Planning for College or Trade School

Planning Timeline


  • Use the School Evaluation Form for the schools you're considering, and narrow your college choices to three or four in which you're most interested.
  • Start a "college calendar" to note important dates such as deadlines for admission, financial aid, housing applications, and entrance exam registration and test dates.
  • If you haven't already done so, request admission application materials from the colleges to which you want to apply.
  • If you're applying for early decision, start filling out the necessary forms for application to meet the college's deadline, which usually is in November. Several schools with very competitive admission requirements make early decisions on which applicants they will accept.
  • Be aware that some programs, such as engineering and architecture, have different application deadlines than others.
  • Read application instructions carefully step-by-step to find out what information is required and when it must reach the college: SAT or ACT scores, essay, application form, letters of recommendation, etc.
  • If you haven't taken a college admissions test, or you and your counselor think you can improve your test score by retaking the test, plan to take the SAT I and SAT II or the ACT in early fall.
  • Meet with your high school guidance counselor to get information on state and federal financial aid procedures and programs.
  • Check on scholarships and grants offered through the colleges to which you want to apply. Also check on financial aid offered by local community service organizations, businesses, clubs, churches, etc. Watch your local newspaper for announcements on any type of financial aid that may be available. If you're eligible, apply.
  • If you don't have a Social Security number, get one now. Almost all institutions of higher education use them for identification.


  • File your FAFSA as soon as possible after October 1. Students who complete and return the FAFSA early have the best chance to receive all the aid for which they may qualify.
  • Submit early decision applications for admission.
  • Meet with college admissions representatives visiting your school, go to a local college and career fair, and attend a financial aid seminar if available.
  • If necessary, narrow your list of colleges, visit campuses, and talk with students and alumni.
  • If you are applying for regular admission, begin the college application process.
  • Ask teachers for recommendations. Provide them with a list of honors, clubs, interests, etc.; copies of your resume; and forms provided by the colleges. Make sure your name is on each recommendation form. Also provide an addressed, stamped envelope to the teacher.
  • Write your personal essays if they are included on the applications. Have them critiqued for content and grammar.
  • Make a copy of college applications. Fill out the forms in rough draft, correct, and then complete the original applications. Make sure they are legible, and mail them in time to meet the deadline.
  • Make sure you've taken the necessary steps to have your high school transcript sent to the colleges to which you're applying.
  • Pay early housing deposits, if required.
  • Watch for the upcoming Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) that will be distributed by your high school counselor in November or December. It's used to apply for need-based aid but cannot be completed until after January 1. (You can also get a FAFSA from the college financial aid office.) You should check with the financial aid offices of the colleges to which you're applying to see if you're required to submit a supplemental financial aid form.
  • If you're a male and 18 years old or older, register for the draft. It's a requirement of many federal student financial aid programs.