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Create a 4-Year Timeline for College Admission

A four-year high school plan for optimizing admission to the college of your teen's choice

Choosing the right college can be a challenging experience for some students. If Mom and Dad get involved in the process early, it can make a big difference in the results. With the help of high school counselors – and the right resources – the experience can be less intimidating for everyone involved.

Tim Stewart, a guidance counselor at Collins Hill High School in Lawrenceville, Ga., offers a timeline as an aid for making those important decisions.

Freshman Year

The beginning of high school can be a little overwhelming for some students. Setting up a meeting early in the year with the school counselor will start things off right. The following points are important to keep in mind when your teen is on the college track:

  • Keep the focus on getting good grades. (All of these remain on your teen's final transcript.)
  • Make sure your teen is taking the courses required for college.
  • Help your teen concentrate on improving good study habits.
  • Talk with counselors when you are in doubt. (That's why they are there.)
  • Encourage your teen to start taking notes on career areas of interest.
  • Highlight your teen's strengths and be supportive in areas that need improvement.
  • Promote your teen's participation in extracurricular activities – preferably ones with long-term commitments.

Colleges look very closely at the course selections made over the next four years of high school. When in doubt of the direction your teen should take, always ask a guidance counselor. Some colleges may only require two credits in foreign language, where others may want three or four. This is one example of why it is very important to keep informed.

You may also find yourself playing the part of motivator, especially if you have a son. Dane Batchelor, a high school freshman in Lawrenceville, Ga., has not yet started the college thought process. His mother, Kristie, feels that his decision on which college to attend will focus more around his social circle and the area than on academics.

Unfortunately, this is not uncommon. Some boys are simply not as proactive in the search for higher education information. Stewart agrees that although there is not a huge difference, girls do tend to become more interested than boys are in searching for the right school.

Sophomore Year

Rachael Luttrell, a sophomore in Lawrenceville, Ga., is knee deep in college plans. Her mother, Susan, says her daughter has already decided on her college of choice. Rachael started showing an interest in her future plans during her freshman year and plans to visit the colleges in the 11th grade. Susan feels that the deciding factor will have more to do with cost and proximity to home than the social aspects.

This is the year to help your teen stay on top of his or her plans. Don't let your teen lose sight of the goal.

  • Continue to help the focus remain on grades and good study skills.
  • Encourage your teen to take the PSAT (Preliminary Scholastic Assessment Test). It is good practice for the actual college admissions tests. If your teen does take the test, have him or her discuss the scores with a school counselor. Then your teen can find ways to improve on academic areas that are keys to college success.
  • Start obtaining information from colleges in which your teen has shown an interest. Check them out online. Talk to people who have been there. Good resources can be found at or at

Junior Year

The junior year is a very important year. This is the time to get serious about deciding which college suits your teen's future career needs. It is an important year academically, as grades will be a significant factor when colleges are weeding through applications.>/p>

"The best resource material out there on college selection can be found in The College Handbook," says Stewart. The book covers pertinent information about any school.

This year is the time to get busy. Help your teen be proactive with future planning.

  • Encourage your teen to take the PSAT, if he or she hasn't already done so.
  • Encourage your teen to discuss course selections with a counselor to make sure college requirements are being met.
  • Check listings in the paper or school boards for any upcoming college fairs.
  • Plan to visit some of the colleges your teen is considering.
  • Get organized – make a folder to manage all of your teen's testing, college choices and other application information.
  • Look into the financial aid options with a counselor.
  • Have your teen take the SAT I and SAT II.
  • Suggest that your teen obtain a summer reading list before school lets out for the year.
  • Help your teen get involved in a job or internship over the summer in a field that is relevant to his or her career interests.

Senior Year

This is the final stretch! Don't let your teen slack off on grades. Colleges will be looking at senior year schedules very closely.

  • Your teen should talk with a counselor to ensure the academic record matches the entrance qualifications needed for the colleges of choice.
  • Your teen should take the SAT I and the SAT II.
  • Help your teen obtain necessary financial information and apply for financial aid by May 1.
  • Continue college visits.
  • Remind your teen to gather all letters of recommendation from teachers, counselors, etc.
  • Remember that your teen must make a college choice before May 1.
  • Mail in the deposit for tuition.
  • Your teen should notify all schools of his or her final choice.

The college your teen chooses will ask for a copy of your family's current tax return, so make sure you file promptly this year!

College Bound

The process complete, it's time to start helping your teen pack, find a place to live and move on to the next phase of his or her quest for higher knowledge. Robert Frost said this about ambition: "The best way out is always through."

Enjoy the journey!

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