Senior year is often depicted as a time to savor memories from high school and brace for adulthood. The reality is many seniors feel overwhelmed as they prepare for college.
If that's you, we're here to help. We've compiled a senior year checklist for October through December. Using it should help you stay on track so you don't miss any important deadlines and ensure you actually have time to enjoy your senior year.
7 things to do in October
1. Complete early-decision applications (if applicable)
If you have a school that's your first choice, you can apply early. Early-decision college applications are usually due in November, so in October, you should be completing your application.
Approximately 450 colleges have an early decision option, which is binding. Meaning, if you're accepted, you must attend that school. Which is why the College Board suggests you only apply to one school — your first choice.
Of course, when you apply through early decision, you won't know what financial aid package you'll receive. So if you know your decision on which school to attend relies heavily on your out-of-pocket cost, you should probably skip early decision.
2. Complete your FAFSA
FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. You need to fill out this form in order to qualify for federal grants, loans, and even some scholarships.
You can complete the FAFSA as early as October 1, even if you aren't applying to schools quite yet. This way, you have a shot at grants and scholarships that have earlier deadlines. Note that some financial aid is first-come, first-served.
And since the FAFSA isn't the easiest form to fill out, applying early gives you more time.
3. Fill out the CSS Profile
Applying to one or more private institutions (i.e., not a state or public college)?
Many private schools require the College Scholarship Service Profile to determine financial aid. This form gives access to more than $9 billion in aid for thousands of undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. For each school you're applying to, check to see if you need to complete the CSS Profile.
4. Talk to your parents about your financial aid eligibility
Once you fill out the FAFSA, you'll receive your Student Aid Report (SAR). This document provides basic information about your eligibility for financial aid. It's important that you sit down to discuss this with your parents or guardian to make sure you're all on the same page when it comes to college costs.
This also gives you the opportunity to review the answers on your FAFSA to make sure you didn't make any mistakes that could impact your aid eligibility.
5. Compare schools by cost
Most students have a few top picks for colleges rather than a single school they're set on. Usually, students and their families are looking at how they can get the best bang for their buck.
That's where our free NitroScore tool can help. Using this tool, you can compare costs at different school, post-college salaries for different majors and see future loan cost projections to give you an idea of the financial implication of your decision.
6. Ask for letters of recommendation
Typically, college applications require letters of recommendation from someone who can comment on your work ethic, your passion for your major, or your intellect. This can be a teacher, a coach, or a community leader.
Whomever you ask, you need to give them enough time to complete the letter, so be sure to ask them in October. Include stamped envelopes if needed and a form that lists your name, school name, and major to make it easy.
7. Set up college visits
If you have two or three schools that you're considering, try to visit during one of the school's organized visit days in the fall.
These visits are meant for seniors and will sometimes include overnight stays on campus. When you coordinate your visit, ask about setting up an appointment with a college representative. This allows you the chance to have your application stand out and ask questions about what the school has to offer.
3 things to do in November
1. Finish your college application essays
College essays are among the most important factors in determining where you'll be accepted. While grades and admission test scores definitely factor into the decision, the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s State of College Admission report found that most colleges and universities consider the essay to be considerably or moderately important in determining which qualified applicants they accept. In other words, the essay is your chance to show how you stand out.
You can use our scholarship essay how-to as a primer for your college application essay.
2. Get your high school transcripts ready
When you apply to college, each institution needs an official high school transcript. Now's the time to connect with your school counselor to ask about how to have your transcripts sent to each university.
3. Send in college applications with November deadlines
Some schools have a November deadline. If that's the case, be sure to complete your application in time. Gather all of your application materials and double-check everything one last time.
4 things to do in December
1. Apply for scholarships
As college applications approach, check in with your school counselor to make sure you're on track with college prep and to ask about which scholarships are still available to you. You can also check our College Scholarship Database to find opportunities.
2. Take the SAT or ACT if you haven’t already
This is your final opportunity to take or retake the SAT or ACT. It's true that more schools, especially post-pandemic, aren't requiring SAT or ACT tests, but many still do. And even for schools where the tests are optional, it's often a good idea to submit your scores. It gives the school one more data point about you, which can help you stand out in a competitive field — especially if your scores are above average.
3. Finish college applications for January deadlines
Most schools have application deadlines of January or February. Double-check your application materials to make sure you aren't missing anything. Check individual school deadline dates to confirm.
4. Remain in good academic standing
Application acceptances are contingent upon remaining in good academic standing in high school. To make sure you graduate with good grades and retain your college acceptance, stay focused in school. Don't lose sight of your grades or your extracurricular activities.
Need other college-prep tips?
Want to learn about other ways to make your transition from high school to college as smooth as possible? Check out our other tips for getting ready for college.