Guide to College Planning: Milestones for Seniors

Milestones for Seniors

BIG Ideas:

  • Start the school year by taking SATs/ACTs and making your list of colleges.
  • Complete the FAFSA early to improve your chances of getting federal aid.
  • Keep track of important application deadlines and work on perfecting your college essays.

Senior year has finally arrived! YES!  It’s sure taken a lot of focus, effort, and dedication to get where you are today. But your work isn’t quite done; there are some very important steps you need to take for the next phase of your life – college.

To help you along, we’ve put together this college planning guide for high school seniors – a month-by-month checklist with some important milestones.


  • Take your tests. This is the time to sharpen your No.2 pencils and get ready to take your SATs and ACTs. If you’ve taken them before, take them again; it can be a huge help.Research has shown that taking these tests two times can boost your score. Even more exciting is that some schools “super score” your results, which means they take the best score for each section.
  • Make your school list. When it comes to college, you’ve got choices. Make a list of your Top 10 schools.  Be sure to include a combination of “reach,” “just right,” and “safety schools” that fit your academic background.If you don’t get into a reach school, you’re not alone, as sometimes even the best students can’t get in. Also, don’t be afraid to add expensive schools to your list because many of these schools provide Financial Aid that can actually make them affordable.
  • Ask for help. College is a huge decision, so don’t go it alone. Talk with your parents or a trusted adult and guidance counselor to get advice about your list.


  • Start your FAFSA Engine. October is not just time for Halloween. In most year’s the opening season for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which typically starts on October 1. The earlier you complete your FAFSA, the better your chances of getting federal aid.Note that each state has its own FAFSA deadline. Private schools might have different deadlines, so be sure to check in with the Financial Aid office of each school.
  • Complete a CSS Profile. Speaking of aid, some schools (mostly private ones) will require you to complete your CSS Profile. It’s basically an online application used by colleges and scholarship programs to award non-federal aid.

September, October, November

  • Work on those essays. No one likes writing essays. But your college essays and responses to the common app (the application used by many schools) can actually provide an opportunity for you to stand out from other students.Make sure you follow the instructions on essay length and ask someone, such as a parent or teacher to review and proofread it and make any recommendations. Just be sure to write it in your voice.One way to stand out is to share samples that show your skills and abilities, such as sports videos, art portfolios, or musical recordings.
  • Track due dates. The last thing you want to do is miss out on an opportunity because you missed a deadline. Put important dates in your calendar and ask your parents to do the same.


  • Get your financial docs in order. Make sure you reach out to the Financial Aid offices at your target school.
  • AP exams. If you’re taking AP classes, be sure to take your AP exams and ask each school what classes they will provide credit for.
  • Keep up your grades. Don’t let “senioritis” mar all the great work you’ve done. Stay focused on your studies and keep your eye on the finish line.


  • Watch your mail/email. At this time, schools will start sending you decision letters. Create a spreadsheet to keep track of all the schools that have accepted you.
  • Visit the schools. If you haven’t done so, schedule a school visit when students are on campus and classes are in session. Schools often host admitted student weekends to get to know you and for you to see the campus and learn what the schools have to offer before making your final decision.
  • Watch for Financial Aid Award Letters. These letters will tell you the total cost of attendance minus Financial Aid awarded. This will help you compare schools and see what shortfalls are where tuition leaves off.
  • Consider private loans. If you do have a shortfall in paying for tuition, you may want to start exploring private student loans.


  • Prepare for Decision Day. It usually falls on May 1, when schools require a deposit. Sometimes schools have to push decision day after May 1, link in 2020 during COVID or 2024 when the FAFSA form was delayed. Either way, make sure you know when final decisions are due.
  • Have “The Talk” with your parents. The best college for you may not be the most expensive one. Having a talk with your parents about your finances can help you pick a school you can afford, determine how you’ll pay, and prevent you from having debt regret after you graduate.


  • Have fun. Summer is so short. Make sure you have fun and make the most of it.
  • Save. Make saving a priority this summer by setting aside money from your summer job for college.
  • Apply for loans. If your financial aid award letter shows you need money for school, summer is the time to apply for a loan. Shop around to get the best rates and terms for your budget.
  • Enjoy your time with your family. Going off to school can be an emotional time for students and parents. Make sure you carve out time to do things together.

We’re here for you every step of the way

For more than 40 years, Brazos Higher Education has been helping make education possible. As a Texas non-profit, we can offer you BIG savings on a wide range of private student loans and provide the guidance you need every step of the way. Contact us today.