Lynn Scully, LLC

College Readiness - A Stress-Free Checklist

copyright © 2003-2010 by Lynn Scully, LLC.

College Readiness - A Stress-Free Checklist

Consider high school as a four-year schedule to prepare for college.  This article details a stress-free checklist to follow to be ready for college when you graduate from high school.  The important concept to grasp is “Do what you love and you will do your best”.

Do what you love.  After all, practice makes perfect, and if you’re really good at doing what you love, you can keep on doing it your whole life.  If you don’t have a passion, try different things.  Time is on your side.  If you can’t find activities you particularly enjoy, do what your parents ask.  You need to develop a skill set so that when you do discover your passion, you’ll have the ability to perform it.

Throughout high school, save any class work of which you are especially proud.  Compile an accomplishment folder to include in an admissions portfolio.  Highlight what interests you most:  Art, sports, drama, music, academics, clubs, and volunteer work.  Continue participation in clubs and sports that you enjoy.  List corresponding accomplishments and recognitions:  awards, medals, letters, honors, exceptionally done assignments, etc.

Freshman Year

Take the most rigorous courses possible.  Try hard, but get help when you need it.  Learn how to study.  Get an idea of how much time you need to study a subject in order to get the grades you want.  Find out what you like to do.  Join clubs.   Take academic courses that interest you.

Sophomore Year

Get involved.  Join clubs.  Try new things.  Read.  Work hard in all subjects, even those that don’t interest you.  Below is a suggested time table to follow.

  • In September
  • Register for the October PSAT at your school.
  • Be sure to get the free practice test booklet when you register.
  • Familiarize yourself with the test format.
  • The math may look unfamiliar, especially if you are just beginning Geometry.  Try your best so you can identify the areas in which you need work.
  • In October
  • Take the PSAT at your school.
  • In December
  • Get your PSAT results and your test booklet from your guidance office.
  • Review your errors with a parent and/or counselor.
  • In January
  • Get a list of vocabulary that may be featured on the SAT.
  • Begin to review vocabulary for standardized tests.
  • Use new vocabulary in writing assignments.
  • Read the newspaper and discuss what you read with peers, parents, or anyone else who will listen.
  • Find the calculator that is best for you and learn to use it well.
  • Seek help on tough math topics - you will see them again!
  • If you are enrolled in a AP course to be completed in May, also consider registering for an SAT II subject test on the same subject.  You will only have to study once.  SAT II tests are given on the same dates as SAT I tests.  To register for an SAT II test, visit the college board website.
  • In May
  • Consider next year’s curriculum.  Choose challenging classes that highlight your interests.
  • Be sure you take at least 2 years of a foreign language.  Some selective colleges require 3 years of a language.
  • Check the web sites of any colleges you may even be considering to be sure you have their minimum requirements covered.
  • Prepare and take any SAT II or AP tests for which you have registered.
  • During the Summer
  • Begin your PSAT/SAT or ACT preparation.  This is the best time to prepare at a relaxed pace, without the burden of school assignments.  Come junior year, you will be glad you did!
  • Expect to brush up your knowledge two weeks before taking any tests.
  • Take a summer job.  Join a rescue squad, junior army corps, or any other volunteer organization that appeals to you.  The summer is the best time to really focus on what you love.
  • If a vacation trip allows, tour a few college campuses.  Your goal is to identify the type of area, campus, size, and location that may be appealing.

Junior Year

This is the year to do your best.  Work hard!  This year is the most important from a college admissions perspective.  Below is a suggested time table to follow.

