Now is the time for the high school class of 2020 to take its place in a long, long line of prospective college students, but there is a lot of work to be done this summer. Although you technically have until the spring to complete all of your college prep tasks, the reality is that many deadlines come much faster than you might realize. Here are the top five steps new high school seniors need to take to get onboard the college application train:

  1. Narrow Down Your Top College Choices: Some students apply to a great number of colleges but that can be time-consuming and costly. This summer you need to narrow the list to five primary choices: three where you have a good chance of being accepted, one “stretch” college that might be a little out of your reach, and one “safety” college where you have good odds of being accepted. If you have not visited your three main colleges, talk to your parents or classmates about taking some campus tours.
  2. Learn Your Application Deadlines: There is nothing worse than losing a great opportunity because you failed to meet a deadline. Look at the website for each of your top colleges and get the details on their application process. If you are absolutely set on attending one college, you can apply for early decision, but those applications can be due as early as October or November. Early action applications have a little more flexibility, but are usually due by the end of the calendar year. Regular admission applications are usually accepted into February or March.
  3. Understand Financial Aid: If you need help paying for college, you need to understand whether your colleges require completion of the FAFSA or CSS Profile, or their own application. These are available October 1, and it is usually best to complete them as soon as possible as some programs have limited funding available. You might be eligible for financial support from the federal and state government, the institution itself, or other organizations. This assistance might come in the form of grants and scholarships, work-study programs, or student loans.
  4. Prepare for Your Tests: Look at the college websites to determine whether they require you to submit SAT or ACT scores. You want to leave time to prepare for, and take these tests by the appropriate application deadlines. If you need help studying for these tests, check out companies which can help you improve your score.
  5. Check Out Possible Scholarships: Your colleges might offer scholarships for academics and athletics, but also look for help from local businesses and charitable organizations. If you have a particular talent, ethnic background, or physical disability, research potential scholarship opportunities online. Many will have deadlines by the end of the calendar year.

Applying to college can be a challenge, so get organized over the summer and you’ll have a lot less stress in the fall.