Madeline Riley

8th grade:

It might sound crazy, but students as young as 12 can and should start designing their plan for college. For parents, this means thinking seriously about your college financing plan—or lack thereof—and how to make the most of your savings. For 8th graders, this means thinking about where you might want to be in five years. Aiming for a big ten school with endless people to meet? Inspired to continue playing your favorite sport at a local college? Dreaming of endless sunny days at a small liberal arts school across the country? Whichever it is now is the time to start thinking about how to get there.

9th grade:

Once students get to high school, the pressure is intense to find a niche to fit into, but 9th grade is the time to explore your options! Take courses in subjects you love, get involved in extracurricular activities that spark your interest, test the waters fully so that when you do decide on something you enjoy, you’ll have more certainty. Keep in mind, however, every grade you receive will be scrutinized by colleges you apply to, so do your best in every lesson.

Make sure to make your summer count! Follow your interests to further explore your options. If you’re fascinated by politics, volunteer on a local campaign; if you want to be a writer, start a blog and post weekly; if you’re wondering if you’d be a good teacher, get some babysitting hours in; etc.

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10th grade:

Sophomore essentially means: overconfident, but immature. Sophomores might think they know it all, but there’s still a lot to learn. Use sophomore year to continue learning and exploring. This year precedes serious standardized test and application stress, so it’s time to ace your classes and focus your interests further. Also, at this point, you should have a better idea of where you want to be your freshman year of college. Research colleges and speak with your parents, college planner, and friends to see where you think you’d fit best environmentally.

Are you 16 yet? Time to start looking for jobs! Employment experience shows your commitment to hard work and independence. Do what you can, but don’t forget to take time this summer to relax and pursue your interests cultivated during 9th grade as well.

11th grade:

You’re an upperclassman now! Get ready for a crazy two years. The first half of the year will be all about standardized tests, but make sure to keep your grades up; junior year is often the toughest academically. Decide if you need to take the ACT, SAT, or both. Work with your school and college planner to go into whichever test(s) you take prepared and confident. If you don’t do as well as you hoped, no stress! You can reassess your study strategies and retake the test during the summer.

By the end of junior year, you should have a good idea about what courses you like and don’t like. Really enjoying your physics and chemistry classes? Your college list should include universities with good engineering programs. Did you hate science subjects but love your history and literature courses? Include colleges with great liberal arts programs in your list. By the end of the school year, your list of schools to apply to should be narrowed down significantly. Make sure your list is varied in the prestige of the school so you don’t have 10 safety schools and no reach schools on your list. Also, before the school year ends, don’t forget to ask a favorite teacher for a recommendation letter.

Use the summer to visit your top-choice colleges with your family. Nothing is better than a college tour and exploration around town to decide if you’ll fit well on a campus. Summer is also a great time to start researching your financial aid and scholarship options. Use your free time to talk to your parents and college planner to determine your family’s resources. Apply to as many scholarships as possible to lighten the burden of tuition.

12th grade:

First semester will be a mad dash toward the college application finish line.

First semester checklist:

  • Decide if you’ll be applying Early Action or Early Decision
  • If you need to, retake the ACT or SAT
  • Write some killer application essays
  • The FAFSA application opens October 1st, fill it out early to save stress later
  • Complete and submit your college applications

Start your college applications as early as possible and share them with people you trust to provide feedback. If your GPA or test score is slightly below the mean, a great essay can make the difference.

Second semester checklist:

  • Outline a plan on how you’re going to pay for college before you accept any decision
  • Make sure to keep your grades up and send in your mid-year report
  • Weigh your options—if you’ve planned ahead and worked hard, colleges will be fighting for the chance to host you on their campus
  • Make your decision and fill out your enrollment forms by May 1st

The last step? Plan for the best freshman year you can imagine! Whether you’re moving across the country or down the street next fall, get excited! Stock up on spirit gear, check out your new class’s Facebook group, research campus traditions, etc. to get the best sense of your new school.

Preparing for college is demanding, but with a plan in place you’ll be able to conquer every essay, test, and application. Looking for the best shot at putting this plan into motion? Reach out Parros at (888) 590-3668 or info@parroscollegeplanning.com for advice.