Four Year Timeline

May 27, 2021

Recommendations for what you should be doing during high school Two of the most frequently asked questions that I receive are: “Is it too late to start? It’s already senior year” “Is it too early to start? I’m only a sophomore.”  A college admissions team evaluates your application from your freshman year of high school […]

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Recommendations for what you should be doing during high school

Two of the most frequently asked questions that I receive are:

  1. “Is it too late to start? It’s already senior year

  2. “Is it too early to start? I’m only a sophomore.” 

A college admissions team evaluates your application from your freshman year of high school on, so you can start thinking about what you might need and create opportunities for yourself even in your last year of middle school. Granted, not everyone is mature enough—after all, the 13-year-old you is very different from the 15- or 16-year-old you—, but with the right internal motivation and positive mentoring, you can shape a powerful application to the program and college that are the best fit for you, and also considers you the best fit. What does this mean? You’ll be accepted to a college that you’ll truly excel in. 

Important time frames to keep in mind: 

  • Colleges both in the U.S. and the U.K. have you apply typically 8-10 months before your actual start date. Scholarship deadlines and individual program deadlines can be even earlier and require careful preparation..

  • You can be finished with the application requirements a full year (or more) before an application is due. This means that essays, test requirements, letters of recommendation, and resumes can be prepared over the summer before you even begin your senior year.

  • The SAT and ACT are only offered 6-7 times a year, and the SAT is offered the same day as SAT Subject Tests. All exams should be completed before applications are due. 

  • U.S. citizens can easily figure out how a college considers how much a family can pay for college by using the FAFSA4caster—ie it shouldn’t be a surprise about how your family is expected to pay when selecting colleges. Plan in advance! 

  • For international students, financial planning for college should begin as early as possible. Check with your country’s government for incentives for loans and scholarships. Find our what your family’s ability to pay for college early-on, so you can create a powerful College List that meets your financial needs. This can be one of the most difficult parts of the process, and I am here to help you create options for yourself. Check out my Scholarship page for unique opportunities and up-to-date information.

  • The SAT, ACT, SAT Subject Tests, TOEFL and IELTS are normally valid for 2 years, although it can vary from school to school. 

  • If you are an international student and depend on the support of loans or scholarships from your local government/sponsors, start as early as possible! This financial support is competitive and limited. If you’re interested in studying in the U.S., find an EducationUSA advising center in 178 countries and territories for free guidance and information. 

The top factors in the admission decision were overall high school GPA, grades in college preparatory courses, strength of curriculum, and admission test scores. Among the next most important factors were the essay, a student’s demonstrated interest, counselor and teacher recommendations, class rank, and extracurricular activities.

— National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) 2019 Report


  • Take college-prep courses. We all know you should be getting good grades, and that straight “A”s in easier classes are different than “A”s in several APs, but the trick is that you’re taking the most “rigorous” classes available at your high school, and do well in them. The admissions team will be looking at your School Profile in order to determine that you’ve maximed the academic opportunities available to you, as every school is different in terms of the opportunities it can offer. If you get an “A” in an Honors course your freshman year, step it up to an AP or IB course. Drop and change classes that you cannot achieve at least a “B.” Challenge yourself, but do not become overwhelmed. Select rigorous courses that go beyond the minimum graduation requirements. Choose electives with material that is most interesting to you and allows you to explore your passions. For ambitious students who would like to take courses that are not offered at your school, opt for an online class or a community college class: this will help you become a competitive applicant.

  • Earn money for your achievements. Check if your high school is eligible and earn micro-scholarships with RaiseMe


  • [Fall] Explore different clubs and activities. Become a “yes man.” Raise your hand for activities you have not tried before, whether it be at school, church, in your neighborhood, parent’s job, library, etc.. Look around and take initiative: look to Greta Thunberg and Logan LaPlante for inspiration. Attend the Back-to-School Fair and commit yourself to an activity (or two) for the year. If you feel comfortable, assume a leadership position. 

  • [Fall] Pick next summer’s activities. This is especially important for students interested in applying pre-med. Research pre-college and leadership camps in your area (or out of area), and contact your Guidance Office about opportunities and internships. Some programs give you opportunities to fundraise (a great resume builder) or are free to attend! Get a feel of what it is like to live on a college campus and learn more about an area of study you are interested in. IYou don’t necessarily need to look for international volunteer opportunities: summers can also be spent working at Subway, babysitting, coaching or even taking a community college class. Also, the summer should not solely be limited to SAT Prep or preparing for a class: it’s a time to explore/continue what you are most enthusiastic about. It is important to have this discussion early on in the year as formal programs have deadlines months in advance. 

