high school career.
  • Continue your participation in extracurricular activities and community service. Take on leadership roles whenever possible to enhance your resume.
  • Throughout the year and during the summer, visit colleges in which you may be interested. Also consider visiting nearby colleges in order to get a better understanding of different types of schools (small private universities, large public universities, two-year colleges, etc.).
  • Consider colleges that you think you can’t afford. Many private colleges and universities offer attractive financial aid packages to students with financial needs or with outstanding academic achievements that can make attendance at these campuses possible.
  • Investigate college costs, options for financial aid, scholarships. Use resources at your counseling center, as well as online resources.
  • Start narrowing your college list based on your personal preferences for a major, a career, and university size, location, cost and other factors.
  • Obtain, or view online, college catalogs, view books, financial aid information, campus and departmental Web sites.
  • Continue making visits to campuses.
  • Take appropriate tests: SAT"s- I and II’s, ACT, AP, IB, in the spring.
  • Make plans for getting teacher recommendations.
  • Plan meaningful summer activities.
  • Consider taking especially difficult advanced placement, honors, college-level, or International Baccalaureate classes.
  • If you don’t have access to adequate counseling and advisement services at your school, consider engaging the services of a professional independent counselor who can help you write personal essays, locate good universities for you attend, assist you in taking standardized exams, and in exploring all your options.


  • Register in December for the January SAT - I test.
  • Review your PSAT scores.
  • Take the January SAT-I Test.
  • Meet with your college counselor. Make sure that he/she has a good understanding of you and your goals for the college application process.
  • Explore your values, needs and strengths with your counselor as they relate to selecting a major and a college to attend.
  • Register in March and April to take the May SAT-I and June SAT-II (discuss which SAT-IIs you should take with your college counselor and your teachers).
  • Register for and take the April ACT test.
  • If English is not your first language, make plans to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language.
  • Drawing on your visits to colleges, identify the kind of college you would to enroll in.
  • Develop a preliminary list of colleges that interest you and write to them for information.
  • Discuss your twelfth grade schedule with your college counselor. Select the most rigorous course load that you can carry successfully.
  • Research your list of schools in a variety of ways (objective and subjective guidebooks, discussion with alums and present students).
  • Learn how to access and use online resources. Links to many of these resources are found on the MyMajors’ College Planning Resources page.
  • Plan summer visits and interviews.
  • Initiate service academy and ROTC scholarship applications, if applicable.
  • Take SAT-I and/or SAT-II. If you apply for early acceptance (EA) or for early decision (ED) to a university that requires these tests, take both of them.
  • Ask teachers for recommendations. Give them an outline of your class standing, your outside activities and other information they can use to create a good letter.
  • Narrow down your initial list of colleges to those you are seriously interested in.
  • Athletes: Register for NCAA Division I and II athletics, if you think participating in college sports is a possibility. Begin contacting coaches at schools you are interested in.
  • Students in the music should prepare audition videotapes and/or audiotapes of their skills for evaluation by music departments. Similarly, art students should assemble portfolios of their art work and theater students should have videos of their performances.
  • Select a topic for a college essay and/or an approach to your personal statement.
  • Athletes should write to college coaches to indicate interest in participating on teams at their college.
  • If your PSAT scores suggest that you need to work on improving your results, consider taking a preparatory course or studying computer and paper test preparations materials.

February – May

  • Review your SAT and ACT scores to determine your relative standing with respect to the standards at the schools you are considering. Continue improving on your ACT and/or SAT testing techniques.
  • If necessary, prepare yourself and retake the SAT and/or the ACT.
  • Start requesting college applications, if they are not available online.
  • Check to see that counselor and teacher recommendations have been sent.
  • Select senior year courses.
  • Take advanced placement exams, if appropriate.


  • Travel to a variety of colleges and participate in group tours, information sessions, and personal interviews. Make campus visitations a priority, if possible. Don’t forget to call ahead to schedule an appointment.
  • Work on your college application essays and personal statements.


  • If you don't have a summer job, try volunteering in an area of interest to you.
  • If you are interested in athletics, meet with coaches whenever possible.
  • Talk to your teaching faculty about good schools to consider with respect to majors that you are thinking about. Their background often includes knowledge of which campuses have particularly good reputations in the fields in which they teach.

Twelfth Grade

  • If you are a male student, you must register for the draft in order to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
  • Take or retake standardized tests, if necessary.
  • Attend a college fair.
  • You and your parents should gather income tax information so you can complete and mail the FAFSA as soon as possible in January or February. See if the schools you are applying to require the PROFILE.
  • Complete applications and essays; ask for letters of recommendation and transcripts.


