A High School Student’s Summer Guide to Planning for College

summer guide to college
How younger students can be ahead of the game when it comes to planning early and paying less for college

It is needless to say that high school is an overwhelming time for students. They’re faced with juggling their school’s social atmosphere, figuring out who they are, learning their true interests, and predicting what their future holds. Let us take some of the pressure off with our college preparation guide that students can look to during the summer before each year of high school.

Freshman Year

Congratulations! You’ve just finished 8th grade and it’s almost time to begin high school. Now is the time to focus mostly on the year ahead and slightly on college. Keep these tips in mind when you’re getting ready for your first year of high school.

Make a Summer Checklist

Making a list of goals to accomplish throughout the summer should be something you do every summer, so it’s time for your first list. This list will make a difference even though it shouldn’t too extensive. It could consist of saving time to look into different colleges or majors, reading for 20 minutes every day, or anything else that benefits you in your situation. It might not seem like much, but this list helps you get good habits in early and stay on top of planning for college. The checklist you make each year should be something you look back on in the summers to come so that you can keep track of your progress.

Dig into Your Classes

Do a little bit of research on the classes you’ll be taking in the fall. Familiarizing yourself with your freshman year subjects will not only give you a preview of what different parts of your year will look like, but it will also help you see what your interests are in an academic setting. That way, you’ll have a better handle on possible majors to choose in the following years before college.


The summer before freshman year is kind of like a limbo period because you’re too young to get a job and you might be unfamiliar with the extracurricular activities your high school offers. This makes this summer the perfect time to take advantage of when it comes to volunteering. Not to mention, there are several great things that come out of it. You have the opportunity to do something that makes a difference, get involved in your community, and find something that you enjoy doing! Volunteering is additionally something that looks great on the resume that you will build when applying for college.


You can help your child get ready for their first year of college by creating worksheets for them to fill out that have them do research on their future classes or different colleges that you think might be a good fit for them.

Sophomore Year

Great job, you’ve finished your first year of high school. Hopefully you have a better grasp on the ins and outs of your high school and you feel settled in so you can give some thought to your sophomore year. The tips from last summer still apply, but with a little twist.

Make Your Sophomore Checklist

Now is the time to gear your checklist towards planning for college. Last years plan should have given you a taste of what you might want to major in or what colleges look good to you on paper, so it’s time to take the next step. Add goals to the list like planning college visits or starting your studies for the SAT. This year’s list will be more intense than before, but it’s important to keep the end goal in mind when you start to feel overwhelmed. You’re doing everything you can by planning for the future, so keep up the good work.

Create a College List

Do some college research and generate a list of 30-40 colleges that spark your interest. Look at tuition, school size, majors, clubs and social atmosphere, and more to lay all of your options out on the table. This list might seem long, but right now you are casting a wide net so you have several colleges to explore and create opinions on when it comes time for college visits. Start your college list now so you have structure for the future that helps you make decisions.

Get a Job

You’re finally old enough to apply for a job, so why not give it a shot. Job experience looks great on a resume since it gives you a chance to learn important professional skills. Your first job does not have to be full-time, but even a part-time job that you take seriously can teach you coachability, diligence, maturity, and longevity. But keep in mind that getting a job is more than just resume fodder. Learning to manage the money you earn at a young age teaches financial responsibility which is great!

Get More Involved

Did you volunteer or get involved with an extracurricular activity last summer? Start off your next year of high school with a bang by getting more involved. Start by sticking with the things that relate to your interests. You shouldn’t be part of something just to put it on your resume, you should also enjoy it! Once you’ve narrowed down your activities, see where you can take things further. Look for leadership opportunities or learn more about what you’re doing to see where you can help out. Getting more involved is an overall great way to do something you like doing while adding to your resume.


The summer before your child’s sophomore year is the perfect time to find a financial planning expert because your FAFSA will reflect back to January of this coming year. Use this time to figure out what your EFC or student aid index is so you can start your plan. The earlier you can plan the better, so let us be your first option when it comes to the financial aspect of planning for college.

Junior Year

Welcome back upperclassman! You’re half way done with high school and half way closer to college so let’s strap in and make sure you’re ready for what’s coming up in the future.

