Friday, February 9, 2024

Preparing for College: Senior Year of High School Checklist

CollegePreparing for College: Senior Year of High School Checklist

While your child is in their senior year of high school, it’s the final push to get their college plans finalized. At this point, much of the preparation work is behind you, but this doesn’t mean you can let off the gas just yet. 

Between maintaining good grades, keeping their resume full, and confirming any financial aid or scholarships, there’s still a lot to accomplish during this final year of high school. So, before you can help your child move into the dorms next fall, there are a number of things you need to make sure they take care of during their senior year for college preparation purposes. 

Continue reading through this guide as we cover what you and your child need to accomplish during their senior year of high school to best prepare for college. 

Why You Need to Prepare for College in 12th Grade

As we discussed, there is a lot of work that goes into preparing for college ahead of your child’s senior year. At this point, they should have already narrowed down their school choices, taken the college entrance exams, requested letters of recommendation, and overall kept participation and grades up to create a well-rounded application that colleges like to see. In fact, a lot of these tasks will occur while your child is preparing for college during their junior year. 

However, there are still things your child will need to do throughout their senior year to make sure their transition into college is successful. So even though junior year is the last full year of grades and participation that colleges will consider, many scholarships and admissions decisions may hinge on the student’s performance during their final year as well. 

Thus, encourage your child to keep up the good work during their senior year, and read through the following checklist of what all needs to be done during this final stretch to prepare for college. 

College Preparation Checklist for Senior Year

Senior year of high school is a milestone year for many reasons that warrant celebration, though there are still ways your child should be preparing for college throughout the school year. Below, you will find the most crucial tasks that your child should complete this year. 

  • Schedule a meeting with your school counselor to review your current academic standing and learn if there are any new scholarships available. (Sept-Oct)
  • Narrow your college list to your top 6, while understanding the four-year cost at each and the resulting student loans. (Sept-Oct)
  • Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This is available on October 1st, complete no later than October 31st.
  • Ask for letters of recommendation. Your schools may have specific requirements, so check first. Also, don’t wait until the last minute to ask. Give your reference enough time to write a strong, thought-out recommendation.
  • Write college application essays
  • Finalize your activities resume to submit to colleges
  • Complete college applications. We recommend applying in November with a deadline of November 31st to maximize financial aid.
  • Apply for local and national scholarships
  • Double-check that college applications were actually submitted
  • Review acceptance letters and financial aid packages
  • If needed, revisit college campuses before accepting
  • Appeal for more aid and create competition
  • Finish high school strong

Fall of Senior Year

Expect your student’s Senior year of high school to be fast-paced. There’s a lot to do between academics, extracurriculars, college applications, and preparing for graduation. By planning ahead, parents and students can work to avoid the stress and overwhelm instead of reacting to deadlines.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid or “FAFSA” becomes available on October 1st. Strive to complete the FAFSA by November 1st.

While schools accept applications after this date, we find that students who apply early, and submit their SAT/ACT scores, tend to get the lion’s share of merit-based scholarships. Try to keep this below ten schools, as you will need to apply to and pay application fees to each, which can be time-consuming and costly. 

It’s also a good idea for students to keep in touch with their school counselors to ensure they’re on track for graduation. School counselors may be able to help them learn about available scholarships and secure any last-minute documents needed for college applications.

During this stage, students should finish writing their college essays and personal statements that will be considered with their application. And if they haven’t already requested letters of recommendation, now is the time to do so. 

Did you know that students can apply for college scholarships as early as age 14? The point is to apply as early as possible.

Give yourself time to apply to scholarships throughout the year, being mindful of their deadlines. Applying for scholarships in one sitting and near the deadline can be overwhelming for students, considering their workload in the senior year.

Also, you’ll need to help them submit their FAFSA and CSS profiles which will be used to review their eligibility for financial aid. 

Most importantly, students should submit early college applications at this time to make the early decision deadlines.

Winter of Senior Year

As the school year is well underway, your child can continue preparing for college by retaking the SAT or ACT if needed to qualify for better scholarships or improve their odds of admission. With this, you’ll want to make sure their high school transcripts and test scores are being sent to colleges, which the counselor can do upon request.

