college admissions

Preparing to apply for college can feel overwhelming. When do I start the process? What part of a college application is most important? Do my grades as a freshman really make a difference? These are all common questions, and we’re here to answer them. See our master college admissions timeline below for all the steps you should take each year of school to stay on track and submit your strongest college application when it’s finally that time.

Every School Year 

There are key things you can do every school year to stay on top. These items include:

  • Register for honors and/or AP® classes
  • Keep your grades strong
  • Participate in school activities
  • Participate in community service
  • Meet with your school counselor

Middle School

Believe it or not, the college admissions timeline starts in middle school. Grades and classes in middle school lay the foundation for high school. Here are some things middle schoolers can focus on:

  • Strengthen your math knowledge
  • Your grades in 6th and 7th grade determine your high school math course track
  • Earn high grades in your world language classes to be placed on an accelerated course track in high school
  • Prepare for admissions tests to summer enrichment/gifted programs
  • Register for the PSAT® 8/9


Starting high school can feel overwhelming for freshmen. Focusing on the key items below will help set students up for their entire high school experience:

  • Visit two or more colleges over summer break
  • Try out extra-curricular activities to identify the ones that interest you
  • Register for the PSAT® 8/9
  • Start building a strong cumulative GPA with strong grades


Sophomore year is when many students start taking AP® and begin preparing for college admissions exams. Tasks in the college admissions timeline to prioritize include:

  • Take advanced/AP® courses in your strongest subjects
  • Continue to participate in the extracurricular activities that interest you the most
  • Take the PSAT® 10 in the spring
  • Prepare for the SAT® and/or ACT® over summer break
  • Visit two or more colleges over summer break


Junior year of high school can feel busy and frantic. There’s a lot to do with college applications quickly approaching, and here’s what you should focus on:

  • Build the rigor of your course load
  • Earn high grades in challenging courses
  • Obtain leadership positions in your school activities
  • Take the PSAT/NMSQT® and compete for the National Merit Scholarship in the fall
  • Secure your target SAT®/ACT® score by spring
  • Visit your top college choices over spring break
  • Start writing your college essays over summer break
  • Finalize your college list over summer break
  • Start researching scholarship opportunities over summer break


Seniors: You’re almost there! College is right around the corner. Here are the steps in the college admissions timeline to ensure you finish high school strong and go into college feeling proud and confident:

  • Finalize SAT® and/or ACT® scores in the fall (if not already finalized)
  • Complete FAFSA and other financial aid forms in the fall
  • Determine college application deadlines in the fall
  • Request recommendations well ahead of deadlines
  • Submit college applications well ahead of deadlines
  • Choose a college and submit the deposit by May 1
  • Finalize and submit scholarship applications in the spring

Ready to get started? Reach out to your local C2 Center today and ask about our college counseling service.