College Timeline for High School Students 

Parent Guide to Supporting Students from Freshman to Senior Year

Guest author: Gina Greenhaus

Academic planning plays a crucial role in helping high school students prepare for college by providing a structured approach to their education and future goals. Students in their transition to college: This preparation entails more than just academic diligence; it requires strategic planning, timely action, and active engagement in both academic and extracurricular activities. Establishing a clear timeline for standardized testing dates and deadlines, such as the SAT and ACT, ensures students can achieve their best scores without last-minute stress. Additionally, community service enriches a student’s resume and fosters a sense of responsibility and connection to the broader community.

Parents play a pivotal role in this journey by providing guidance and support, helping to navigate the complexities of college admissions. Being well-prepared can mitigate the stress of this significant transition, making it a smoother and more rewarding experience. To assist families in this process, we present an ideal college preparation timeline highlighting key milestones and actions for maximizing college readiness and admission success.

Freshman Year Timeline : 

Develop Strong Study Skills:  

Help your student to create a study schedule to manage your time effectively.

  • Practice active learning techniques like summarizing information, creating flashcards, and joining study groups. By setting clear goals and breaking tasks into manageable chunks, students can avoid procrastination and reduce stress. 

Set a strong foundation in core subjectsmath, science, English, history, foreign language. 

  • Encourage students to seek help if they struggle in any subject, whether from teachers, tutors, or online resources. Many schools offer peer tutoring programs where fellow students can offer insights and tips from their own experiences. Utilizing school resources such as tutoring centers or private tutors can also be beneficial.
  • Inquire about the available academic options at your local high school at least six months prior to your entrance. 
  • Look into taking honors classes and contact your local high school to find out if there is a math placement and foreign language placement exam. 
  • Students need to be challenged academically in order to build a strong foundation for college-level work

Build essential learning skills:

  • Students who develop a habit of reading books, newspapers, and magazines will quickly build their comprehension and vocabulary. Help your student to set up a reading schedule. Start with manageable goals, such as reading for 20 minutes a day, and gradually increase the time each week. 
  • Reading a variety of genres will expand their knowledge and critical thinking skills. Select books that align with the students interests and preferences. Whether it’s fiction, non-fiction, science fiction, mystery, or fantasy, picking books that captivate your attention will make reading more enjoyable.
  • For students who find traditional reading challenging, audiobooks offer an alternative to building comprehension and listening skills. They can follow along with the printed text or just listen, making it easier for them to engage with the material.  Starting with shorter audiobooks or those with engaging narrators can make the experience enjoyable and boost their reading confidence.

Explore Future Career Interests:

  • Research potential college majors and career paths that interest your child.   Consider what subjects or activities they enjoy the most and where their skills lie.
  •  Have discussions about the work environment and various careers. 
  • Encourage students to take  elective courses or join clubs related to these interests to gain early exposure.

Finding ways to do productive things during the summer is extremely important. It’s also the perfect time for your student to get involved with extracurricular activities that fit their interests and strengths. Parents may want to keep records of their child’s honors, awards, and school club involvement.  Participating in community service projects or volunteering at local organizations will not only benefit the community but also demonstrates your commitment to social responsibility.

Sophomore Year Timeline: 

Academic Preparation 

  • Talk with an independent college counselor about taking AP and Honors level classes and how they can enhance your overall profile. 
  • Follow up with your high school counselor to set up your academic schedule for the following year. Setting up a high school academic schedule with your child is a collaborative process that involves careful consideration of their academic goals, interests, and strengths. 
  •  Familiarize yourself and your child with the graduation requirements set by the school or school district. This includes the number of credits needed in core subjects.

Extracurricular Activities:

Join Clubs and Organizations:

  • Encourage students to participate in school clubs, sports, or other extracurricular activities. 
  • Discuss the advantages of leadership roles, such as developing communication skills, gaining practical experience, and enhancing their college applications. Emphasize how leadership experience can set them apart from their peers. 
  • Offer guidance on how to approach club leaders or advisors about potential leadership opportunities. Help your student prepare for interviews or elections by practicing communication skills and discussing leadership qualities.

Community Service : 

  • Volunteering demonstrates commitment and empathy, qualities that colleges appreciate. 
  • Research local organizations, nonprofits, or community centers that offer volunteer opportunities suitable for high school students. Look for flexible options that accommodate their schedule and interests.
  •  Start with small volunteer commitments, such as a few hours per week or participating in a one-time event. This allows them to experience the rewards of volunteering without feeling overwhelmed.
  •  Identify a community service project that you enjoy and can continue with during the next few years in high school. 

Pursue Hobbies and Interests:

  • Encourage your student to explore different hobbies by trying out a variety of activities. Attend introductory classes, workshops, or open houses to get a taste of different hobbies before committing to one.
  • Recognize and celebrate your student’s enthusiasm and dedication to their hobbies. Attend performances, exhibitions, or presentations related to their hobbies. Show pride in their achievements and encourage them to continue pursuing their interests.
  • By implementing these strategies, you can foster a supportive environment that encourages high school students to explore, discover, and enjoy hobbies that contribute to their personal growth, well-being, and happiness.

Personal Development  

  • Set short-term and long-term academic and personal goals.
  • Regularly review and adjust your goals as needed.
  • Introduce the SMART criteria (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) to help your student structure their goals effectively. For example, instead of “improve grades,” a SMART goal would be “raise math grade from B to A- by the end of the semester through consistent study and practice.”

