For Students

Choosing where to go to college is one of the most important life decisions you will make. That realization alone is enough to cause anxiety! However, you can greatly reduce your stress by understanding what’s important and breaking the process down into steps.

Timeline and Tips

Freshmen and Sophomores

Your first couple of years in high school should be about experiencing all that high school has to offer and exploring new opportunities. Here are a few steps to get you off to a great start:

Focus on your coursework. High school GPA is the #1 factor in college admissions decisions; so work hard to do your best. Your grades from freshman, sophomore, and junior years will be the ones that colleges consider.

Challenge yourself. Enroll in honors or advanced placement (AP) classes for subject areas you tend to do well in. Colleges want to see that you are ready for a competitive learning environment.

Explore interests and activities. Try different things and discover your passions. Join a club at school, look for community service opportunities… find something you love and dive in.

Budget for college. Long before you build the list of colleges you’re going to apply to, talk with your parents about how you’re going to pay for college.


Junior year is one of the busiest when it comes to the college search, but the effort you put in now will pay off greatly when it comes to applying to colleges in the fall:

Keep up the good work. Focus on your grades and demonstrate that you are prepared for college. Continue to be involved in extra-curricular activities and work toward leadership positions.

Develop a testing plan. Your ACT or SAT scores will count considerably in admission decisions. Invest the time and effort it takes to do your best on the tests.

Explore career interests. While you may not know what you want to major in, it’s important to have a read on your strengths, areas of interest, and possible career preferences. These will be important criteria to match when selecting a college.

Build your college list. Identify your top criteria for selecting a college. What degree program are you interested in? What learning environment suits you? Think beyond size and location and consider factors such as retention and graduation rates.

Do your research. Determine if a school meets your criteria, using a variety of resources such as books, college websites, and student reviews. Once you’ve determined a college is a fit, plan to visit the campus.


Finalize your college list. Have a balanced college list that includes schools that are a good match in terms of admissions probabilities: those where you are likely to be admitted and a few that are a reach.

Determine the actual cost for each school. Every college has a Net Price Calculator that will help you find out the potential for financial aid and the true out-of-pocket cost of that college. Do this now. Don’t apply and then learn you can’t afford it.

Complete the applications. Pay attention to application requirements and deadlines. There are many pieces that need to be submitted for each college.

Fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), even if you think you will not qualify. The FAFSA is available October 1.

Have faith. Waiting for admissions decisions is stressful and being turned down by a college is painful… but it isn’t the end of the world. Trust that you will find a school that is just right for you.