  • In September
  • Review for the PSAT.
  • Look to fill leadership positions in clubs or on a team.
  • In October
  • Take the PSAT at your school.
  • Review for the SAT or ACT.
  • In November
  • Arrange for some visits to colleges.  Most colleges are especially beautiful this time of year.
  • Continue reviewing for the SAT or ACT.
  • Start creating a list of colleges to prospect.:  Include in your list safety schools, reach schools, and schools which seem like reasonable goals.
  • Go online to college websites and download college application material.
  • Attend college fairs.
  • In December
  • Get your PSAT results and your test booklet from the guidance office at your school.
  • Review the results with a parent and/or counselor.
  • Register for the January SAT at
    Highly Recommended: Request the Question and Answer service. 
  • Register for the ACT at and consider the optional essay.
  • In January
  • Begin your SAT or ACT review in earnest.
  • Take the SAT (your SAT score will be available online in less than 2 weeks after your test date).
  • Visit your local school guidance office to inquire about summer programs that may interest you.  There are many opportunities.  Many, such as volunteering, are free!  There are great publications listing summer programs, too.
  • Parents: Throughout the year, keep track of your financial records in preparation for filing taxes early next January.  By filing taxes early, the burden of completing financial aid forms is reduced.
  • In February
  • Get your SAT results and review them.
  • Consider taking the test again.  Register early to ensure a test site close to home.
  • Review the college material you have accumulated.  Eliminate some material or add to it as you make decisions.
  • Apply for summer programs.
  • In March
  • If necessary, take the SAT or ACT again.
  • Register for the May or June SAT if you plan to test in those months.
  • If necessary, register for SAT II.
  • If you have a spring break, visit some colleges.  Determine ahead if there will be any special events while you are there.  Try to attend a school run function.
  • In April
  • Sign up for next years classes.  Be sure to sign up for at least the minimum criteria required by the colleges you are prospecting.
  • If applicable, study for AP tests and IB tests.
  • In May
  • Take the SAT I, SAT II or ACT.
  • Take the AP tests and the IB tests.
  • Finalize summer plans; look for a job.
  • In June
  • Take the SAT I or SAT II.
  • Approach mentors, teachers, and coaches to write recommendation letters.  Most will appreciate being asked early.
  • Even if you haven’t chosen any schools, letters may be crafted early, so that in the fall, the writer may simply add a "Dear ____" line and send it.
  • During the Summer
  • Visit the website and download the General Application.  Begin to fill it out.
  • Make a list.  Break it up into three sections:
    • Information to find.
    • Material to complete.
    • Projects to begin.
    and start filling it in.
  • Search online or call colleges for applications and deadlines of colleges you are interested in attending.
  • As each college application arrives, place it and all of the school's information into a separate folder.
  • Sort the folders you have on file in order of application deadlines.
  • Using the information from the general application, fill out as much of each college application.
  • On a new day, choose one or two of the essay topics you plan to write on and talk to a parent about what you intend to write.  After discussing your ideas, write a rough draft together with your parent.  Place it aside to edit at a later date.
  • Edit your essays.
  • Visit colleges.  When visiting don't forget to sign their registration book!
  • Work.  Try new healthful experiences.  Volunteer.
  • Read about your intended major.  Visit or apprentice with people employed in your intended vocation.
  • If appropriate, put together a portfolio, audition material, or tapes you might need.
  • If you plan to participate in a Division I or II college sports, call or visit coaches to help you complete the NCAA Initial Eligibility Clearinghouse form.

Senior Year

Below is a suggested time table to follow.

  • In September
  • Ask an adult to read and comment on your application essay:  Be specific - Ask questions like
    • What did you like?
    • What should I change?
  • Send addressed, stamped envelopes to people writing your recommendations.
  • Politely check to ensure that they mail them.
  • Complete early decision or early action applications.
  • Register for the SAT or ACT.
  • Thank those who wrote recommendations and who reviewed your essays.
  • In October
  • Send in early decision or early action applications.  Online applications are preferred by most colleges.
  • Take the SAT I or ACT.
  • Finalize choices.
  • Visit colleges.
  • Request scholarship information from your local guidance office and from prospective colleges.  Be sure to ask about scholarships which are sponsored locally.
  • In November
  • Finalize and send in final applications.  Online applications are preferred by most colleges.
  • Apply for a FAFSA PIN at
  • In December
  • Expect to hear from colleges regarding early action or acceptance.
  • Accept or reject college responses graciously.
  • In January
  • Do taxes and fill out the FAFSA application as soon as possible.
  • Complete the online application at
  • In February
  • Receive Student Aid Report (SAR) from FAFSA and review.
  • Complete scholarship applications.
  • In April
  • Expect to receive rejection and acceptance letters.
  • In May
  • Send acceptance and "thank you, but no-thank you" letters.  Remember, that you may change your mind later, so act graciously.
  • Send a deposit to the college you plan to attend.
  • If you are not accepted to a favored college, visit the NACAC web site to view colleges that are accepting late admission applications.
  • Make an alternate plan:  Consider community or private college with plans to transfer.

copyright © 2003-2010 by Lynn Scully, LLC.
I was ready for the SAT,
Lynn Scully has been tutoring and guiding high school students through their college admission process for the past 21 years.  She is the author and host of the get IT SAT Preparation Program.
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