College Prep: Senior Year

by Stasia Lopez /
Stasia Lopez's picture
Aug 11, 2013 / 0 comments

You’ve made it — senior year of high school! Classes, clubs and sports, extracurricular activities, prom, and preparing for college all year long will be a whirlwind. It can be an emotional time, too. Many of the friends that you grew up with that have already graduated will be jetting off to different locations to complete their degrees, some out of state, some even abroad!


By fall of your senior year, you could have already heard back from some select colleges that you applied. If you’re still making a decision about college, that’s OK! These vocational decisions should not be rushed. It does help though to talk with your teachers, guidance counselors, and put a little more investigative work into it than when you were preparing for college in your junior year. If you’re going to be the first in your family to attend college, like me, I  advise you to involve your family in these decisions; they can really be a great support system, even if they don’t really understand everything. Some of the things that you did in preparation for college during your junior year can be repeated in the senior year. Below is another checklist to help guide you.

College Prep Senior Year Checklist


College Prep Senior Year Checklist:


FALL (September-November)


* Sign up and register to take the SAT/ACT again, if you so desire. This can give you another chance to improve your score, which can potentially get you into a better college.

* Schedule time to have a meeting with your guidance counselor to make sure you are on-track with completing all of your high school graduation requirements.

* Many colleges and universities ask for letters of recommendation as part of their application process. Start asking teachers and employers who can vouch for your work to write these letters of recommendation for you. Remember that these letters should not be written by family or friends, but by professionals.

* The college prep junior year checklist included a section on visiting colleges and universities on your College Tour. If you didn’t get to visit all of the colleges or universities on your list from last year, make sure you schedule time to see them this year. Keep in mind the difference between a public and private college or university, as there are a lot of differences, including cost. Make sure to take a look at community colleges, too, because they can be a good cost saver to get all of your general education requirements out of the way. Many community colleges have transfer agreements with four-year colleges and universities that make transferring easy. Attend any college nights or conferences at the schools that you are interested in by viewing their websites and social media pages to keep tabs on what’s happening on campus. Some colleges and universities will also pair you up with a “buddy” or alumnus that you can communicate with and ask questions about a particular college. Having a person who has been through the college experience at a specific school that you’re interested in can be a real advantage to understanding more about that particular college experience.


Senior Year Checklist  - College Tour


* By October, you should be already filling out college applications, working on applications essays, and even completing a resume. These materials are common to include in your application package (along with those recommendation letters). If you’re already admitted into the college of your choice, even by October, make sure you’re talking with your college advisors and learning everything you can about your degree program. (The more you talk with your college advisors, the better. The level of communication is up to you). More importantly though, remember that you’re still in high school, so don’t let your schoolwork suffer while you’re trying to manage college preparation. You don’t have to plan this all alone, either. Make sure to fall back on your support system anytime you feel stressed. Your high school teachers, guidance counselors, family, and even the college professionals that may be working with you are very eager to help you and want you to succeed. Don’t let all of this fall on your shoulders. Ask for help!

* Pick up your FAFSA form (check the guidance counselors office or the Office of Financial Aid at your intended college). It is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid-- and know when the deadline is to fill it out (it ranges by state!). Once you fill out the paper application the first time, you will then be able to access it year after year online. You will be given a pin number. Write this pin number down in a place that you will not forget it. It is very important to do this, because you will use that pin number (usually four numbers) for your entire higher education experience,  even through graduate school. Now would be a good time to start a handy binder of important information that you will need to document things with, and keep a file on your computer. Make sure you back up your important files by emailing them to yourself and saving them on a hard drive, USB drive, or in the cloud. Saving it in only one place is not an option. This practice will help you in college when your computer crashes or you lose your work. Save it in multiple places so you access your materials without stress or hassle.

* Take a look at early admission dates at colleges and universities. Now is also the time to take your parents or guardians with you to financial aid meetings and orientation seminars on college campuses. Meet with your college advisor—yes--multiple times to ask questions, get clarification on anything, etc. Finish up your applications and schedule more visits or interviews to your selected colleges by November. It’s also time to take that SAT (again), if you so desire. Now is also a good time to pick up your financial aid applications forms, and fill them out well before your December break.



WINTER (December-February)


* During December, if you haven’t completed those essays or resumes for your application or gotten all of your letters of recommendation, now is the time to finish it! You usually get a fair bit of time off during this month—the more you get done early, the more you can enjoy and take advantage of that much needed break! Taking a break and resting is important to re-energize your batteries. Hang out with your friends and of course, your family. Enjoy the holidays off—you deserve it!

