High School Checklist: Freshman through Senior Year

Tyson Schritter / Find the College Right for You! »

Reviewed and edited by Tyson Schritter : March 28, 2024.

You can save yourself a lot of stress if you start thinking about what you would like to do in college while you are still in high school. The earlier you prepare, the more time you will have to adjust your plans if you change your mind or to dig deeper into what you know you’re passionate about.

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Not sure how to prepare for college in high school? This checklist lays out what you should do freshman through senior year of high school, including when you should talk to your school advisor or counselor and what you should ask them, when you should start your college search, tips on deciding your major, when you should take the SAT or ACT, and more.

With a clear plan, you won’t have to worry about juggling high school with the intimidating process of preparing for college. You can never be too prepared, so make your life easier by following these steps and reading the other articles referenced in this one.

This four-year plan will set you up for success when the time to apply actually comes. Even if you are already a year or two into high school, this list can still help you make sure you’re on track!

Don’t worry if you feel like you have no idea how to start—that’s why we’re here! No one expects you to be an expert at something you haven’t done before, so keep in mind that you can always refer back to this checklist, read these articles, and—most importantly—ask questions! Your advisors and counselors will be happy to help you with your college application process.

Navigating the college process takes proper planning and early action! Here’s a short checklist to help you keep track of important tasks to complete in each year of your high school journey. 

Freshman Year

The best time to start your college decision making process is during your freshman year of high school. Yes, really! High school goes by so quickly, and you don’t want to save all of your work for when you’re just a few months away from graduating.

During your freshman year you can meet with your counselor to learn about your graduation requirements, you can evaluate how you’re doing academically, you can get involved in different extracurricular activities, and you can sign up for new and exciting things to learn in the summer!

Sophomore Year

By the time you’re a sophomore, you may have already realized why preparing for college requires a four-year plan. Your current school work and activities are beginning to pile up, so it’s natural for you not to think about anything but the present. Check back with your counselor and see how you are doing academically and whether you’re on track with your yearly plan.

A couple of recommended sophomore tasks include taking the PSAT to familiarize yourself with the ACT and SAT testing format as well as beginning the search for where you might want to go for college and what you might want to do professionally. This sophomore-year checklist also contains a few links to give you even more information on what you need to know to prepare. 

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You don’t need to wait on anyone else to get started with these steps. Keep asking questions and taking initiative!

Junior Year

Junior year of high school is usually the most difficult. Not only is it the year in which you take your toughest classes, but it’s also the year in which talk about college prep is the most intense. But don’t worry; you still have time to do what you need to do.

Continue to meet with your counselor and ask questions to make sure you’re academically secure to graduate high school. You can also make sure you know the academic requirements for the colleges and universities you might want to attend and see if you are academically secure for those, too.

What’s more, you can attend college fairs and narrow down your choices, you can visit and tour them, you can apply for scholarships and job shadow, you can update your résumé, and you can talk to your parents about finances. Your junior year is also when you can take and/or retake the ACT and SAT. That’s a lot to do, but your teachers and counselors know about your to-dos and are ready to help and cheer you on.

By the end of the year, you should have a pretty good idea of your top colleges of choice and maybe an idea of your desired career. Your junior year can be stressful, but these steps can help it feel more manageable.

Senior Year

You made it to your last year of high school! Congratulations are in order, but don’t relax just yet. It’s important that you finish strong without giving in to senioritis. During your senior year, you can now apply to the colleges you narrowed your choices down to. You can also continue to retake the SAT or ACT. And, of course, make sure you keep in touch with your advisor to ensure you’re on track for graduation.

High school can be the fastest four years of your life, so a clear plan to prepare for college can keep you from rushing through your college search and applications. Good luck!