College Countdown: What You Need to Do, When You Need to Do It

By Arkansas NEXT on Friday, September 25, 2020

Feeling overwhelmed by the idea of getting into college? Don’t worry, and follow this timeline to stay on track and get into the college of your dreams.


8th Grade
Ready? Set? Start!

► € 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 college, career and community engagement.

► € Develop good habits.

Establishing good study habits early on will lead to strong academic success.

► € What are your passions?

Think about what you love to do. Pursue clubs and activities that help you develop specific skills for your future career.

► € Don’t shy away from harder classes.

If you get a say in your class list, take a stab at courses generally considered “hard” or that intimidate you. Don’t worry; even if you score lower than you’d like, colleges don’t look at middle school grades.

► € Develop strong connections early.

It’s important for every teenager to have strong connections and relationships with people who have similar interests. Build lasting and meaningful relationships with people who encourage and uplift you, while challenging you to be better.

► € Be open-minded.

Eagerly and thoughtfully participate in any career education and training programs provided at your middle school. These activities exist to get you thinking about careers and higher education paths.


Freshman Year
Focus on your academics — they count now!

► € Get good grades.

As a freshman, your slate is wiped clean of your past grades, but now your GPA starts to count. Pay attention to whether you are taking 4.0 or 5.0 classes. Your GPA will help determine your eligibility for colleges and scholarships in the future.

► € Hang with the right crowd.

You will change and grow a lot as you transition from elementary and middle school to high school. Hanging out with the right people will help you make better choices.

► € Get involved.

Participate in extracurricular activities. Join groups both inside and outside your high school through leadership-oriented activities and volunteer opportunities, and if you can’t find a club that interests you, start one. You don’t have to stick to one thing, and now is a good time to explore your interests — they may lead you to your future major or career field.

► € Meet with your guidance counselor.

They can answer your questions and will encourage you to take the most rigorous coursework, especially in core subjects. Ask them about meeting graduation requirements early and taking advanced placement (AP), concurrent and honors courses.

► € Keep a list.

As you go, keep a list of accomplishments, awards and recognitions. It will make your life a lot easier in a few years when you need to fill out resumes and college applications.


Sophomore Year
Start thinking ahead!

► € Keep your grades up!

Building your GPA is essential. If high school classes are harder than you thought they would be, consider investing in a tutor. Grades are pivotal this year.

► € Take a PSAT practice test.

You will take the PSAT junior year, and, if you do well, you can qualify for a lot of college cash. You should probably start taking the ACT as well since your score will impact your college choice and scholarship opportunities.

► € Keep in touch.

Stay in close contact with your guidance counselor.

► € Make a list.

List the schools you’re interested in and research degrees offered, enrollment size, tuition cost, campus and surrounding area. Look into the acceptance requirements. Some want the higher level math classes and others require two years of a foreign language. Attending college and career fairs is a great way to do this research.

► € Think about majors.

Consider what majors and degrees lend themselves to careers within your interests and talents. Reach out to mentors and professionals in fields that interest you. You can also start taking high school electives related to these fields.


Junior Year
Take the ACT or SAT and start applying!

► € Prepare for the ACT or SAT!

The more familiar you are with these tests and the contents of each section, the easier it will be to focus on improving your scores. Check to see what test score your prospective schools require or recommend. Do ACT or SAT prep courses to ensure good scores.

► € Take the PSAT in the fall.

Scores on this one-time test can qualify you to be a National Merit Scholar or Finalist, which comes with a lot of scholarships.

► € Boost your GPA.

Get good grades and take challenging courses. Take as many AP classes as you can. You save money when you get college credit now instead of paying for those same credit hours in college.

► € Narrow it down.

Narrow down your college choices—use all of the college-visit days allowed!

► € Research career fields.

Make sure the colleges you’re considering offer degrees you’re interested in.

► € Build a resume.

Remember that list you have been keeping since freshman year? Time to pull it out and compile a resume including extracurricular activities, volunteer work, community associations, work experience and academics.

► € Volunteer.

If you didn’t have any volunteer work to put on your resume, now is the time to collect some volunteer hours. These will help you qualify for scholarships, too.

► € Keep up with deadlines.

Ask counselors and other individuals to submit pieces for your applications before deadline, so you don’t get behind.

► € Go after scholarships.

Second semester, begin applying for as many scholarships as you can.

► € Apply to your top schools!

Fees are sometimes waived when you apply early as a junior. It can also help you get in line early for freshman housing.

► € Keep attending college fairs.

Take advantage of all college-prep opportunities.


Senior Year
First Semester

► Keep taking the ACT or SAT!

Continue until your score levels out. Most schools take your final score for scholarships in November, but some will give you until December.

► Acquire and organize all important documents.

Collect letters of recommendation, transcripts and anything else required for college and scholarship apps.

► Apply now!

Apply to your reach, target and safety schools.

► Continue looking for scholarships.

National and state scholarships are great, but the smaller local ones add up and make a difference.

► Meet with your counselor.

Make sure all graduation requirements are being met.

► Narrow down majors.

Determine your top degrees and career field choices. Some scholarships are major-specific.

Second Semester

► Choose a college!

Consider all your acceptance letters, financial packages and scholarships and continue visiting until you decide. Get all your questions answered, see the campus and experience the atmosphere before deciding. Notify the school that you intend to enroll.

► Fill out the FAFSA.

Ask your parents to finish their taxes early, so you can submit your FAFSA on or shortly after Jan. 1 of your senior year.

► Stay motivated.

Senioritis is a real thing, and even though this semester often doesn’t count for acceptance, it does affect scholarships. Finish strong!

► Declare a major.

You can change it later if need be. Many people announce this during graduation ceremonies, and it’s no fun to hear them say “undeclared.”

► Figure out housing.

Investigate the freshman housing options at the school you chose; begin making arrangements.

► Research Greek life.

Many schools start the rush process in the summer, well before classes begin in the fall.

► Graduate.

Enjoy your summer. Attend freshman orientation and related events. They will help you meet lots of people and adjust to college life.

► Say "Thank You."

Send thank you notes to everyone who gave you a graduation gift, wrote you a letter of recommendation or helped you in the application process.

► Shop for dorm essentials!

Take a peek at what real Arkansas dorms look like!