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College Action Plan

We know the college application process can be daunting, so use this guided plan to understand the different steps and be college-ready. Follow these 8 steps and track your own progress!

Step 1: Finding Your Fit

With hundreds of colleges and universities to choose from, you’ve got a lot of options! Before you choose which colleges to apply to, it is important to reflect on what you want most from your college experience and what type of campus environment you will thrive in.

Recommended Timeframe: The sooner the better! It is never too early to begin exploring college, but you should definitely start by junior year.


Step 2: Building a College List

Equally as important as what you submit to colleges — your test scores, your essays, etc. — is where you send them. We encourage you to “shop” for colleges and research schools that are household names and schools that you’ve never heard of. Take yourself out of your comfort zone and be open to all the opportunities out there!

Start building a list of schools you might want to apply to by using the ScholarMatcher, a powerful search tool that will match you to the US colleges that offer the best opportunities for low-income students.

Recommended Timeframe: Start to draft your list your junior year and have a final version complete by the fall of senior year.

  • Use the ScholarMatcher and our college research worksheet for more information
  • Decide on 8-10 colleges; include likelies, targets, & reaches
  • Sign up for college campus visits (check out this great list of Fly-In Programs!) and contact admissions offices
  • Register for college mailing lists through admissions websites
  • Use the Net Price Calculator to estimate college costs

Step 3: Take Standardized Test

The key to doing well on your college entrance exams is practice, practice and more practice! Be sure to give yourself ample time to prepare before the date of your exam; this is not the time for procrastination.

Recommended Timeframe: Take your first test the spring of your junior year so that you have the opportunity to re-take the test the following summer and/or during the fall of senior year.

  • Register for SAT and/or ACT
  • Check out a test prep book & take practice tests
  • Review subjects with tools like Khan Academy
  • Decide if retaking is necessary (students usually do better the second time!)

Step 4: Personal Statement & Essays

We cannot overestimate the importance of writing a compelling personal statement. Admissions officers read hundreds of personal statements every year; consider this your opportunity to tell colleges what is unique about you.

Recommended Timeframe: Begin brainstorming during the spring of your junior year and create drafts during the summer before your senior year. Fall of senior year is the time to perfect your essays!



Step 5: All About Scholarships

An excellent way to supplement a college’s financial aid package is to receive private scholarships. Each scholarship has its own unique application requirements and deadlines, so you’ll have to do some research to find out what scholarships might be a fit for you. Although finding and applying for scholarships can be time-consuming, the rewards are well worth the effort!

Recommended Timeframe: Scholarships can dramatically change the affordability of college, so it is important to begin your search as soon as possible. Definitely start searching by spring of junior year and continue throughout senior year.


Step 6: Applications

You have completed your tests and essays, now all that’s left is filling out the application! This is your opportunity to share all that you have been involved with throughout your high school career.

  • Start UC/CSU/Common App applications
  • Contact schools about application fee waivers if possible
  • Complete the EOP application if applicable
  • Write an appeal letter if you have been waitlisted

Step 7: Financing Your Degree

In addition to private scholarships, students receive funding from the federal and state governments. Make sure you don’t miss the deadlines for these very important forms!

  • Complete FAFSA form
  • Complete California Dream Act form if applicable
  • Complete CSS Profile form if required (used by certain colleges)
  • Send tax forms to the financial aid offices of colleges who request them

Step 8: Comparing Offers & Making Decisions!

You have been admitted to college – congratulations! Before you commit, it is important that you understand your financial aid package.

  • Review and compare financial aid offers
  • Accept loans if applicable