Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo
Most eighth graders plan to attend college, but most have no plan to take college prep or advanced courses once they get in high school. Unfortunately, if you don't plan ahead and get started right away, you may have difficulty completing the required or recommended courses that will help you qualify for college.

Once you reach high school, your extracurricular activities also become important in the eyes of college admission counselors. Colleges are looking for depth, rather than breadth, when it comes to extracurricular activities. Some colleges and scholarship committees are looking for leadership potential, but most want to see commitment, responsibility, and the ability to follow through on an activity. Time management -- the ability to balance schoolwork with other activities -- is important, too.

Classes, activities, tests, and forms -- that's what on this checklist. The tips and advice on preparing for college will take you through your senior year in high school and beyond. We even include a list of what to pack when you move away from home.

High School Checklist

Freshman Year

Meet with your guidance counselor to make sure you're taking the courses that colleges require. For example, many colleges prefer that high school students take at least geometry and trigonometry, rather than only general math and algebra. Basic computer skills are now essential, and some colleges prefer three or four years of a foreign language. Natural science courses should include labs.

Take advantage of special academic opportunities at your high school such as Honors level or Advanced Placement (AP) courses. AP courses are college-level courses in approximately 16 different subjects. Students who take AP courses are often more prepared for the academic challenges presented in college. In addition, a student who takes an AP course and scores a grade of 3 or higher on an AP exam can often receive advanced placement in college and/or credit for a college course. Even if you don't get credit, college admission counselors will notice that you were willing to challenge yourself.

Become active in extracurricular activities that interest you. Many colleges will look at your involvement in clubs and organizations, as well as community service, when making their admission decisions. Start a list of your activities so that your resume will be easy to put together when you apply to colleges. Remember, though, that it's quality, not quantity, that counts when it comes to your involvement.

Sophomore Year

In September, begin preparing for the College Board Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT I) and/or the American College Test (ACT), as well as the preliminary tests for both -- the PSAT/NMSQT (Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test) and the PLAN (formerly P-ACT+). Visit your guidance counselor, library, or local bookstore and ask for guidebooks with sample tests. You'll want to see how the tests are organized and what types of questions are asked. Go ahead and take the preliminary tests this year, even though your sophomore-year scores won't count for the National Merit Scholarship competition.

You may want to register for the SAT II: Subject Tests. Some colleges require three of these one-hour exams that test proficiency in a particular subject area. Math and writing are the most often required, and you should take these in your sophomore year for practice only. However, if you want to take your third test in a subject you studied during your sophomore year -- such as biology or chemistry -- you may want to complete the test while the subject is still fresh in your mind. Look at the admissions requirements of any colleges you are considering. Many don't require the SAT II at all.

Whenever you can, visit college campuses to start getting an idea of various environments. Consider taking a summer course or getting a summer job to help pay for college.

Junior Year

In the fall, practice for the SAT and/or the ACT by taking the PSAT and/or the PLAN. The National Merit Scholarship Program will use your PSAT as the basis for selection when you are a senior.

In the spring, take the SAT I or ACT. Remember, you can take these tests more than once if you are not satisfied with your scores. Sign up to take the late spring SAT II subject tests also if the colleges you are considering require them.

Explore various colleges and universities by checking out their web sites and attending college fairs in your area. Talk with college representatives and request viewbooks and other publications from the institutions that interest you.

Begin investigating sources of financial aid during the fall, including government programs, community organizations, foundations, credit unions, commercial banks, and insurance companies.

During spring break and the summer, visit the colleges on your list. Make appointments to talk with admission counselors and tour campuses, or attend a scheduled program offered on campus for prospective students. Review academic requirements, curricular offerings, campus life, and costs.

This summer is a good time to write for private scholarship applications and to work on college application essays. If you are hoping for an athletic scholarship or want to get on an athletic team, contact the coaches at the colleges on your list. (Make sure you file with the NCAA Clearinghouse if you want to play for a Division I or II team. When registering for the SAT or ACT, enter "9999" as one of the college choices to have test scores sent to the Clearinghouse.)

Senior Year

If necessary, take or retake the SAT I or ACT in the fall and have your scores sent to your chosen colleges. Take the SAT II: Subject Tests if you haven't yet taken them or if you want to try to improve your scores.

In the fall, attend college fairs and schedule return campus visits to the colleges and universities that interest you most. Make these visits while classes are in session so you can talk with professors and students and see the campus in action. Make arrangements with the admission office in advance.

Begin to finalize your college choices and submit admission and financial aid applications to the institutions on your list as early as possible in your senior year. Be aware of the deadlines at the various colleges.

Follow up on transcripts, letters of recommendation, and other support materials required with your application. Make sure your transcript is accurate before it is mailed. Some colleges require that you submit everything together, so check with your high school to determine its procedure for mailing applications and transcripts.

Apply for financial aid after January 1. Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Financial Aid (FAFSA) before February 1. Filling out the form online and submitting it via the Internet makes the process easier.

You should receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) four weeks after you send in the FAFSA form. Review your SAR for errors and correct them immediately. If you do not receive your SAR, call 1-800-4FED-AID to check on your application.

Some colleges use the information collected on the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE to help them award nonfederal student aid funds. Determine whether any colleges you are interested in require this financial aid application form. If so, ask your guidance counselor for a copy or register online.

Make certain you file all the required financial aid paperwork with each college you are applying to. This may include your tax forms as well as your parents' form.

