The Jr.-Sr. High School Guidance Office provides the following timeline to help both students and parents plan for college. Please feel free to contact your School Counselor if you’d like more information or assistance.
Welcome to high school! Grade 9 is a time for exploration, so it’s important to do just that. Join clubs, athletic teams and get involved in other school activities. Volunteer! How else will you know what you’re good at or what you enjoy if you don’t try new things?
It’s also important to make sure you get off to a strong start in all your courses. Students who have to repeat classes close off their options and choices in coursework/internships, etc., down the road.
Spring: Guidance counselors schedule personal conferences with each ninth-grader in March or April to develop a high school “game plan” and select courses for Grade 10. Parents are personally invited and strongly encouraged to attend this conference.
During your sophomore year, you’ll want to be watching for these things:
- October-November: All college-bound sophomores are strongly encouraged to take the PLAN, a pretest for the ACT. The PLAN includes a career interest inventory and measures aptitude in English, science reasoning and math.
- January-March: Counselors meet with each sophomore for his or her annual review. At this time, course selections for Grade 11 are finalized, academic standing is reviewed and continued career exploration is encouraged. Students are assigned a meeting time. They are encouraged to notify parents of the meeting time.
Your junior year will be a challenging one in terms of academics. Most Grade 11 students will take at least four key Regents exams at the end of the year (English, math, science and social studies). It’s important to work hard and keep up in all your courses since your junior year academic record will impact – positively or negatively – your choice of colleges and scholarship opportunities next year.
Some specific things to be on the lookout for this year include:
- September to October: Sign up for and take the PSAT, a pretest for the SAT. Also, plan to meet with college representatives visiting Mechanicville this fall. Listen to the morning announcements for details, visit the website or ask your guidance counselor.
- November or December: Parents will want to attend the Financial Informational Seminar. Look for the date and time on the district’s website.
- January to March: Counselors meet with groups of students in their English or social studies classes to help them select courses for their senior year. Counselors will also meet with every junior to complete an annual review. Discussions focus on academic progress, PSAT scores, course selections for Grade 12, the college selection process and career plans. Students will be assigned an appointment time. They are encouraged to notify parents of the assigned time.
- March to April: During this time, students should register for the SAT I, ACT and/or SAT II exams that are given in May and June. Pick up registration materials from your guidance counselor or register online at the College Board website and/or ACT.org.
- May to June: Take the SAT I, ACT and/or SAT II exams. The SAT or ACT are required for admission to almost every college, and most students take it in their junior year.
- June to August: The summer before your senior year a good time to visit colleges. Students should call for an appointment first to avoid visiting a campus when it may be closed or between semesters. An interview with an admissions officer is advisable. Pick up application materials whenever you visit, although most colleges will also allow you to apply online. Check out our tips for visiting colleges and questions you can might ask.
Congratulations, you’re almost there! Your senior year will be an exciting one which, for most students, will be focused on making the smooth transition to college.
There’s a lot to do this year (parents and students alike), so take a deep breath and try not to get overwhelmed. Here’s a step-by-step checklist to keep you on track.
- September to October
- Take (or re-take) the SAT and/or ACT College Entrance Exams. The SAT is required by most colleges and most students take this extremely important exam as juniors. Many re-take it as seniors to try to improve their scores. Register for the October SAT by the September registration deadline. Registration materials can be picked up in the Guidance Office or you can register online at collegeboard.org. If one or more of the colleges you are applying to require the ACT exam, register for the October test by the September registration deadline (ACT.org). Registration materials can be picked up in the Guidance Office. Remember: you must take tests like the SAT and ACT at least six weeks before scores can be submitted to colleges.
- Senior Conference. Each senior meets individually with his or her counselor to review graduation and course requirements and post-graduation plans. A college application timeline is formalized at this meeting.
- Start checking for scholarship applications. Plan to visit the Guidance Office occasionally to check scholarship announcements and application information. New scholarships come in at all different times during the year and they aren’t just for “A” students.
- Meet with college representatives visiting Mechanicville. The Guidance Office can tell you which schools will be visiting and when. Ask for a pass to get out of class and ask the college representatives lots of questions! Keep in mind you are responsible for making up any missed class work.
- Visit some colleges. If you haven’t done this already, try to schedule some college visits this fall. Interview some students, faculty and staff if possible. List of sample questions you can ask.
- Gather all application materials. Get an application packet from every college you are thinking about applying to. The Guidance Office keeps a good supply of applications to SUNY colleges, so just ask. If you’re applying to an out-of-state or private college, you’ll probably need to call or e-mail the admissions office to request the materials. Once you have all the application packets, read through them to get a feel for what’s required and what’s involved in applying.
- Start your college application essay(s) early. Most schools require essays as part of their application packet. Even if the essay is optional, do it! It is the first “test” to see how much time you will spend on that college’s application. Get the topic and start writing it early. Try to make your essay compelling and be sure it reflects your best effort. Give it lots of thought, edit, spell-check and ask for feedback from an English teacher, counselor, parent, etc.
- Finalize your college choices. Decide on a minimum of three potential colleges. You should be thinking about some “reach” schools, “comfortable” choices and a “safety” school. This pertains to academic, as well as financial, considerations.