  • [Year-Round] Follow colleges/universities on social media. Get a look at how they process your application, watch student-takeovers, and read answers to frequently asked admissions questions. UVA’s Dean J is one of my favorite accounts on Instagram and also one of my favorites on Twitter.

  • [Year-Round] Visit a Campus. Visit a campus within reasonable driving distance—even if you do not have an intention of going there—and sign up for an information session and tour. While some of you might have visited an older sibling/cousin in college, a tour and session is specific to your journey. Listen to what they expect of you during high school. Get excited! Learn about your likes and dislikes as you get the inside scoop from the admission team and a current student who will be taking you on tour.

  • [Spring] Class selection. Keep in mind that the bigger picture relies on your grades, and that this is one of the most important pieces of your application. Make any adjustments necessary.

  • [Spring] Ask your Guidance Office about the PSAT/NMSQT. Find out which exam(s) your high school is offering and when, and decide on your score goals for the fall. Learn more about The National Merit Scholarship Program qualifications in your state. 


  • Plan out your family’s affordability for college (U.S. applicants only). Use the FAFSA4Caster to determine how much Need Based Aid a college will potentially offer you. This calculator creates a value called an EFC (Estimated Family Contribution), and subtract your EFC from any college’s COA (Cost of Attendance) to evaluate how much you and your family will need to cover the total sticker price of the school. There are also calculators on a college’s financial aid page to help calculate what you will owe for college. You will be filling out the actual FAFSA during your senior year.

  • Create a resume. List your accomplishments and see which areas you would like to develop over the course of your high school career. A resume will also come in handy as you apply for any summer jobs, programs and/or internships, and to present yourself succinctly to any teachers you ask for a letter of recommendation.

  • Stay Active. Bus tables, cut grass, watch kids. Take a hip-hop class or basic first aid. Start making it a habit to work out. Cook dinner for family once a week or start a business with friends. Even if you are participating in an internship or attending a science or leadership camp, don’t stress that you need to impress colleges: instead, open yourself up to new opportunities and enjoy your summer. 

  • Work your connections. Create a LinkedIn profile and connect with professionals you know. Ask your parents’ friends, or anyone you look up to, more about their resume and current position. Ask if you can shadow a family friend or in a workplace you are interested in learning more about. For example, I once shadowed our family veterinarian for a day—and quickly learned that it was not for me! As much as I love animals, I definitely don’t enjoy the operating table.

  • Take a Career Assessment. I strongly recommend the MBTI Career Report to learn more about career options consistent with your interests and personality traits that are ideal for your major choice and learning environment. 

  • Prepare for the PSAT 10/PSAT NMSQT. Use Khan Academy and CollegeBoard resources to prepare. 

  • Read books. I don’t mean to sound cliché, but reading should become a habit. I can’t tell you how many times a college interview begins with, “So, what was the last book you read?” Improve your grammar, express yourself better when it comes time to write essays and explain yourself in an interview, and let your mind wander. Get lost in a book! Read what interests you. Extra credit if you go to the library. 


  • **All of the recommendations listed for Freshman Year.**

  • [Year-Round] Look up portfolio requisites. Even if your College List is still a work-in-progress, check out what is needed to apply to film, architectural, design, and dance programs. This way, you can better prepare yourself for what’s needed. 

  • [Year-Round]: Schedule meetings with your Guidance Counselor. Your counselor will be responsible for uploading your transcript and writing you a letter of recommendation. Discuss your plans, goals, and concerns so your counselor gets to know you, even if you aren’t scheduled to meet later in your high school career.  

  • [Year-Round]: Take the TOEFL or IELTS. If you attend a school outside of the U.S. and your coursework is not in English, chances are you will have to take an English proficiency exam, such as the TOEFL or IELTS.

  • [Spring]: College Fairs and Admissions Counselor Visits. Find out when college fairs are in your area over the fall and make an effort to attend. Contact your school’s Guidance Office to see when recruiters are coming to your school.


  • Work on portfolio requisites (if needed). 

