A lot of people will tell you, "It's never too early to start looking at colleges." But what does that even mean? Take a look at this timeline, see where you're at, and gather some tips for what to do next.

Sophomore Year

 

Take the PSAT

Your sophomore year, you’ll take the PSAT — perhaps your first official step toward college. When you’re a junior, you might take the PSAT again, and if you score well, it can open the door to some full-ride scholarships.

 

Make a college list

This is when colleges will start to get your contact information. At this point, some students start creating a college list and making school visits.

 

Do what you love

Spend time doing what you enjoy. That may mean joining or starting a club at your high school, volunteering, playing sports or otherwise exploring your interests. This will help you figure out what you want to do for your career and help you become a better-prepared college applicant.

Junior Year

 

Get serious about your choices

This is when you’ll really want to start researching colleges and universities. You can start online, using the websites of individual colleges, as well as websites that aggregate data and allow you to search by your interests, school size, location, cost and more. College Scorecard, The Common Application, Cappex and Peterson’s all offer good information.

 

Plan visits

Junior year is a good time to start visiting college campuses and scheduling tours. It's important to get a feel for the atmosphere, have your burning questions answered, and find out if you can really imagine yourself as a student on a particular campus.

 

Take the official SAT/ACT

You’ll take the SAT, ACT or both your junior year, depending on the requirements of the schools where you want to apply (many will accept either, and some require neither). If you don’t do well the first time, you can choose to retake the test.

Be sure to study for the SAT or ACT ahead of time with a good resource such as the Khan Academy (a free online test prep resource).

Senior Year

 

Make a list of your choices, then apply

Most applications open online on August 1. If you have a list of schools where you plan to apply, make a list of the requirements and deadlines for each school. Once you’re admitted, you typically have until May 1 to make a decision (and often a deposit).

 

Fill out your FAFSA, attend orientation and select your classes

Other things you’ll do during (and just after) your senior year include filling out your FAFSA so schools can decide how much grant and loan money to offer you; attending new student orientation; registering for classes; and completing other steps that your institution will communicate to you along the way.

 

Relax and enjoy senior year

You've got everything ready for the next step, so take some time to appreciate your hard work in getting here. Soak it all in, and make some memories that will last a lifetime.