Year-by-Year College-Planning Calendar

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As children begin high school, their schedules typically become so busy that some type of calendar to track activities is a must. Along with school and extracurricular commitments, students and parents need to track registration times and dates for national tests such as the PSAT, the SAT and the ACT.

The ACT, for example, is given through the schools during the junior year of high school, but students must register for the SAT on their own, says Crystal Reardon, director of counseling for the Wake County Public School System. Reardon suggests that parents keep a file of academic and extracurricular activities beginning in the freshman year of high school, because it can be difficult to remember all of a child’s activities and accomplishments. The same file can serve as a safe place for important login procedures and password information for college sites such as and

In addition to grades and activities, remember to include in the file any tax information that would be pertinent for financial-aid applications. Reardon also advises families to keep a calendar of college-application deadlines, since universities can have very different application schedules. The most important step is to find a system, electronic or otherwise, that helps you and your student stay organized during the college-planning and application process.

The following grade-by-grade outline offers a starting point for key activities to track during middle school and high school. More detailed versions are available at

Middle School Highlights:
Explore online courses, extracurricular activities, courses for high-school credit, foreign language, career paths
• Put important dates on a shared online calendar or a bulletin board.
• Encourage your student to get involved in clubs and other school groups.
• Encourage your child to take challenging courses, online or at school, that he or she can handle. High School
• Your student should meet with a counselor at least once each year in high school.
• Encourage summer plans to explore interests, learn new skills and expand experiences; colleges look for students who pursue meaningful summer activities.

Ninth Grade Highlights:
School counseling information, advanced coursework, extracurricular activities, college visits
• Make sure your child takes challenging courses that colleges expect to see.
• Help your child start a college list and visit a college.
• Get the facts about college costs and start thinking about financial aid.

10th Grade Highlights:
PSAT, The PLAN test, advanced courses, online education, extracurricular activities
• Help your child prepare for the PSAT/NMSQT and/or the PLAN this fall.
• Be sure your child is taking challenging courses he or she can handle.
• Encourage your sophomore to take SAT Subject Tests after relevant courses.
• Help your child make summer plans. Summer is a great time to explore interests and learn new skills — and colleges look for students who pursue meaningful summer activities.
• Make a college wish list together.

11th Grade Highlights:
PSAT for merit scholarships, SAT, ACT, college visits, extracurricular and service activities, AP tests
• Help your junior get ready for the PSAT/NMSQT in October. Juniors who score well on the test are also eligible for scholarship opportunities.
• Help your child prepare for admission tests, such as the SAT and the ACT.
• Encourage your junior to take SAT Subject Tests.
• Encourage your junior to take AP Exams.
• Search together for colleges that meet your child’s needs and visit colleges.
• Attend college fairs and financial-aid events.

12th Grade Highlights:
College application, advanced courses, college visits, extracurricular activities
• Encourage your child to get started on college applications the summer before senior year.
• Help your child decide about applying early.
• Create a calendar of application deadlines and other important dates.
• Register for college admission tests your child may be taking again, such as the SAT and the ACT in the fall.
• Complete the FAFSA after Jan. 1 for financial aid/grants.
• Encourage your child to set up college interviews to learn more about a college and for a college to learn more about your child.
• Help your child find and apply for scholarships.
• Review college responses and financial-aid packages together. Be sure to complete appropriate paperwork and financial obligations to accept a college’s offer of admittance on time.

Portions excerpted from BigFuture by the College Board. For complete action plans, go to