  • Define SAT/ACT Exam Date Timeline. Statistically, students actually take either the SAT or ACT exams twice, so pick two dates that work for you, giving yourself 8-12 weeks of solid preparation beforehand. The August SAT (SAT – U.S. only) and October, November and/or December exam dates are excellent choices for the SAT and ACT. Taking the SAT or ACT will provide you with statistical insight as it relates to college fit as well as help you complete any potential requirements ahead of time. Don’t worry if you don’t know where you’re applying to yet! Take the exam to give yourself more opportunities. The spring options for these exams are also a good alternative, but the October + December combination of test dates allows you to keep up with the material while it is still fresh. Also, many tackle AP exams in May of your junior year and find it hard to juggle their SAT studies at the same time. Colleges do not prefer the ACT over the SAT, and vice-versa, so pick the exam and the test dates that are most convenient for you. Some colleges want all your exam scores, other schools want you to only send your highest score: don’t worry about that for now. Aim as high as possible for what’s within your reach. Remember that coursework during your junior year is also not vital to achieving a top score on the exam: with tools such as Khan Academy, the CollegeBoard 8 Test Book, Magoosh, or even asking your Math teacher for a hand, you will successfully be able to prepare and complete these exams. 

    • Note: The September/October exams of your senior year should be the last exams you plan to take, even if November and December scores can still be considered. Unless study habits have significantly improved, do not expect an above-average score increase. It is strongly suggested that you complete these exams during latest during the spring of your junior year.

  • Prepare for the SAT and/or ACT. Check out my recommendations for study resources.  Create a study schedule that works for you: think of it like a healthy workout schedule in which you practice frequently and do not save up your review only for the weekends.

  • Keep up leisure reading and summer activities as mentioned for freshman summer.

  • Create an Activities List. Translate your resume into the format for the Activities List for the Common App/UC App. Prioritize your activities and be honest about their hours of involvement. If you know that you’re already applying to a UC school, start with the UC App as there is more space for word count and activities. Then, trim down this information for the Common App.  


  • [Fall] Develop a College List. Consider researching colleges your new extracurricular: set aside time to look at college’s websites, attend fairs, and meet admissions officers who come to your city and school. Read up! Here is a list with my recommendations of several books and websites to inspire and educate you.

  • [Fall] Take the SAT and/or ACT as well as Subject Tests. Put forth your full effort by trying your hardest and sticking to your study plan. 

  •  [Fall] Plan college visits. If you are visiting colleges out-of-state or out-of-country, decide if you will use spring break or take time off from school to visit. Note: universities are closed during winter break. 

  • [Fall] Plan out summer opportunities. As previously mentioned, many competitive programs have deadlines in the fall through March for internships, abroad volunteer positions, bootcamps, leadership and science camps, etc.. 

  • [Fall] Discuss possible teachers for letters of recommendation. Identify teachers and other role models who could write you a good letter of recommendation. Cultivate these  these relationships as the year progresses—show them your resume, share your goals, and, go out of your way to ask questions. 

  • [Fall] Start brainstorming responses to the Common App Essay. Use last year’s prompts as a baseline, and look up on your dream college’s admissions blog for tips. I don’t recommend you search for random essays online: you have it in you to write a beautiful personal statement!

  • [Spring] Ask for letters of recommendation. Book a meeting with your teachers/coach/mentor. Give him/her your resume, any completed essays, and ask your recommender to address anything specifically in the letter. Remember: no mentor is obligated to give you a letter. A nice touch is to give him/her a gift card for coffee or to purchase a book as a thank you.

  •  [Spring] Finish Personal Statement. By the time summer hits, have a strong first draft of your personal statement.

  • [Spring] Visit colleges. Keep evaluating your likes and dislikes so you can create a College List that you really love. Write what you have heard on tour that resonated with you: all these details can be easily worked into your essay. If you interview while on campus or stop by admissions, make sure you send a thank you note.

  • [Spring] Finalize College List. No colleges should be added on after the end of junior year to minimize your overall stress. If you’ve done your research, you need to start concentrating on putting forth the best application possible.

    • Determine which schools will be applied to ED, EA and RD, as well as any honors programs or scholarships. 

    • Make note of these dates in the calendar, and requirements you need to meet. 

  • [Spring] Create your own Admissions Tips Cheat Sheet. Use your target college’s website, YouTube channel, admissions blog, and the C7 Basis for Selection Chart in the Common Data Set and highlight what each school is looking for in its applicants. 

  • [Spring] Contact Admissions Officers. Ask questions directly to the Admissions Counselor for their region (as long as that question is not answered on the website) via email, chat, or seeing if s/he will be visiting your school. You should show interest—especially for colleges that take demonstrated interest into consideration.

  • [Spring] Keep compiling information needed for portfolio (if applicable). 


  • Record ZeeMee videos. Watch videos from current students, see sample responses to questions, follow colleges, chat with students, and more. Check out the current partner list to see if any of the schools listed could appeal to students specifically, although a student’s URL can also be added to resume independent if a college is affiliated or not. This is a great plus for your teachers to get to know you as they write your letters of recommendation, and for Admissions Officers/alumni before they interview you!