  • Start looking for scholarships and financial aid information.
  • Make college decisions; notify all schools that accepted you. Send deposits.
  • Meet with your college counselor.
  • Register for the fall/winter SAT-I, SAT-II, and/or ACT tests, as appropriate. Release any SAT-II scores from tests taken previously.
  • Make plans for taking the Test of English as a Foreign Language, if necessary.
  • Review your senior courses. Have you met all of the requirements for the schools you are interested in? Is your schedule challenging? Should you add courses?
  • Attend presentations by university representatives coming to your school and college fairs in your area.
  • Write or call for any applications that you do not yet have.
  • Begin applying, the sooner the better. Decide if you want to apply EA or ED to any college. Many highly competitive schools do not accept applications after given dates. Applications may be due in mid-November. Scholarships are often allocated to students who have applied for scholarship assistance early.
  • Work on narrowing your final list of colleges, especially if you plan to apply for early admission (EA) or early decision (ED). Many counselors suggest applying to two or three of the most competitive schools you think you qualify for, as well as three or four that are somewhat less competitive.
  • Photocopy your applications so that you will have a practice form to work on.
  • Revise and polish required essays. Get assistance in proofreading your essay.
  • Create a final list of five to seven colleges to which you will apply.
  • Ask teachers for recommendations. Ask early and give your teachers a written list of the schools to which you are applying. Provide the teachers with a stamped, addressed envelope for them to use to mail the letter of recommendation. Give them at least three weeks time to prepare this letter.
  • Research scholarship opportunities. This information is available from online sources, as well as from the financial aid offices at all campuses.
  • Make sure that your counselor has a list of the colleges to which you are applying.
  • Make sure that you have had your transcript sent to the schools of your choice.
  • Revise and finalize your essay. Get reactions to it from your counselor and from other people. See if they find it to be a good response to the request of those colleges that request essays.
  • As you submit your applications to universities, confirm that they have been received.
  • When you receive your SAT scores, see if your scores have improved. Make sure you've released all subject test scores to be sent to colleges you have applied to.
  • Keep copies of your applications and supporting materials arranged by university.
  • After you have been accepted at a college of your choice:
    • Send in your acceptance letter.
    • Notify other colleges that you do not plan to attend their campus so they can free up space for other students.
    • Mail in your application for campus housing, if you plan to live on campus. Most campus living accommodations are in high demand.
    • Send in all required deposits.
    • Notify your counselor of your decision to attend a university.


  • Talk with friends (first-year and advanced students) who are home from college to get their impressions of their campus. Try to understand whether you share their likes and dislikes.
  • If you need financial aid, request and complete campus financial aid forms.
  • If necessary, register for the winter SAT-I and/or tests.
  • If you did not qualify for early admission or early decision at the campus of your choice, submit regular decision (RD) or rolling admissions (RA) applications.
  • Winter
  • Have your parents complete the FAFSA.
  • This is your last chance to take the SAT-I, SAT-II, or TOEFL.
  • Check your recommendations. Has everything been sent?
  • Keep your grades up. Winter grades will be sent to colleges you apply to.
  • Register for spring AP tests if you are taking any.
  • If you applied for financial aid, make sure that you received the Profile acknowledgement and the Student Aid Report from the FAFSA application.
  • Confirm your intent to enroll at the college of your choice.
  • Watch for announcements to attend spring and summer orientation and registration programs. These programs provide you with orientation activities, placement exams, meetings with academic advisers, and course selection advisement.
  • When you have accepted admission to a university or college, let your counselor know of your decision.
  • Send thank you notes to teachers, counselors and others who helped you by giving advice or by writing letters of recommendations.


  • Review all responses you received from colleges with your college counselor, and keep counselor fully informed.
  • If at all possible, try to visit the college of your choice before committing yourself.
  • Notify schools you have rejected and where you were accepted that you will not be attending so they can offer an acceptance to another student.
  • Make sure you have received forms for requesting housing, campus-based, scholarship and financial aid, health insurance, food services, and summer orientation.
  • If necessary, apply for a student loan.
  • Maintain your academic focus. Colleges see and evaluate your final transcript.
  • Make sure you check each individual school’s deadlines and requirements, and adhere strictly to them.
  • Ask teachers, counselors, and others for letters of recommendation if the school to which you are applying requires them.
  • Keep copies of everything you send to colleges.
  • Make your final choice and notify school(s) no later than May 1. Send acceptance letters and any necessary documents and deposits to your school of choice. Write a polite letter of refusal to others.
  • Continue to give your best effort academically—colleges want students that have taken their senior year seriously.
  • Send final transcripts to the school you are attending.
  • Set up a bank account and, perhaps, a credit card account.
  • Has your financial situation changed in such a way as to allow you qualify for additional financial aid? For example, if one of your parents is now unemployed, if a parent has died or if there has been a serious illness, you may qualify for reassessment.

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