So you may be wondering what to do as a high school student to be ready for what comes next. Good question. There are many helpful timelines that will keep you on track and ready to prepare for and find the school that's right for you. 

Below are some guidelines to consider, but be sure check out the college planning guides linked at the bottom of the page too. And remember: you should always adapt any plan or timeline to fit what makes sense for you and your family.

Freshman and sophomore years

  • Take interest and skills assessments to find out what careers you might consider.
  • Talk with parents and counselors about the education needed for those careers.
  • Review your high school course load to make sure you’re taking the classes you need for college.
  • Focus on schoolwork and get good grades.
  • Participate in outside activities.
  • Consider discussing college plans with mentors, teachers or community members.
  • Begin creating a resume or record of your activities and honors so you won’t overlook anything later.
  • Consider attending Minnesota Private Colleges Week in June.

Junior year

  • Review your high school class plan to make sure you’re taking the classes you need for college and are earning good grades.
  • Attend college fairs and college visits at your school.
  • Take the PSAT in the fall to prepare for the ACT or SAT — top PSAT scores can also qualify you for the National Merit Scholarships.
  • Study for and take the ACT or SAT exams in the spring (the ACT is taken more often in the Midwest but it depends on where you apply). Preparation classes are often available, and students can check out ACT/SAT study guides from the library. Take free online ACT practice questions or SAT practice tests
  • Talk with parents and counselors about your college plans and career goals.
  • Research colleges and request materials from those that interest you.
  • Attend Minnesota Private Colleges Week in June.
  • Start visiting colleges.

Summer before your senior year

  • If you didn’t come last year, attend in Minnesota Private Colleges Week in June.
  • Organize and read the college information you've received or downloaded.
  • Continue researching college options.

Senior year


  • Review your high school class plan to make sure you’re taking the classes you need for college and are earning good grades.
  • Talk to teachers as soon as possible about letters of recommendation.
  • Decide which schools to apply to.
  • Retake the ACT or SAT, if necessary.
  • Review admission and financial aid applications and gather the items you’ll need.
  • Be aware of your potential schools' application deadlines, especially if you are applying for Early Decision.
  • Visit or revisit colleges; MEA weekend is a good time and many schools have open houses/overnight visits.
  • Begin applying to colleges.
  • Begin your financial aid application by filling out the FAFSA as soon as possible after October 1.


  • Continue applying to colleges.
  • Research and apply for private scholarships, online and at the library.
  • Carefully review the Student Aid Report (SAR) resulting from your FAFSA application. Return it as soon as possible if you make corrections.


  • Compare financial aid offers from schools that have accepted you.
  • Make the final decision — notify all the schools of your decision to accept or decline their offer of admission.
  • Send necessary deposit(s) and secure housing.

Other helpful planning guides