Planning for College: First and Last Steps

Planning for college.

These first few months of the school year are busy, busy, busy! For those entering their freshman year/Grade 9, it can be a new start to their learning, while for those entering their senior year, it can feel like the beginning of the end. Whether you are in Grades 9, 10, 11, or 12, there is a lot to be done to help you prepare for college, and in this article, I’m going to give you some pointers to help keep you on track.

Grade 9 and 10/ Freshman and Sophomore.

Since colleges look at everything you have done from Grade 9 onwards, it is essential to ensure that what you do during this year counts.

Get Planning

If you don’t already have one, get a planner, it is the best way to help you organize yourself and your work. Many different ones are available, but I recommend ones that break the year into weeks with a monthly overview. Other features I like in a planner are a yearly planner – great for seeing how long until the next holiday, pages for notes about anything, and a plastic cover to keep your planner looking great. Another thing I recommend to students is that they are creative with their planners and doodle little drawings to illustrate their life, or if you don’t feel your drawing is good enough, you can buy planner stickers to use. Having a planner is one thing, but the key is using it daily. Use it to see what is coming up in the coming week and what deadlines you need to make. Make a short note about what you learned in school each day but also use it to record fun things, birthdays, meet-ups with friends, and so on. 

Understand your goal

Procrastination is probably the biggest single challenge faced by the students I work with, and it’s a challenge that you will face as the pressures of deadlines build over the next few years. The key to managing procrastination is to have a good understanding of what it is, recognize when you are procrastinating and then put measures in place to motivate yourself to do what is needed. There are many suggestions about what you can do to manage yourself, but I think the most critical thing is to see the bigger picture; there is a reason why you want to put in the effort to do well at school, keep an eye on the prize.

Get involved

Grades 9 and 10 are wonderful times to challenge yourself in all sorts of ways. Don’t be the student that sits through class without contributing in one way or another. Ask questions or try to answer a question asked by your teacher. Being actively engaged in the lesson helps you remember what you are being taught, but you will also show the teacher that you are an eager student, which helps boost your academic reputation.

These grades also offer the opportunity to try out new things. Join other people who share your interests and have common values. Clubs are a common way of doing this, and if you can’t find a club that explores your interests, then maybe now is the time to start one. Don’t just stick to the interests that you already have experience in; try exploring some new areas, and you might find a new passion.

Explore your future

Having some idea of what you want to do as a future job can act as a great incentive when the motivation to pursue your studies takes time to find. For some, there will be a specific career that they aspire to, perhaps a doctor or investment banker. Others may have a broad idea of what they want to do, something in engineering or using English. If you fall into one of these groups, you should spend some time exploring just what the opportunities in those areas are and what it takes to get into them. For example, if you want to be a doctor, learn about different medical specialisms, or if you want to be an engineer, which fields appeal to you as an engineer most?

If you have no idea what you want to be or have too many ideas, you need to start thinking about your interests. For example, what careers link to your favorite subject at school, or perhaps there is a career that links to a particular interest?

Keep up with the real world.

Students are encouraged by parents and teachers to remain focused on their studies, but it is also important to lift your head out of your textbooks and look at what is going on in the world around you. Applying what you are learning to events in the wider canvas of current affairs is a critical skill, and come the time to apply to college, it can help make your application stand out. Popular news websites like the BBC, The Atlantic, and The Guardian are excellent sources of quality reporting on world issues. At the same time, podcasts like The Daily or Mid-Atlantic provide similar coverage in audio form.

Grade 11/Junior Year.

Students in Grade 11 are starting the final full year of school before they start to submit their college applications, making this an important year. Here are some things to keep you on track.

Keep up the good work.

You will hopefully have done well in your grades at the end of Grade 10 and will continue to do the same during Grade 11. Even if your Grade 10 results are not everything you wish, it’s still not too late to get back on track. Employ the study skills that you know work for you, such as keeping track of deadlines, rewriting notes from class, and having a study plan. If you put the time and effort in, you can achieve great results this year.

Plan ahead

The next twelve months will be busy, but before throwing yourself into researching colleges, taking on new extracurricular challenges, and the like, take a little time to prepare.

