The Complete Guide to Senior Year

Senior year is the most critical year thus far in your high school career. On top of balancing existing extracurriculars and academics, you have to keep track of scholarships, college applications, and letters of recommendation. To ensure that you have a smooth senior year and meet all your deadlines, follow this month-by-month timeline!

Summer Before Senior Year

1. Research schools and start your school list  – Sites like Niche will allow you to get a deeper understanding of all aspects of campus life. Because many colleges nationwide are on strict lockdown, consider visiting their campuses through virtual tours.

2. Research scholarships  – Create a list of scholarships and their deadlines to track throughout the year. See 30 Scholarships for the Class of 2021 to learn more.

3. Register and get familiar with the Common App – The Common Application is a free online website that streamlines the application process by sending your information to multiple schools. Instead of filling out the same forms for each school, you only do it once!

4. College essays– Begin brainstorming and drafting your college essays. If you aren’t sure where to start, read How to Brainstorm for the College Essay.

5. Financial aid – Create your Federal Student Aid ID (your parent will need their own). This way, you can complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as early as October 1.

6. Picking classes – The fall of your senior year will be stressful, but this does not mean that you should choose easy courses. Colleges will be checking that you are maintaining (or increasing) the rigor of your classes.


1. Get organized! Create a folder for information on colleges you’re considering. To stay on top of deadlines, mark up your calendar with important dates (SATs/ACTs, college fairs, application and scholarship deadlines, etc.).

2. Narrow down your college list. To ensure that your list is balanced, include 2-3 safety schools, five target schools, and 2-3 reach schools.

  • Safety: schools for which you have over an 80% chance of acceptance
  • Target: schools for which you have over a 50% chance of acceptance
  • Reach: schools you’re unlikely to get into

3. Ask for letters of recommendation – Teachers and counselors get flooded with requests for recommendation letters during application season, so they will appreciate (and have more time to write a quality recommendation) if you come to them early on. Be sure to provide them with a brag sheet, a stamped, addressed envelope, and any additional required forms.

4. Early decision – If you are applying early decision, start working on your application.

5. Make an appointment with your guidance counselor to go over your college and financial aid plans.

6. Take the SAT/ACT or SAT Subject Tests. Your last chance to take the SAT and ACT will be in December for regular decision and ED-II schools.

7. Send your standardized test scores to all early action schools (unless you plan on retaking them).

8. Learn more about potential schools by attending college fairs and how to finance your education by going to financial aid nights.

9. Continue brainstorming for essays, and begin drafting ED-I essays.


1. Apply for FAFSA as soon as possible. The sooner you apply, the better your chances are at receiving aid. This is because some colleges award aid on a first-come, first-served basis, and give away most of their money early on. Don’t procrastinate, get it out of the way!

2. When you receive your Student Aid Report (information about your federal student aid eligibility) via email or postal mail, check for errors.

3. Set up your CSS Profile. Otherwise known as the College Scholarship Service Profile, schools other than state schools and public institutions often use this form to determine financial aid.

4. Check with teachers, counselors, or employers you asked for ED-I recommendations on your letters’ status.

5. Visit your top school choices. Arrange for a private meeting with a student or faculty member to learn more about the school. Because many schools are closing their campuses for the fall semester, virtual tours and Skype meetings with school faculty may be the best alternative for getting to know the college.

  • Tip: Ask for their contact information card and send them a thank-you card or thank them via email.

6. Attend college fairs and financial aid orientations.

7. Submit supplemental application materials for ED-I schools requiring portfolios or audition tapes.

8. Finish all Early Decision applications. Eager applicants will apply early on, so apply ASAP to improve your chances of admission!

9. Begin drafting ED-II and Regular Decision essays.


1. Send in your applications to schools with November deadlines. ED-1 schools most often set their deadlines between November 1 and November 15.

2. Check with teachers, counselors, or employers you asked for ED-II and Regular Decision recommendations on your letters’ status.

3. Complete essay drafts and continue to revise.

4. Research and apply for scholarships.

5. Stay active in your commitments. Applications will keep you very busy; however, you must stay engaged with family and friends, extracurriculars, and academics. These all provide you with a well-deserved break from the stress of application season.


1. Complete all regular decision applications. Regular decision application deadlines typically fall between January and February.

2. Send your scores to regular or ED-II schools and arrange to have your transcripts sent to any remaining colleges.

3. Ask a teacher or friend if they would be willing to read and revise your final essay.

4. Early decision and early action schools will release admissions around mid-December.

5. Maintain your grades. Your grades during this fall semester matter, so don’t let senioritis convince you otherwise! Upcoming scholarships will rely on these grades, and if you are waitlisted, colleges will be checking your mid-year reports!

6. Continue to hunt and apply for scholarships!

7. Send thank-you cards to those who wrote your letters of recommendation.


1. If your school requires mid-year reports, request to have them sent in.

2. Submit any remaining regular decision applications.

3. Research local scholarships and apply to them as quickly as possible.


1. Anticipate more acceptance letters! ED-II schools release admissions by mid-February.

2. Finalize and submit FAFSA and CSS Profiles.

3. Rank your top school choices.

4. Keep an eye on scholarship deadlines. Many colleges have deadlines in February and March.


1. Check your mailbox! Regular application decisions will begin to roll in between March and early-April.

2. Check with the financial aid offices on the status of your paperwork and submit tax forms if required.

3. Prepare for AP exams.


1. On the waitlist? Don’t worry! Being waitlisted is NOT a rejection. To maximize your potential, write a waitlist letter communicating your sustained interest and include updated information that would increase your admission chances.

2. Compare financial aid award packages from different schools.

3. Make your final school decision and send in deposits by May 1 and notify the schools that you will NOT be attending.

4. Keep track of your college’s important dates – Registration, orientation programs, and student housing application deadlines are all days to write on your calendar.

5. If you want to make some extra cash for the upcoming school year, start searching for a summer job.


1. Take AP exams.

2. Don’t let senioritis take over. Finish the year strong!

3. Congratulations, you’re now a college student!

Summer Before College

1. Begin working your final high school summer job.

2. Attend your school’s orientation, send in housing forms, and plan for college transportation.

3. Relax and enjoy your summer!

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