Take a Look Around Your Local Colleges

Use this summer to see what kind of college campus is the right fit for you. There are many different variables at play when it comes to college campuses, such as size, location, social activities, and more. Physically go to the colleges that you can visit to find your flavor of school. And you don’t have to travel around the country to do this! Use this summer to visit the local schools around where you live to compare their differences what see what works for you. Once you know what kind of campus you’re looking for, you have a better grasp on what colleges should stay on your list.


The summer before your junior year is when you should crack down and study for the standardized tests you plan on taking. Commit to five days a week and be consistent to make progress. You shouldn’t dedicate your entire summer to stressing about the SAT or ACT, but you should try the best you can so that you’re ready to take these tests during the spring of your junior year.

The College Script

Your junior year of high school is when people start to ask you about what your plans are for college, which can become incredibly annoying, so you should try to establish an outline for what you’re doing as soon as possible. Try to know what kind of campus you’re looking for and what your major will be by the end of the summer so you have an answer for those people who ask you about college.

The College List

It’s time to narrow your list down from 30+ colleges to around 10. Your junior year college list should consist of schools that check all the boxes on paper and that you need to look at a little closer to make your decision. This list should be finalized by the end of this summer so that you can plan your visits and consolidate your college list even more.

The Documents

You don’t have to submit your college applications this summer, but getting all of your documents in order now is not a bad idea at all. Use this summer to come up with possible essay topics by taking advantage of fun experiences and adventures or reflecting back on previous summers. Your essay should be about something that you’re passionate and excited about that truly had an impact on who you are. Additionally, reflect on previous summers to create your resume. By this point, you should have some job and volunteering experience that should make writing your resume a breeze. Also keep in mind that there are tons of resume templets out there that are just a click away to help you.

The Recommendation

Also use this summer to ask for recommendation letters. You should give your recommenders time to write your letters especially if they’re teachers, which means they are probably writing letters for other students. Ask someone why knows you on a personal, academic, or professional level. You should at least have an idea of who to ask by the end of this summer.

The Application

Try familiarizing yourself with college applications. See which colleges are included in the Common App and which aren’t. Remember that college applications aren’t free, so see how much you will be spending in total next year. Check to see how or if the essay questions between your top choices differ to find out if you need multiple essays ready. College applications open in August so why not take a peak.


Be aware of money. No parent enjoys talking about money with their kids, but this is an important time to review your financial situation so your child knows how much they will have for college. Cost of attendance is everything, so have your child look up the cost of attendance for a year to give them perspective. But don’t cut out schools that seem to expensive right away because you don’t know how much money they will get down the road. Right now is all about understanding the magnitude of the price.

Senior Year

It’s the summer before your senior year, which means it’s officially go time.

Finalize Your College List

It might seem like overkill, but double, triple, and quadruple check the colleges that still remain on your list. Make sure they have your major and are the right fit for you so you can apply without worries. Like we said before, applying to college costs money. Try using process of elimination on your college list to knock a few off the list that won’t be the right fit for you.

It’s Not too Late to Update

You still have time to finalize a subject for your essay, add to your resume, and improve your test scores. If the opportunities present themselves, go with the flow and take advantage!!! Get a better job if you can, do something inspiring to add to your essay, or volunteer for an organization related to your major. Applications open in August, so you have time to make alterations to your documents before it’s time to submit.
Additionally, it’s not too late to take the SAT or ACT again if it would benefit you. You’re familiar with taking the tests at this stage, so give them another go if you really think you can boost your score. Just remember not to jeopardize your GPA since your grades from your senior year could affect college admissions.

Complete Your Understanding of Financial Aid

Parents should have a general understanding of financial aid by this point in the college journey, but take this time to dive deeper. Depending on your situation, financial aid could make or break your college decisions. It is beyond necessary that families are aware of their EFC and student aid index by this summer. This means that as a student you can (and should) learn about financial aid before this time, but make sure you do by this point.


There is help out there! This entire experience is overwhelming to everyone, which is exactly why college planning experts like us exist! Really do your research to find the best person to help your family. Since you’re already here, why not sign up for a free college assessment on our website. We’ll assess if you’re on the right track or if we can help you get there. No obligation. Remember: the worst thing you can do is wait to ask for help until it’s too late.

Visit our website for more information like this, and reach out to our financial aid and college affordability experts at 610-422-3530 to start your college planning journey today.


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