Develop Time Management Skills:

  • Learn to balance schoolwork, extracurricular activities, and personal time.
  • Use planners, calendars, or apps to keep track of assignments and activities.
  • Help your student establish a system of accountability to track progress and stay motivated. This could involve regular check-ins with you, creating a goal journal or planner, or sharing goals with a supportive friend or mentor.

Build Relationships with Teachers:

  • Strong relationships with teachers can lead to valuable recommendations for college applications.
  • Encourage your student to seek academic advice and guidance from teachers. They can discuss their academic goals, seek recommendations for challenging courses or extracurricular activities, and receive feedback on their progress.

Junior Year Timeline 

Early Fall : 

  • Finalize the Schedule: Confirm your course schedule, ensuring it includes any remaining core requirements for graduation.  Schedule a meeting with your high school counselor.  Independent educational consultants can provide valuable insights into the curriculum, career paths, and opportunities associated with different majors.
  • Internship Search: Begin researching potential internships for the upcoming summer. Attend career fairs and network with professionals in your field.
  • Engage in Extracurriculars: Continue participating in clubs, organizations, or sports. Consider taking on leadership roles.

Explore College Options

Research Colleges:

  • Start researching colleges to understand what types of institutions might be a good fit for you. 
  • Consider factors like location, size, academic programs, and campus culture.
  • Look at your local public and private colleges and speak with current college students and recent graduates. 

Visit Colleges:

  • If possible, visit nearby colleges to get a feel for the campus environment. Move onto visiting schools a few hours away. 
  • Attend college fairs and informational sessions.

Learn About the Admissions Process:

  • Familiarise yourself with the requirements and timelines for college applications.
  • Understand the importance of standardized tests like the SAT or ACT, and consider when to start preparing for them.

Prepare a Resume:

  • Keep a record of your students academic achievements, extracurricular activities, volunteer work, and any awards or honors.
  • This will make it easier to compile your resume when the time comes to apply to colleges.


  • Register for spring SAT/ACT tests.
  • Begin thinking about potential teachers for recommendation letters.
  • Continue visiting colleges and refining your list.
  • Research scholarship opportunities and financial aid options.


  • Take the SAT/ACT.
  • Check out local college fairs to meet college representatives.


  • Take AP exams if applicable.
  • Request letters of recommendation from teachers before the end of the school year.
  • Write down ideas for your college application essays.
  • Talk with 2 teachers about letters of recommendation for college.

Summer (June – August)

June – July:

  • Internships and Jobs/  Participate actively in summer internships or paid work.
  • Seek opportunities to learn and network.
  • Skill Development: Take online courses or workshops to develop skills relevant to your major and career interests.
  • Volunteer: Consider volunteering for a cause you care about to gain experience and contribute to the community.

Senior Year

A college application timeline helps you stay organized and ensure you meet all deadlines. Here’s a general timeline, starting from freshman year through senior year of high school:


  • Meet with your school counselor to review your college application plans. Provide a list of all of your schools to the counselor.
  • Register for any final SAT/ACT tests.
  • Start the application process for early decision/early action schools if applicable.
  • Check in with teachers to remind them about college deadlines for letters of recommendation. 
  • Contact colleges to see if there are any additional applications required for scholarships.


  • Complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) as soon as possible after October 1.
  • Finalize your college application essays and get feedback.
  • Begin submitting early decision/early action applications.


  • Submit early decision/early action applications by their deadlines (usually November 1 or 15).
  • Request transcripts and recommendation letters to be sent to colleges.
  • Continue working on regular decision applications.


  • Take any final SAT/ACT tests.
  • Submit regular decision applications (deadlines are often January 1 or 15).
  • Keep track of all application submissions and confirmations.


  • Ensure all application materials, including financial aid forms, are submitted.
  • Continue to monitor your application status and follow up if necessary.


  • Receive admission decisions from colleges.
  • Visit colleges where you have been accepted, if possible.
  • Compare financial aid packages.


  • Make your final college decision and submit your deposit by May 1.
  • Notify other colleges of your decision to decline their offers.
  • Send final transcripts to your chosen college.


  • Complete any required paperwork for your chosen college.
  • Attend orientation programs as scheduled.

By following this timeline, you’ll stay organized and reduce stress during the college application process.


These are the most important pieces of information regarding the college timeline that every student and parent should become familiar with. Staying on top of your high school timeline for college is crucial in ensuring a smooth and successful transition from high school to higher education. By adhering to a structured timeline, you can effectively help your student to  manage academic requirements, standardized tests, extracurricular activities, and college applications. 

As your student progresses through high school, it becomes increasingly important to stay organized and proactive.  By the time they reach their senior year, having a clear plan helps mitigate the stress associated with deadlines and decisions.

Moreover, maintaining open communication with teachers, counselors, and tutors, provides support and guidance. Ultimately, a well-thought-out timeline enhances your college application and fosters personal growth and readiness for the challenges ahead. Embrace this journey with diligence and enthusiasm as it lays the groundwork for future success. 

Gina Gerrato Greenhaus, M.A. Educational Consultant

Parenting a child who struggles with executive function can be overwhelming, but you don’t have to navigate this journey alone. Let Untapped help!

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