One word in that headline is weighing heavily on college-bound high school seniors. Let’s capitalize and bold it: How to Get Ready for College NOW.
It’s the urgency of “now.” Seniors are roughly a semester, a prom, and a summer job away from one of the most crucial steps of their young lives. We’re talking world-class jitters for most.
A good way to calm those nerves is to minimize surprises. For the unavoidable surprises, try to make sure as many as possible will be good ones. How? In a word: lists. Write down what must be done and by when; then doggedly pursue and check off each goal.
The College Prep To-Do List of Lists
Unless you are a transfer student, it’s a bit late to talk about college application deadlines. At this point, picking a school from among those already explored likely is at the top of most lists.
To get a handle on how to get ready for college now, let’s look at some of the pros’ to-do lists and timelines.
Federal Student Aid Office’s Checklist for Seniors
- Check out the Federal Student Aid Office's checklist for seniors.
- Do your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) paperwork at http://www.fafsa.gov/ as soon as possible – master the deadlines.
- Complete any last-minute scholarship applications.
- Review financial aid options at schools that accept you.
NACAC’s Senior Year Checklist
The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) offers some great insight, too. Here are a few of the highlights:
- Take a close look at schools where you have been accepted, compare financial aid packages, and visit your final choices.
- Don’t let high school studies falter. Think transcript.
- May 1 usually is the last-minute time to make a commitment and deposit. Inform your high school counselor, follow through on your financial aid options, and notify the schools you have decided not to attend.
- Ask your high school to send the college of your choice your final transcript.
- If you are wait-listed by a college you really want to attend, visit, call, and write the admissions office to see whether and how you can boost your chances.
Mapping Your Future’s Senior Year Calendar
Mapping Your Future's senior year calendar can help you stay on track as you continue through the college admissions process.
January and February
- Scout scholarship options and get rolling on applications, with a keen eye on deadlines.
- Remember to work hard, so you finish strong in high school.
- Don’t lose track of deadlines.
- Research Advanced Placement (AP) and College Level Examination Program (CLEP) exam options, if need be.
- Try to narrow the field and rank school choices.
- Research and apply for all available local scholarships.
March and April
- Keep tabs on financial aid offices; ensure paperwork is finished.
- Narrow school choices and make campus visits.
- Watch for acceptance letters.
- Consider a summer job.
- Compare financial aid offers.
- Pick your school and mail deposits.
- Check with the school you've chosen about returning financial aid award letters.
- Notify schools you won’t attend.
- Think registration, orientation, and housing.
May and June
- Put necessary school orientation sessions on your calendar and plan for them.
- Craft a savings plan.
- Write up a realistic college-life budget with the help of your parents.
- Make sure your high school forwards your final transcript to your college.
- Get college transcripts for any dual-credit courses you have taken.
- Determine how you will meet transportation needs at college.
- Share college plans with your high school guidance office, including scholarship details.
- Follow through on financial aid paperwork.
- Execute on college orientation plans.
- Write thank-you notes for those graduation gifts.
- Get advice on how to handle the day-to-day tasks you will face at college, from doing laundry to balancing a checkbook.
- Keep building that summer savings account.
- Send thank-you notes to those who helped you prep for college.
- Copy important paperwork such as financial aid forms and medical files.
- Register for the fall semester.
- Make a contact list with addresses of friends and family members and make labels with your new address to share.
Be Sure to Sweat the Small Stuff
Details and deadlines are the stuff of the college-bound student’s existence. Deal with the smaller things, and the bigger things get simpler. A prime example is choosing a major as early as possible. It’s not a priority, but it can give you an edge in vying for scholarships and picking the right school.
- Organization is crucial, too, important enough to justify geeky things such as lists. Being organized is a skill that will pay huge dividends when it comes to dealing with the demands of college life.
- Keep procrastination off your to-do list. In fact, tend to important basics early, from buying textbooks and other supplies to packing for the move.
- Make sure to send your deposit once you choose your school. This helps hold your spot at the college.
- Sign up for orientation as soon as possible. After orientation, you’ll likely meet with an adviser who will help you choose your college classes.
- Learn about housing options. Knowing the area where you will be living has a huge upside, too.
- Take a campus tour, if possible. You can supplement that campus tour with a virtual tour, like USF's, at some colleges, too. Brick-and-mortar libraries are still a thing, too.
Let’s get back to “now.” If you have reached this stage of the game without picking a college, remember that the University of South Florida’s final application deadline is March 1.
If you need help becoming a USF Bull or if you want to learn more, you can reach out to the USF Office of Admissions online or speak to the admissions staff at 813-974-3350.
About Joe Emerson
Joe Emerson spent 30 years as a magazine and newspaper reporter, editor and copyeditor who turned to freelancing after 20 years with The Tampa Tribune, which closed in 2016 after 125 years of serving the Tampa Bay area. Writing and delivering valuable information remain his passion.