Again, your student should continue applying for scholarships as more become available, especially after viewing the financial aid offers and seeing how much out-of-pocket expenses you are facing for your child to attend college. 

At this time, make sure they are submitting priority and regular decision college applications. Even though many colleges show a deadline of January, your child should try to get them all in before the new year. Plus, the student should confirm with these colleges that they’ve received all their relevant documents. 

Over the holiday break, make sure your child sits back and enjoys their successes thus far with college preparation. With much of the work behind them, they’ll have one semester to go before they move on to this new stage of life. Of course, you’ll also want to celebrate their college acceptances as they begin to come in during the winter!

Spring of Senior Year

At this point in the year, there is a lot of focus on high school graduation, which is definitely a noteworthy event that you and your child will never forget. But while you’re celebrating this momentous occasion, don’t forget to continue making strides toward college preparation. 

With all the college acceptances in, have your child review and revisit these schools if possible to help them make the selection. If the student was waitlisted for a dream school, make sure they advocate for themselves with the admissions department and follow any instructions they provided to help them boost their application. 

Now, it’s decision time. Your child needs to make their final selection of where they want to attend school by May 1st. This is a big decision that may not happen overnight, so be supportive at this time and help them weigh all their options, and make the enrollment deposit once they’ve decided.

For the final time, make sure they’re applying to any and all scholarships that they qualify for, as every dollar counts. With this, they may want to apply for any summer jobs or internships that can help them save up for college expenses, gain work experience, and learn new skills. Overall, encourage them to finish off the year strong, and celebrate big for their high school graduation! 

Summer Before College

With high school behind them, your child can enjoy their last summer at home before heading off to college. They can send their final transcripts to their selected college upon graduation, and they’ll need to submit housing forms to get their living arrangements set up for the fall. 

This is also when you can help your child complete any financial aid and loan requirements if they will be utilized. So, make sure they’ve formally accepted any financial aid and sign any loan agreements if they will be used. If your child is taking on student loans, they will need to complete entrance loan counseling before receiving the funds. 

Over the summer they may need to attend orientation at their chosen school, and start registering for college classes. Each school will do this differently, so help them understand how they will be signing up for classes, and make sure to attend any necessary orientations or meetings with them during these months. 

The final steps to prepare for college before heading off for the real thing will be to buy textbooks, pack up their clothing and personal items, and make any final purchases they’ll need for college living like a mini fridge, twin bedding, or other items. Above all, preparing for college with your child is a journey that seemingly started years ago, so don’t forget to enjoy this final time together and help them celebrate this big milestone. 

Prepare for College with a Financial Planner

Senior year of high school is a big year for you and your child. This is the celebration of their academic achievements thus far, and is a major milestone that you’ll never forget. You probably even remember your own high school graduation like it was yesterday. 

Even still, as you can see from the above checklist, this year is anything but easy–especially when you combine all these final high school accomplishments with college preparation. Throughout this year, your mind may turn to the financial side of college, and wonder how you’ll be able to pay for your child to attend school, or whether they’ll need to rely on student loans. 

You should already have a savings plan in place by the time your child is in their senior year. However, if you’ve been saving up elsewhere or want to discuss any final preparations you can make on the financial side, there are some ways that a financial advisor can help you make the most out of your situation. 

Visit our website to learn more about how you can prepare to pay for your child’s college expenses and join one of our upcoming webinars where we’ll discuss these topics in more detail. 

Tom Martin, WMCP®
Tom Martin, WMCP®
Tom Martin, is a financial advisor at Vaylark Financial Services, based in Hartford, Connecticut. He practices in the area of private wealth management offering comprehensive financial planning, custom investment portfolios, tax reduction strategies, risk management, estate and legacy planning, as well as advises on executive compensation and business owner profitability.

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Tom Martin, is a financial advisor at Vaylark Financial Services, based in Hartford, Connecticut. He practices in the area of private wealth management offering comprehensive financial planning, custom investment portfolios, tax reduction strategies, risk management, estate and legacy planning, as well as advises on executive compensation and business owner profitability.

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