At tax-filing time, parents should check their eligibility for the Hope Credit, the Lifetime Learning Credit, or other tax benefits outlined in the Internal Revenue Service's Publication 970. You can get a copy of the publication by calling 1-800-829-3676.

At this point, you'll begin to receive responses -- offers of admission, scholarships, and awards. A great place to study and live is in your future!

Remember, once you have decided on the college you will attend, inform other colleges that accepted you about your decision. They may be able to offer admission to one of the students on their waiting list.

The college you attend may well send you many more forms to complete, such as a housing/meal plan application. Sending these back in a timely fashion will help smooth your transition to college.

More College

Finding the right College

There's no magic formula for choosing a college, but there are steps you can take to find a good fit. Use this tool to start your journey.


Latest College News

4 reasons Catholic education needs your help this year Watch

Image of Are America's Catholic schools being attacked? (Wordpress)

By Kenya Sinclair (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

The Catholic education system is coming under attack by a plethora of policies designed to make the hiring process, acceptance of anti-Christian viewpoints, transgender issues and Catholic identity concerns. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The Cardinal Newman ... continue reading


Catholic identity or education: Are the top Catholic universities falsely rated by secular standards? Watch

Image of

By Kenya Sinclair (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

A list of the top 40 traditional Catholic and Jesuit colleges in America was created, but were they rated fairly? LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Newsmax revealed their top forty Catholic and Jesuit colleges in America, but what were their standards?The United ... continue reading


Becoming Divine Mercy: A Mission of Mercy Watch

Image of

By Jessie Tappel, Communications Director at Divine Mercy University

God, the source of all mercy, provides us with an experience so great that we have no choice but to reflect it to our own brother and sister. Mercy calls for an outward response, which is made clear in the examples of the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. You can ... continue reading


UST Breaks Ground on New Center for Science and Health Professions Watch

Image of

By Darnell Miller - University of St. Thomas

The University of St. Thomas, a member of the world-renowned Texas Medical Center, broke ground on a new Center for Science and Health Professions on Nov. 12, 2015. The new facility, containing more than 100,000 square-feet of modern lab space and classrooms, will meet ... continue reading


Religion and Science: The Evolutionary Controversy

Image of

By Kyle Jorstad, Grove City College

Catholic Online welcomes scholarly submissions for consideration, contact marshconnolly@catholiconline.email Abstract: Though members of the scientific and atheistic community alike often tout science as the downfall of religion, theories regarding Darwinian evolution ... continue reading


Do you love America? What these college professors were caught doing on camera will shock you! Watch

Image of The Constitution codifies many liberties, including the right to shred the Constitution itself.

By David Drudge (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

It should be no surprise that America's colleges and universities are overrun with anti-American liberals who lack all respect for the country and the principles upon which it is founded. In an age where political correctness has run amok, students are indoctrinated by ... continue reading


Catholic Colleges: Tackling Student Loans Ethically

Image of NORTHEAST CATHOLIC COLLEGE

By Caitlin Bootsma

It's almost an assumption in today's world that students will take out a staggering amount of debt to be able to attend a four year university. And, with college costs rising faster than the rate of inflation, 18 year olds are signing themselves up for increasingly ... continue reading


Franciscan nun becomes first woman head of a pontifical university Watch

Image of Sister Melone is an alumnus of the university set up in 1890 in honor of St Anthony, a 13th century saint from Spain known for his forceful preaching and expert knowledge of the Bible.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

The Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education made history last week when it nominated a Franciscan nun as the first woman head of a pontifical university. In a position held usually by priests, Sister Mary Melone will become the rector of the Pontifical ... continue reading


University of St. Thomas Graduates First Nursing Cohort in 25 Years

Image of University of St. Thomas Nursing Graduate, Elizabeth Ciocco

By Darnell Miller - University of St. Thomas

This May 27 nursing students, including Elizabeth Ciocco, will be the first nursing students to graduate from the University of St. Thomas in nearly 25 years.  Ciocco joins 298 undergraduates and 739 graduates at the University's 64th Commencement ... continue reading


University of St. Thomas Honors Research Goes 6 Feet Under

Image of Honors Program students consider the issues of death and mortality in the Contemporary Seminar research presented at UST's Research symposium.

By Brenda Cooper, University of St. Thomas

A few hundred people have undergone cryopreservation procedures since 1962, having their bodies cooled to sub-zero temperatures, with the hope that one day they may be brought back to life using highly advanced technology. It's the kind of issue-along with assisted ... continue reading


Latest College News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Subscribe to Catholic OnlineYouTube Channel

the FEED
by Catholic Online

  • Daily Readings for Monday, February 08, 2016
  • Daily Reading for Monday, February 8th, 2016 HD Video
  • Daily Reading for Tuesday, February 9th, 2016 HD Video
  • Your Daily Inspirational Meme: We Love Him
  • MAKE YOURSELF COUNT! Complete this quick Ash Wednesday survey
  • St. Jerome Emiliani: Saint of the Day for Monday, February 08, 2016
  • 10 important things to consider during Lent

Daily Readings

Reading 1, First Kings 8:1-7, 9-13
1 Solomon then summoned the elders of Israel to Jerusalem to bring the ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 132:6-7, 8-10
6 Listen, we heard of it in Ephrathah, we found it at ... Read More

Gospel, Mark 6:53-56
53 Having made the crossing, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for February 8th, 2016 Image

St. Jerome Emiliani
February 8: Jerome Emiliani lay chained in the dark dirty ... Read More