Countdown to College: The Ultimate High School To-Do List

By Arkansas Next on Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Let the countdown to college begin! Use this comprehensive checklist from eighth grade to high school graduation. Download and print the checklist here.

8th Grade
Ready? Set? Start!

In a nutshell: Map out your high school education plan!

Begin your Student Success Plan.

Participate in your school’s Student Success Plan program. You will work with your school’s advisor to create a personalized education plan that will help prepare you for high school, college, career and community engagement. This can help you plan for the future by enrolling in classes that are suited to your specific career goals.

Take harder classes.

This is a good way to discover your strengths and passions, as well as start earning experience for the resume you’ll need in your junior and senior years of high school.

Join clubs and student organizations! Plus, don’t forget to sign up for extracurriculars and sports.

This is a good way to discover your strengths and passions, as well as start earning experience for the resume you’ll need during your junior and senior years of high school.

Get a jump on scholarships.

Seems too far off, right? Wrong. There are scholarships out there for go-getting middle schoolers and high schoolers to start building their college fund.

9th Grade & 10th Grade
Focus on your academics — they count now!

In a nutshell: Your only job right now is to be a great student (get good grades)!

Meet with your counselor once per semester.

Share your goals for during and after high school. Create and check in on your academic plan.

Get good grades.

Your freshman academic performance carries a lot of weight, as creates the base scores of your new high school GPA. If you start off with a low GPA, you'll be playing catch-up the rest of high school.

Volunteer (or figure out where you’ll want to volunteer later in high school).

Give back through local nonprofits and charities; you’ll want to be well-rounded as a student when applying for scholarships and as a citizen of the world.

Make note of any accomplishments or achievements.

Take note of these in your academics or extracurriculars (in and out of school). Always be looking ahead to your college resume. Colleges and universities want to know that you’re well-rounded.

Start taking practice ACT tests.

And if a PSAT is offered during your sophomore year, take it, too!

Think about colleges and majors.

Get the wheels turning on what you might want to do, where you want to go and what you can afford. Attend your high school college fair.

11th Grade
Take the ACT or SAT and start applying!

In a nutshell: Take the ACT or SAT, and tour colleges.

Meet with your guidance counselor.

Check on your graduation requirements. Work together on your senior schedule.

Enroll in AP and/or dual-credit courses.

These can transfer to college (this cuts down on the cost of your future tuition).

Take the PSAT during the fall semester.

Do this during the fall semester in hopes of qualifying to be a National Merit Scholar or Finalist. This distinction comes with a lot of scholarship money.

Prepare for your ACT and/or SAT.

Take practice tests or start taking the tests early to start building your score. Find out what scores you need to make to get into your first-choice college.

Take the ACT and/or SAT.

Time to put those practice tests to good use!

Attend your high school college fair.

See what's out there and make some connections.

Tour colleges.

Use every college visit day your high school grants you.

Draft your resume.

Consult with your counselor if needed to prepare for next year’s college applications.

Apply for early decision or early action.

If you're able to apply your top schools early, there will typically be waived application fees.

12th Grade
First Semester

In a nutshell: Apply to college!

Meet with your guidance counselor. One of the most important of high school.

Check in on your graduation requirements. Do any still need to be met?

One last chance to take (or retake ) the ACT or SAT.

Double check the score needed at your school of choice, study hard, and go get it!

Prepare your application(s).

Organize all the necessary documents. It’s time for letters of recommendation, ordering transcripts from your counselors and polishing your resume. Don't wait to ask for letters! You're probably not the only one asking.

Apply, apply, apply!

Apply to your dream schools and at least one safety school.

Fill out the FAFSA.

States, schools, and the federal government have different FAFSA deadlines. Submit your FAFSA form early. Some aid is limited, so we recommend applying as soon as possible after applications open on October 1.

Research scholarships.

And start applying for as many as possible.

12th Grade
Second Semester

In a nutshell: Choose a college and get scholarships!

Notify the college or university of your decision.

Don’t feel pressured to declare a major right now, if you aren’t sure. You have time, but it’s important to start thinking about it.

Apply for housing, if needed, as soon as you're accepted.

The earlier you apply, the better options you will have.

Go after scholarships.

If you haven’t already applied, now is the time to hit panic mode and submit applications.

Don’t let “senioritis” take away your motivation.

End on a high note, stay involved and stay on top of your grades.

Request your final high school transcript.

Ask your school guidance counselor.

Sign up for new student orientation at your chosen college.

Mark the date and make travel arrangements if needed.

Make lasting memories

Make lasting memories with your high school classmates.

Write a thank you letter to your favorite high school teacher(s).

Especially anyone who wrote you a letter of recommendation.