* It’s January—time to pick up your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) if you haven’t already, and fill it out. Attend financial aid workshops and seminars that are put on by your high school counselors and college financial aid offices. January is Financial Aid Awareness Month and the most opportune time to fill out the FAFSA. The earlier, the better! Copy your family’s tax returns, keep track of individual college financial aid forms, and finalize all of your college applications and submit them. Take a look at scholarships and grants (this is FREE money you don’t have to pay back) on school bulletin boards, your local rotary club, churches, labor unions, and the financial aid offices). Take a look at that handy-dandy binder—any due dates coming up?

* By February—check in with your guidance counselor about sending your mid-year grade report to the colleges that you’re interested in attending, or the college you’ve been admitted. Unless your college or university has rolling admissions (which means they accept applications year-round), then February is usually the month when most applications are due to attend college in the fall.

* You can also register any AP (Advanced Placement) exams and see which courses will transfer in college. This can save you money, because these AP classes are at the college level and you will not need to take those classes as a freshman in college.


Spring (March-May)

* By March, you can start looking into a summer job or figuring out if you qualify for work-study positions once you attend the colleges of your choice. Work-study is a form of financial aid awarded to students who demonstrate financial need. Your FAFSA form will determine whether you qualify for work-study or not. The work-study program encourages employment in community service, can be on or off-campus, and you will earn, at the very least, minimum wage. Your work schedule will usually be between 10 to 15 hours/week but can range by school.

* If you’re already selected into a college, make sure to mail in any deposits needed. If you haven’t heard from any colleges yet, be patient. You’ll hear something soon!

* By May—you [normally] have to make a decision for enrollment at a college or university, accept any financial aid offered, and send in those deposits for tuition, housing, and other fees. Also, you can ask your high school to send your final transcripts to the college of your choice that you will be attending. Notify the colleges that you decided that you will not be attending, because your “no” will be a “yes” to another student who wishes to attend that school, especially regarding the financial aid package.

* A nice gesture would be to send thank you notes to all the people who have helped you along the way (teachers, mentors, family, friends, counselors, coaches, supervisors, and people who were so willing to write those letters of recommendation, etc.). These people will be in your direct support network while you attend college, and you want to continue to keep in touch with them via email, telephone, or even snail mail.

* By summer—you can choose how you spend it—from finishing up any college preparation business to saving up some money with that part-time job, doing community service, or relaxing with family and friends before the next chapter in your life begins.


Preparing for college can be a time of exploration. You’re learning about yourself by discovering your interests, values, and personality and matching them to potential careers and majors (many career service offices even have assessments that you can take to help you on this exact thing!). I know it can be a time of many emotions - sad to be leaving high school, excited and scared to start college, nervous about the unknowns like living with roommates or not knowing what you want to major in. Remember that you don’t have to do any of this alone. There are many people who want to help you and want you to succeed and ultimately be happy in your life.


Make sure YOU, the student, take college preparation by the reins—NOT your parents, siblings, or other people. Those people can be your support system and encourage you, but it’s your degree. YOU have to put the work into it. YOU have to work hard.  Yes, it’s overwhelming, but you need to be the one to try and speak up, ask questions, and get motivated.


It’s normal to feel nervous and shy about asking questions or maybe you don’t know what to ask. Examples could be:

  • Are classes going to be taught by a graduate assistant or by a professor?
  • How big are class sizes usually?
  • When are office hours if I need to talk to my professor one-on-one?
  • How many credits should I take?
  • Who is my academic advisor?
  • Will my advisor help me to schedule classes?
  • Is there an internship requirement?
  • Can I study abroad?


Tip: it is also important to evaluate different colleges and universities for the degree programs that you’re interested in, because they could differ on the components of the programs. Some programs claim to be more competitive than others. So it’s important for you, the student, to find out what makes them have that competitive edge. Is it the required internship or externship? The foreign language requirement? The fact that the program integrates a three-week study abroad program? What’s important to you, the student? These questions can help you to get excited about your prospective degree programs! Professors and advisors will be impressed that you, the student, are so engaged into college and asking questions.


Take your time, breathe, and read the book Getting from College to Career by Lindsay Pollak (this book changed my life!). Good luck and most of all enjoy high school, create new memories, and look forward to the next stage of your life! Stay tuned for another article on College soon.





Anastasia R.D. Lopez, M.A. recently graduated with her Masters degree in Educational Leadership in Higher Education and Student Affairs degree from Western Michigan University. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration degree in Hospitality and Tourism Management from Robert Morris University. Her experience in higher education and student affairs ranges from Career Services, Academic Advising, working with first generation students, students with disabilities, international students, transfer students, undergraduate/graduate students, and study abroad and international education at both public and private universities. She has related experience in business, as well as hospitality and tourism management. Stasia is the Global Education Editor with Wandering Educators and lives with her husband, Fernando, in Michigan.





College tour photo courtesy and copyright Stasia Lopez