One thing you need to start doing is recording what you are doing. It is much easier when writing essays and activity lists if you can remember what you did and when. How you choose to do this is up to you, but increasingly students are building personal websites where they place examples of work that demonstrate the different elements of what will become their application portfolio. Setting this up now will save time later when you are in the full throws of preparing your application and keeping everything in one place.


The situation regarding the future of standardized tests in the college application process continues to evolve; some colleges have already said that they will be test optional for the 2023/24 application round, and others have dropped them from their process altogether, but there are an increasing number, particularly the technical colleges such as Georgia Tech that once again require applicants to submit an SAT or ACT score.

If you decide that you are going to sit either the SAT or ACT, then Grade 11 is a good time to do so. If you have not already done so, start preparing for the tests now. First, do a diagnostic test to see what areas you need to concentrate on in your preparation, and then work to become familiar with the concepts covered by the tests. When you feel confident in your knowledge, start doing full practice tests. Try to replicate the test conditions as much as possible, so timing, breaks, and the like. Doing more full practice tests will improve your prospects of doing well in the test itself. Don’t forget to register to sit the test well in advance, as testing venues can become fully booked.

Grade 12/Senior Year

So you have made it into the home stretch of your college application. In just a few months, you will see the outcome of your hard work, but for now, there are a few weeks of continued effort before your cross the application finish line.

Complete the paperwork

Okay, it’s not paperwork these days, but you know what I mean. At this point, you will hopefully be well on the way to completing your personal application essay; if you have not already done so, share it with people who know you well and will give you an honest opinion about it and whether it reflects who you are.

You should also have set up an account with the Common App and any other application portal you will use, the Coalition App or the University of California application. Add the colleges you intend to apply to. It will help you keep on track with deadlines and supplemental essays.

You should also be working on the other important elements that make up your application, the Activities, and Additional Information sections, together with the supplemental questions and essays specific to each college on your list.

Continue to refine your college list.

Over the previous months, you will have gathered much information about different colleges. Now is the time to review what you have learned, identify gaps, and decide on your final college list.

First of all, make sure you have thoroughly researched the colleges. If you have not done so, go over the college website, looking at the course offerings, housing options, and the student experience. Many colleges still offer information sessions, so join one if you have not already done so. Alongside the research, reflect on what you want from your college experience and the environment in which you will thrive. Use all this to help you come up with your final college list.


These will come to you quickly and instantly over the next few months. So not only do you have the demands of your schoolwork, but you also have to juggle the college deadlines.

Make sure you are familiar with the different admission plans, Early Decision (ED), Early Action (EA), Regular Decision (RD), and the like. Each plan will have different rules about what you can and can’t do and set deadlines for when applications are due. For example, most early applications will need to be with the college by the 1st of November, although some will have a 15th of October deadline. Applications for the University of California close on the 30th of November. Regular decision applications have deadlines around the 1st of January. If you intend to apply for scholarships or arts programs, there may be earlier deadlines, so check them out.

Suppose you qualify for state aid to help pay for your college education. In that case, your family should complete the FAFSA (Free Application For Federal Student Aid) form when it becomes available on 1st October.

Continue the good work.

Now is not the time to ease back on all of the other work you have on. Use your planning skills to prioritize the pressures of school and maintain progress on the extracurricular activities that you have going on. Ideally, you will want to share completed research papers or project work in your application, so try to ensure that these are completed before submitting them to colleges.

Colleges that you apply to in the RD round will have access to your grades for the first part of Grade 12, so you need to keep your standards up so that they are reflected in your transcript from school.

And finally….

Preparing and applying to college can be daunting, especially if you are in Grade 12 at this time when everything feels as if it is coming to a head. If you feel it is getting too much, take some time to look after yourself, take an evening off to watch some television or read a book for enjoyment. Use all the planning tools to help yourself be as efficient as possible. Most importantly, remember that it is not the end of the world; the pressure you may be feeling will pass, and you will still have a great future ahead of yourself.

Working with study abroad consultants, overseas education consultants, or, as more commonly known, college counselors, can help you plan ahead and make those high school years count. Ivy Central offers exceptional focus to help you prepare for college admissions throughout the high-schooling years. Start today!

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