Getting into college is a journey that starts as far back as eighth grade when your kid can first take the PSAT for practice. Once they’re in high school, retired Syosset Senior High School guidance counselor Roz Silverstein says the most important thing is “to choose the most academically challenging program your child can handle.” Silverstein also recommends figuring out a handful (think two or three) of extracurricular activities your kid can really focus on-—rather than being part of 100 scattershot things. But it’s critical to make sure they’re doing something by this time. “Colleges don’t want to see a couch potato,” says Silverstein. “They want to see leadership and how you use your initiative.” 

Our college planner will help you prioritize and stay on track (download your own copy at njfamily/pathtocollege). Your child’s school may offer a more in-depth schedule to supplement this one. Questions about the process? Be sure to consult your child’s guidance counselor for help. 

Junior year

Fall semester

• Register for and take the PSAT.

• Request catalogs from colleges in which your child has interest. Make a list of reach, match, and safety schools.

Spring semester

• Select an academically challenging curriculum for senior year. Ideally, it should include English, math, a social science, science, and a foreign language.

• Review graduation requirements to ensure everything is in place.

• Schedule a parent/junior student meeting with your child’s guidance counselor.

• Review college catalogs. Weigh various colleges and their relative merits and drawbacks (e.g., location, cost, size, academic and extra-curricular offerings).

• Register for and take SAT Reasoning, SAT subject tests, and/or ACT with Writing.• Visit college campuses. Get a feel for each while school is in session.

• If your child’s high school offers an informational college night, attend it. Also attend college fairs.

• Think about what your child will do over the summer—work, volunteer, travel, attend camp—and plan accordingly.

• Explore internships for senior year.


• Request information—course catalog, view book—from colleges.

• Review admission requirements and online applications.

• Have your child begin to think about personal essay topics.

• Research scholarships and aid packages.

• Explore the websites of colleges in which your child has interest. If you can, visit them and schedule a personal interview, if appropriate.

• Research private scholarships.

• Make sure your teen does something productive—work, travel, reading, etc.

Senior year checklist ->


Senior year

Fall semester

•  Register for and take SAT Reasoning, SAT subject tests, and ACT with Writing.

• Visit colleges while in session, if you haven’t already.

• Attend college fairs.

• Have your child request a copy of his high school transcript and review it for accuracy.

• Maintain a high level of academic performance. Senior-year grades count!

• Narrow college choices and complete applications. Be aware of and adhere to deadlines. Create an account with The Common Application ( if your chosen schools use it.

• Submit rolling-decision applications, the earlier the better.

• Decide on early decision/early action options (September/October).

• Send official test scores to colleges through and Also, send scores to your child’s guidance counselor.

• If applying on paper, submit completed applications to your child’s guidance counselor with receipt form. Online applications must be reported to his counselor with receipt.

• Be prepared for early decision deferral or rejection. Have all alternative applications ready to go by Dec. 1.

• If accepted by early decision, have your child write a letter of withdrawal to all other colleges to which he’s applied.

• If applying for financial aid, fill out CSS/Financial Aid Profile. Check online for the deadline:

Spring semester

• Send mid-year report (first and second marking-period grades) to all colleges.

• Obtain FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) forms online after Jan. 1. (

• Call the financial aid office to discuss your aid package.

• Inform your child’s guidance counselor of decisions as you are notified (accept, reject, wait list, and scholarship awards).

• May 1 is the Common Reply Date. Accept the offer of admission to your child’s chosen college. Decline other acceptances in writing. Inform your child’s counselor of his ultimate decision.

• Send final transcripts to the college of choice.

Carol Lippert Gray is the editor of Raising Teens.


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