How your student can prepare for college during their senior year of high school


As your student gets ready to begin their senior year of high school, college may still seem a long way off. But the fact is, senior year tends to go fast and college will be here soon, so your student should spend some of their senior year planning and preparing for it. 

We’re sharing a list of college prep items they should accomplish during their senior year. If they take it a little at a time throughout the year, they probably won’t feel rushed or stressed about the process — and can have a good overall college prep experience. Let’s dive in.

Consider what you’re looking for in a college and what you want your future to look like

Your student should start thinking about what they want in a college and a career. Are they looking for a smaller or larger school? In-state or out-of-state? Once they have a general idea of what they want in a college, they can start making a list of schools that offer a path to the future they envision. And that doesn’t mean they have to have a major or career chosen. But if they have an idea of the direction they want to go — say health, business or arts — they can start researching schools with programs that will get them there.

Research schools

Once your student decides on a few things they want in a school, they can start researching schools that meet their criteria. This can include browsing a school’s website, following its social media accounts and signing up for mailing lists. And if they know anyone who goes to a college they are interested in, your student should definitely take that person out for a coffee and pick their brain (or sending a text works too).

Keep organized

Your student will be getting a lot of materials from colleges. They should keep the ones they are interested in and organize them in a box or binder. They should also keep an online folder with important things like admission requirements and deadlines for the colleges they are considering.

Search for scholarships

Your student should definitely be looking into scholarships during their senior year. Scholarships are available for all kinds of things, including merit, income level, talents and background. They should start by learning what types of scholarships the schools they are interested in offer, and then start browsing private scholarships. And they should apply for any and all that they qualify for, no matter how much the award. It can add up quickly.

Write admission and scholarship essays and get recommendation letters

Though each letter should be different, your student should begin a rough draft of their admission and scholarship letters. They should think about what academic and personal highlights they’ll want to include in the letters. Also, your student should start thinking about who they want to write recommendation letters for them, and give those people a heads up so they can start thinking about what they want to say. Some potential recommendation letter writers to consider include teachers, job supervisors or the leaders of organizations your student has been involved with.

Connect with a guidance counselor

Their guidance counselor should be a familiar face during your student’s senior year. Staying connected with their guidance counselor means they’ll have access to college materials they may not have seen otherwise, as well as have a great source of advice and direction as they’re planning to get ready for college.

Attend virtual or in-person college fairs

College fairs are a great way for your student to get information about potential colleges and to talk directly with college representatives. Your student can keep an eye on college websites, get on a college’s email list to be notified of when and where college fairs are happening, or check with their guidance counselor.

Figure out finances

You and your student should plan ongoing conversations about how to pay for college. Will they apply for scholarships, grants or loans? Will they work a part-time job to help pay for college? Will your circumstances allow you to contribute? Once some of these questions are answered, you and your student should work out a realistic budget so they know how much they’ll have to spend each month.

Visit colleges

Many students report that it was visiting a college that either confirmed it was the correct school for them, or made them realize it just wasn’t the right fit. That’s why visiting colleges is a critical part of the college search process. Once your student has their list narrowed down to a few schools, they should take a tour to help make their decision.

Seek advice from trusted sources

If your student is torn about which college to choose, talking to a trusted source  — you, another relative, or a close friend or teacher — can often lead them to questions they may not have asked themselves, which can help them land on the perfect choice for them.