- Make a list; check it twice. Make a checklist for each college you are going to apply to. Include all the pieces of information that need to be assembled (i.e., forms, recommendations, essays, transcripts, etc.) and all deadlines (including when the application must be postmarked by). This will help you break the application job into smaller parts. It will also help you stay organized, calm and on track.
- Request recommendation letters. NOW is the time to ask teachers (from your junior and senior years), guidance counselors, coaches and employers for letters of recommendation related to your activities and employment. These will be required for college applications. Ask for the recommendations in person. Be sure to write a thank-you note to each person who provides a recommendation.
- Try to finish your college applications by the end of October. Even though many colleges have rolling admissions, the earlier you apply, the better your chances of getting accepted. Even if the college’s official deadline is March 1, it’s better to get your application in to your counselor by November 1. You’ll be ahead of the game and able to shift your focus to financial aid applications, scholarships and simply enjoying your senior year. Unless you thrive on stress, there is no good reason to wait until the last minute to begin working on college applications.
- Parents: Plan now for a smoother financial aid application process
- Apply for your FAFSA pin number in October and start gathering financial information. Virtually all colleges require the free application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form to apply for financial aid. Visit FAFSA on the Web at www.fafsa.ed.gov and sign up for your personal pin number if you’re going to submit the form online. This is also a good time to print out the worksheets for filling out the FAFSA so you’ll know what’s involved and can begin gathering the financial records. (The actual form cannot be submitted until after January 1, but most colleges want it by February 1, so preparing now will reduce stress later.)
- Find out if colleges require the CSS/Financial Aid Profile. Some colleges (mostly private schools) require this special form, which is essentially a supplement to the FAFSA. The College Board website has a list of the schools that require it, but it’s always better to check with the college directly.
- Call the financial aid offices to find out if they require any other special financial forms of their own. This is most common at private colleges. If they require specialized forms, ask them to mail them to you now.
- Find out the deadlines for all financial aid forms now.
- College applications should be completed and turned in to your high school counselor this month. Your counselor will review each of your applications, look for any missing pieces, complete his or her portion and then mail the final application to the colleges for you. In the worst case scenario, you’ll need to give your counselor your completed applications at least three weeks before the college requires that it be postmarked and in the mail.
- Attend special programs, such as college fairs and the College Financial Informational Seminar for parents.
- Continue checking for scholarship applications every week in the Guidance Office.
- If you’re still applying to colleges, get those applications filled out and turned in to your counselors as soon as possible, allowing at least three weeks for processing. Keep in mind counselors are often on vacation over the Christmas recess; not reviewing college applications. January 1 deadlines should be turned in to your counselor by December 1 at the latest.
- Parents: Save year-end payroll stubs that show your earnings for the year. You may need it for financial aid eligibility reviews by schools and to estimate your taxes on the FAFSA form.
- Pick up the FAFSA form from the Guidance Office. Remember, FAFSA is the federal financial aid application form that colleges use as their formula for determining financial aid. If you haven’t done so already, visit the FAFSA Web site www.fafsa.ed.gov to find out more.
- Review the list above. Are you on schedule? Have you skipped anything?
- January is financial aid month. Look for notification of financial aid seminars and other similar programs throughout the Capital District.
- Get your income tax returns prepared early. Colleges may request them and you will need tax information to complete the FAFSA. Note: since some schools require the FAFSA by Feb. 1, and many employers don’t give out W-2 forms until late in January, you can opt to estimate your taxes using the prior year’s tax returns and this year’s pay stubs. (See the FAFSA Web site for more details.)
- Complete the FAFSA form. Submit the form as soon as possible after Jan. 1. Some schools require it as early as Feb. 1, but be sure to submit it no later than March 1. You improve your chances of receiving financial aid if you submit your forms early. Colleges are handing out aid as the applications come in and there IS a limit to how much they have to give. Get your application in late and all their available money may, quite simply, be gone.
- Remember to keep copies of all financial aid forms you submit.
- Apply for outside funding and scholarships. Keep checking for scholarship applications in the Guidance Office every week and explore other sources. For example, parents might belong to organizations or work in businesses that award scholarships. Ask around. Visit fastweb.com, the Internet’s largest free scholarship search.
- Make sure your FAFSA has been filled out.
- Check on mid-year transcripts. Did you tell your counselor which colleges want mid-year transcripts? Stop in the Guidance Office and confirm that they were mailed.
- Watch for your Student Aid Report (SAR). This is one-page summary of the FAFSA information you submitted. It is sent to you to confirm the accuracy of all data one last time before it is forwarded to your colleges. Occasionally the SAR will note that information is missing or incomplete. In all cases, follow directions on the SAR and return it as quickly as possible. If you have not received your Student Aid Report within five weeks after sending in your FAFSA, contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 301-722- 9200. The report arrives by mail or by email if you filed the FAFSA electronically.
- Rank your college choices while you wait for responses to your applications.
- Watch the mail for college acceptance letters. They typically start arriving in April.
- Compare financial aid packages from each college.
- Make a decision which college you will attend and send them your formal acceptance.
- May and beyond
- Notify the other schools. Be sure to call the admissions and financial aid office of the colleges that you will not be attending.
- Watch for important deadlines at your college of choice. These may include housing deposits, financial aid and more.