Planning tips and timelines that drive the process
by Karyn Brodsky
When it comes to planning for college, many would agree with the Plano Senior High School website* description, “the college admissions process can be a monstrous task without careful planning and attention.” However, there are many resources that help to prepare high school students for choosing and applying to colleges which may alleviate some of the stress.
The high school guidance office is ground zero when it comes to obtaining information about undergraduate programs, standardized testing and the college application process. Students can meet face-to-face with guidance counselors, and many high schools provide online information and links to helpful websites. For instance, via the “Counselor’s Corner” page on Frisco High School’s website, parents and students can access a wealth of topics such as AP and Pre-AP, Financial Aid, ACT/SAT, College Information, How to Request a Transcript, and more.
It’s important to note that the college admissions process begins long before one’s senior year of high school with a great deal of preparation, test taking, and research. To help narrow down the search, students and their parents should investigate the colleges and universities that offer the degree in which the student is interested, the grade point average expectation, cost of attendance, admission fees, housing options (if applicable), and any specific coursework or test results that each college requires.
According to the Plano Senior High School website students should specifically inquire about the following:
• Which classes and how many class credits are required?
• Which state and national exams are required?
This includes SAT & Subject Tests, ACT, State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness End-of-course assessments for English I, English II, Algebra I, Biology and U.S History. (STARR EOC), and Texas State Initiative (TSI).
• Are entrance essays required?
• Does the college or university ask for teacher recommendations?
• What emphasis is put on school involvement and clubs?
• How important is volunteer involvement?
• What are the financial requirements and is financial aid available?
• What are the important application dates and deadlines?
The website also provides a college planning timeline for juniors and seniors with detailed instructions specific to the high school’s protocol.
Professionals and university administrators agree the best way to manage what can be an unruly task is to take a deep breath and start planning early. Sherry Nowak, an Indiana based professional college planning counselor, likes to see students as soon as eighth grade. She strongly encourages incoming high school freshman to make an appointment with their school counselor so they can plan their curriculum. That way, prerequisite courses can be scheduled to prepare for subsequent, more difficult classes. “The earlier, the better,” Nowak advises. “Students should have a plan and start early, so there are no opportunities missed along the way.”
Alyssa (the university does not allow her to release her last name), an Admissions Representative, Student Ambassador, and junior at the University of Texas, Austin (UT) urges high school students to take challenging classes like honors or APs and get involved in extracurricular activities. “It’s better to choose one or a few activities and be very involved than to spread yourself too thin and not gain leadership experience,” Alyssa advises. As far as scholarship applications go, Alyssa says all colleges and universities differ. “UT automatically considers students for academic and athletic scholarships once they apply senior year.” Private scholarships, however, may have earlier application deadlines.
If the student needs a step-by-step guide, the SAT website (http://sat.collegeboard.org/register/when-to-take-sat) offers perhaps the most comprehensive and detailed timeline, including actions to take from freshman year on. Students typically take the SAT during junior or senior year in high school. At least half of all students take the SAT twice − in the spring of junior year and in the fall of their senior year, with most seeing improvement in scores the second time around.
The SAT offers Subject Tests™ that are required by some universities. Most students take these tests toward the end of junior year or at the beginning of senior year, but it is advised that tests such as Biology E/M, Chemistry, Physics, and World History be taken as soon as possible after course completion. Students tend to do better on language tests after at least two years of study.
ACT/SAT Prep Resources
The ACT website offers the following assistance, which includes suggestions for fee based and free resources at
• ACT Online Prep™ (Software) The only test preparation program designed exclusively by ACT test development professionals!
• The Real ACT Prep Guide (Book) The official ACT prep guide—the only one that includes five actual, retired ACT tests – each with an optional Writing Test.
• ACT Question of the Day
Each day a new ACT Test practice question is posted.
In addition, this website includes Practice Test Questions, Test Tips and Test Descriptions.
• A free student preparation booklet available from most high schools and colleges in English or Spanish which includes test information, complete practice tests with scoring keys, and a writing prompt may be found here:
Preparing for the ACT(PDF; 64 pages, 2MB) or Preparación para el examen de ACT(PDF; 72 pages, 2.1MB)