  • Work on supplementary essays, completing as many as possible. 

  • Finalize Activities List for Common App and/or UC App. Use Google docs so it is ready to be copy and pasted directly into the application once it goes live. 

  • Finish portfolio (if applicable).

  • Finalize Resume. Although a resume is always a work in progress, at this point it should be completely updated. Add your ZeeMee link and add on any summer activities worth mentioning. 

  • [Beginning August 1]. Begin the Common App (U.S. Schools). This application is released on August 1, so upload as much information as possible before school begins. If your school uses Naviance, it is important that you waive your FERPA rights so your counselor and teachers can upload letters of recommendation. 

  • [Beginning August 1] Add recommenders to Common App. Invite teachers to the Common App so they can add their letters of recommendation.

  • [Beginning August 1] UC App goes live. You will need your transcript, test scores, and parents’ annual income for last year and the current year. 

  • Work on supplementary essays, completing as many as possible. 

  • Take August SAT (if needed). 


  • [September] Follow up with Teacher Recommendations. Deadlines approach quickly and you might feel uneasy if you haven’t received your letter at this point. Schedule an appointment with your recommenders so you can ensure they have what they need in order to follow through. Update recommenders about your summer, and share in your excitement for college. You can also provide them with an updated resume.

  • [Fall] Adhere to deadlines.

  • [Fall] Attend college visits to your school. Find out in your Career Center when admissions reps will be visiting. Plan in advance if you need to skip a class so you can take advantage of the opportunity to network, ask questions, and get excited.

  • [Fall] Visit colleges (if applicable). Work those details into your essays!

  • [Fall] Finish all essays. Although it was ideal that you completed your essays over the summer, essays are now an utmost priority. Fun Fact: an admissions officer is typically interested just as much in your essay(s) as he/she is in your SAT scores. If you’re stuck, ask for help.

  • [Fall] Evaluate your priorities. Drop what you are not interested in; keep up what you most enjoy doing. Don’t start or add on anything new just for college application’s sake.

  • [Fall] Finalize ZeeMee videos. Record at least 10 videos to different prompts.

  • [Fall] Keep up contact with Admissions Officers.

  • [Fall] Practice mock interviews. Use commonly asked questions and review important details to keep in mind. 

  • [Fall] Schedule interviews. Coordinate all interviews held on-campus, with alumni or via Skype. For schools with interviews that are listed as “optional,” take advantage of this unique opportunity! 

  • [Fall] Request transcripts. Listen up for important announcements at school, and talk to your high school counselor about the preferred method for requesting transcripts. Don’t have your application delayed because you are still waiting on your transcript!

  • [Fall] Keep up grades. Colleges request a midyear report as part of a student’s application, even after applications are submitted. 

  • [Fall] Have official test score reports sent (as needed). Some universities let you self-report your SAT/ACT score reports; other schools need the official score report sent. Ask the college directly if you have any questions.

  • [October 1] FAFSA goes live. Parents should complete this as soon as possible. There’s a greater chance that colleges will give more state- and school-based aid if submitted early.

  • [October 1] CSS Profile becomes available. To qualify for state and institutional aid, some schools want this application.

  • [December – January] Receive responses on early applications. Celebrate acceptances! Above all, stay optimistic and encouraged.

  • [December – January] Submit deposit on Early Decision Application (if needed).

  • [March – April] Receive responses on regular applications.

  • [Spring] Update your FAFSA/CSS Profile (U.S. applicants). Revise information from your latest tax returns.

  • [May 1] Submit deposit on regular applications. You did it.


Submit necessary paperwork. Fill out your forms for housing, scheduling, orientation, and any other requested info.

College isn’t about the end result. It’s also about the means, the process, the path you take to earn your degree, whom you meet, and who inspires and mentors you. If the path is right for you, you’ll get the piece of paper, the bigger paycheck, the acceptance to grad school, the photo op with the president, and more—you’ll be sharper, wiser, and better-prepared adult.”

— Lauren Pope, College That Change Lives

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I'm Kristen: college mentor, networker, & access advocate.

Raised in the U.S, I'm a first-generation college graduate who has spent the past 15 years studying, volunteering, and working with students in Spain, Mexico, Brazil, Panama, and Italy—currently calling the island of Sicily my home.
I've worked with hundreds of students one-on-one who have graduated from universities around the world—blooming in their studies, travels, and purpose in this world. 

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