High School Senior College Planning Checklist

This is it! The future is on the horizon.

The finish line is in sight! Senior year is the long-awaited pinnacle of the high school experience, complete big memory-making events (prom, graduation) and big preparation for the next step (standardized tests, college applications). Staying focused during these final two semesters is key to finishing strong.

Coaching and cheering your student along is still important for parents at this stage — especially when the temptation of senioritis looms. After all, as EducationQuest points out: “Learning how to do your best (even if your heart isn’t fully in it) is great practice for college, grad school and, yes, even the working world.”

Help them keep their eye on the prize while still enjoying this final year before they head out into the bigger world. Our High School Senior College Planning Checklist is here to lend a hand.

Lock down final classes

When plotting this final schedule, urge students to go for both rigor and classes that pique their interests, whether it’s yearbook or forensics. Consider courses that bolster critical thinking, which will be essential next year and beyond. Have teens reconnect with their counselor, too, to ensure those grad requirements are met.

Go for it in extracurriculars

Has your child stretched their leadership skills yet? They still have one more chance! Captain of a sports team, French club treasurer, volunteer coordinator: There are so many options. Encourage them to seize a leading role this year.

Finalize college choices

Have your student narrow down the options. That final list should be roughly 6-12 schools, My College Option notes — and teens should get started on this as early as August. From there, it’s time to compare. Look at cost, financial packages, application deadlines and overall fit. Plus, pinpoint exactly when to apply for these schools (the deadlines can vary) and try to visit a few colleges, if you haven’t yet.

Take (and/or retake) those tests

Students who didn’t take the ACT or SAT their junior year need to this year — or, if they’re aiming for a higher score, go for a second or even third try. Remember, practice helps boost the final score, and retakes are common. Typically the latest seniors can sit for the exams is November or December, notes U.S. News & World Report. Ensure those ACT or SAT scores are sent to their contending colleges.

Get a grip on applications

What’s it going to take to get into their dream college? Pin down the requirements and deadlines. There’s often an essay or series of questions (more on that next) and letters of recommendation from teachers or counselors. Hot tip: Request those letters a full two months before the app deadline.

Write the college essay

Again, find out what schools require first. If your child is facing an essay, have them take a deep breath — and reflect. Hit up that “me” file they’ve kept. They should personalize what they’re most proud of or passionate about. Remember, it’s their story in their words, not a rundown of their accomplishments. (Bonus: Explore our tips on writing an attention-grabbing college essay.)

Time to apply

Aim to get those apps rolling out as soon as autumn, as most deadlines arrive by fall or winter, notes PrepScholar. Keep in mind that deadlines vary, but common options include early decision, early action, regular decision and rolling admissions. Plot out timelines and set alerts or reminders, too.

Explore funding

Don’t leave any college-funding money on the table. Students should aim to finish and submit scholarship applications in the spring. The deadline for the FAFSA, the federal college financial aid source, is typically at the end of the school year. Look into tapping funds from your child’s MESP and MET 529 college savings accounts, too.

Seal the deal

When those college letters start arriving, it’s time to decide! If possible, visit the colleges that have accepted your child, and add to their lists of comparisons to help fuel that final choice. Once they’ve selected the lucky school, it’s time to send in the deposit cost. One last thing: Be sure they write thank you letters to the colleges that have accepted and rejected them. Plus, if a school has accepted them and they won’t attend, they should also let that school know.

Finish strong

Have your student resist that urge to slack. Senioritis is real, but it’s important to keep it in check. Remind them that colleges still do pay attention to those final grades. Have them finish the year out strong — and ready for the next big step.

Note: Be sure to also explore our checklists for high school freshmen, sophomores and juniors.

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