There’s no doubt about it: The process of planning for college and other types of postsecondary training can be CONFUSING! But it should be part of every junior’s and senior’s life—along with tacos, football, friends, concerts and English class, of course. It pays to start planning early and know the key steps to follow, whether you end up hunting financial aid or applying for an apprenticeship. Here’s a great timeline to help guide you on your way. You can find and download a similar “to-do” list at lela.org.
FRESHMAN & SOPHOMORE YEARS
• Register for an appropriate Web-based student guidance system for career and college planning that incorporates all the components of the Individual Graduation Plan.
• Your counselor will help you choose the diploma pathway that matches your goals and lay out a plan for completing the necessary core courses. You can choose between the TOPS University Pathway and the Jump Start TOPS Tech Pathway.
• Talk to your counselor about Dual Enrollment, Advanced Placement (AP) courses or industrial/technical workplace training options—Louisiana has more ways to find the right courses for you than ever before!
• Use your summer to do things that will make your college application or résumé stronger. Volunteer at a food pantry. Participate in a summer college program for high school students. Or, duh, work a summer job!
• Be sure to study hard for your End-of-Course tests. You have to score Fair or above on English II or English III, Algebra I or Geometry, AND Biology or American History to graduate (public school students).
• When selecting your senior courses, be sure you take courses you still need to complete your Individual Graduation Plan.
• If you are on the TOPS University Pathway, ask your counselor about course choices that can strengthen your TOPS GPA. It’s what determines not only your eligibility for the TOPS award but also if you qualify to receive additional financial support during college.
• If you are on the Jump Start TOPS Tech Pathway, use your ACT PLAN® results and World-of-Work Map to indicate the potential for success in a Jump Start pathway and for earning an industry-based certification.
• Visit March2Success.com for free ACT prep lessons.
• ATHLETES: If you want to play NCAA college sports and receive a scholarship at the DI or DII level, you will need to register and be cleared by the NCAA. Go to athleticscholarships.net to register.
• Summer is a great time to download applications from prospective colleges and start writing drafts for your admission and scholarship essays.
• Prepare or polish your high school résumé. You may need it for colleges, job applications, teachers from whom you request recommendations and even scholarship applications.
• If you haven’t taken the ACT and/or SAT test yet, or if you need a retest, register for one of the fall testing dates. Visit collegeboard.org or actstudent.org for dates.
• Start applying for scholarships—some non-academic scholarship programs have deadlines in the fall for money for the following school year.
• Buy a giant wall calendar where you can mark out all your application deadlines, financial aid deadlines, test dates, things to do from this list, and more.
• Ask your school counselor about college fairs in your area and add them to your calendar. College fairs allow you to get information about several schools at once and talk with representatives of the schools. Very cool!
• Prepare for the FAFSA by creating your FSA ID at fsaid.ed.gov. (The what?!! See page 39!)
• Oct. 1 is the date the FAFSA for the 2018-2019 school year is released. Using their 2016 tax returns, work with your parents to complete it as soon as possible. This is the key application form for all financial aid, including TOPS! Go to fafsa.gov to apply online.
• Have questions about FAFSA? Call askLela’s FAFSA HELPline at 844-GO-FAFSA or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Lela is Louisiana’s nonprofit resource for FAFSA completion and college access.
• If you’re aiming at 4-year colleges, finalize your college list. Many counselors recommend a final list of three schools that you will actually apply to.
• Make sure your ACT/SAT scores are being sent to your current college choices.
• Request a copy of your high school transcript from your school counselor or school registrar so you can review it for accuracy. Then, make sure you know what procedures to follow to get it sent to your prospective schools.
• Find out the application deadlines for each of your colleges and start preparing your applications. Be sure to be totally OCD about DEADLINES! Mark them on your calendar with a red Sharpie!
• Find out the scholarship deadlines for all your colleges and add them to your calendar. (Some are as early as Nov. 15!)
• If colleges request Letters of Recommendation, compile a list of teachers and mentors you can ask to submit a letter for you. These may also be needed or scholarship applications.
• Attend a College Goal Sunday event in your area for assistance with your FAFSA on Nov. 5, 2017. Details at osfa.la.gov.
• Review your FAFSA/Student Aid Report (SAR) for accuracy. If necessary, correct any inaccurate items on the SAR and return it to the FAFSA processor.
• A good goal is to submit all of your completed admission and college academic scholarship applications by the end of the year. (But always check with your colleges—some have earlier deadlines.) Remember, many schools have scholarship funds that are given away on a first-come, first-served basis.
• Search and apply for non-academic scholarships. These are scholarships from organizations other than colleges that have admitted you. See page 40 for ideas.
• If you are applying for non-academic scholarships, January is crunch time for deadlines. Try to get all applications in the mail (or posted online) by the last week of January.
• Follow @LouisianaNEXT on Twitter for career ideas, financial aid tips and fun news about other Louisiana seniors!
• Contact financial aid offices at schools you’ve applied to and find out their processes. Research any other financial aid options you may need: TOPS, loans, grants. See pages 38-39 for tips.
• If you still need help filing the FAFSA, watch the videos in the “FAFSA: Apply for Aid” playlist at YouTube.com/FederalStudentAid or go to osfa.la.gov to find out about in-person assistance.
• March 1 is the recommended FAFSA submission deadline at many schools.
• Schools begin to notify students of admission and financial aid awards!
• Don’t quit looking for scholarships. Lots of non-academic scholarship competitions don’t close until late spring. See page 40 for ideas.
• Notify your schools’ financial aid offices of any outside scholarships or grants you’ve won.
• If you’re still deciding between two (or more) colleges, spring break is a great time for one last campus visit.
• This is the month for acceptance letters, rejection letters ... and, if you got accepted at multiple schools, one of the biggest decisions of your life!
• May 1 is your deadline for making a final decision. Many schools require you to accept financial aid offers by this date, and some require an enrollment commitment deposit.
• Notify other schools that accepted you that you will NOT be enrolling.
• Write thank-you notes to teachers who wrote letters of recommendation.
• If you plan on living on campus, you may need to submit a separate application for housing. Check with your college’s admissions department.
• Enjoy senior week and your commencement. Class of ’18! Whoop! whoop!
• Attend the freshman orientation program at your college.
• Find out when payment of your fall semester charges is due.
• If you made a last-minute decision to apply for college or other training program, remember you still have until June 30 to submit your FAFSA for financial aid.