More than four million families in the United States have at least one student enrolled in college. If you have a highschooler who is interested in pursuing higher education, then finding the right college is a major decision that requires a lot of time and is deserving of some special attention when it comes to organizing your family's schedule. If you and your student follow the timeline in Table 1, you'll be well on your way to a successful college search and application process. Schedule all of the appropriate items into your family's planner and keep in mind that many of the steps take hours or even days to complete.
Table 1. College Search Timeline
Junior Year of High School
OctoberTake PSAT.
MarchRegister for April ACT.

Register for May SAT.

Review practice ACTs and SATs.
March/AprilGet preliminary college ideas with guidance counselor. Visit colleges during your high school's spring break.
AprilTake ACT.

Plan senior year course selection.

Register for June SAT or SAT II.

Review practice SATs or SAT IIs.
MayRegister for June ACT, if you didn't take April ACT. Take SAT.
JuneTake SAT or SAT II. Take ACT, if you didn't take April ACT.
July/AugustVisit colleges.

Request college application forms.

Request financial aid forms.

Construct a personal and academic résumé.

Prepare for possible college admission interviews.

Prepare for college admission essay questions.

Senior Year of High School
SeptemberCheck deadlines for ACT and SAT October and November retakes.

Get college applications you haven't yet received.

Check Early Decision/Early Action deadlines, if applicable.

Request personal recommendations from teachers.

Start to obtain scholarship information and make a note of deadlines.
OctoberCheck application deadlines.

Complete Early Decision application, if applicable.

Take ACT and SAT, if necessary.

Follow up with teachers to complete personal recommendations.

Continue to complete and submit scholarship applications.
DecemberTurn in applications to your high school office for processing.

Retake SAT or SAT II, if necessary.

Get FAFSA and CSS/Profile financial aid forms.

Continue to complete and submit scholarship applications.
JanuaryComplete and mail FAFSA and CSS/Profile. Continue to complete and submit scholarship applications.
FebruaryContinue to complete and submit scholarship applications.
MarchContinue to complete and submit scholarship applications.
AprilRevisit colleges where you've been accepted, if necessary. Select your college and send your deposit.

Here are some pointers to help you integrate this project into your regular schedule:

  • Consider that a trip visiting college campuses may have to replace your usual family vacation. If you have younger children in your family, this may be the year to send them off to camp (in the summer) or to visit relatives (during spring break or in the summer) instead of having them tag along. You and your highschooler need to be paying attention while you visit the campuses, and younger children will become bored quickly. The following checklist will help you and your student get the most out of a campus visit:

    • Call ahead to find out times and starting points of campus tours.

    • Talk to students; they're a great source of information.

    • Visit one or more classes.

    • Meet with a professor, especially if your student has decided on a major.

    • Visit a dining hall; try out the food and take a look at the students.

    • Go inside the dormitories.

    • Ask questions.

    • Meet with an admissions counselor.

    • Meet with a financial aid representative.

  • You might want to accelerate your usual schedule for filing your family's income tax return because the standard financial aid forms (FAFSA and CSS/Profile) are due in January and you'll need to have your tax returns completed before you can fill them out.

  • Your student can use a college locator questionnaire on the Internet, such as the one at www.collegeboard.com, to narrow his search of colleges to ones that have the characteristics he prefers.

  • Your student can get a head start on writing her college application essays by downloading the Common Application from the Internet at www.commonapp.org in the summer before her senior year. Just be aware that although the Common Application was designed so that this one form would serve as an application to many colleges and universities, most of the better schools also require students to fill out a supplemental application that usually includes even more essays.

  • If you and your student are serious about tapping into independent scholarships to fund his education, your student can fill out a profile on the Internet at www.fastweb.com. Then this service will email him information about scholarships for which he can qualify, along with information about where to download the scholarship application and when it must be submitted.


Any time there's a deadline in the application process, enter it in your planner along with a reminder one week in advance of the deadline.

Finally, when it's time for your student actually to head off for his first year on campus, you'll be faced with another scheduling challenge. Make sure you set aside time for both parent and student to go on several significant shopping excursions to procure everything your student will need. Also set aside a day for packing and another day for moving, together with the right amount of travel time.


”The Ultimate College Checklist” by Diana Zimmerman is part of the “How Am I Supposed to Know That?” booklet series. It contains a thorough checklist to help your student move to college with everything she needs. Suggested retail: $6.00. Website: www.solutions4organizing.com

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