Plan Ahead: College Readiness Quick Guide

For many high school students, college seems like something far in the future. But as you come closer to graduation, the importance of college readiness becomes clear. When you take the time to plan ahead, you can reduce stress and assemble all the information you need to make the best choices. Below are some of the major steps to take to ensure you’re ready by the time you graduate.

First, Think Broadly

Before you start making specific plans, think about what you’d like to study and what institutions support that goal. Sally Rubenstone of College Confidential recommends starting to think about what you’ll be doing post-graduation, as well as starting to make a list of potential choices, in your sophomore and junior years of high school. This way, by the time your senior year of high school starts, you’ll be well-prepared to choose and apply to schools. Senior year is often stressful for a variety of reasons, so beginning college planning well in advance may help reduce some of your stress.

Create an SAT Plan

While colleges look at a variety of factors when evaluating your application, having a high SAT score is very important for more competitive institutions. Developing an SAT plan that identifies your learning style and applying it can be an excellent way to prepare. Some students may do well with an SAT prep course, whether online or in person. Others may prefer to purchase an SAT prep book and study on their own for the exam.

Regardless of which route you choose, taking practice tests that simulate the actual testing environment will familiarize you with the content on the test as well as with the test directions, and this will save you valuable time during the exam itself. Studies show that extra test practice makes for a higher test performance.

Consider Finances

With tuition costs on the rise, most people find that they need to plan carefully in order to be able to pay for college. Greg Ward of Financial Finesse notes that his family sets aside money each month for his children’s college funds. Setting aside money and applying for scholarships is something that can be done well in advance of deciding what school to attend.

For many, attending community college and then transferring to a four-year institution is a viable option. United States’ largest community college, located in Mesa, Arizona, offers over 200 educational options. Many other institutions like this one have been growing steadily over the years. The expanded course offerings mean that many students will receive a valuable and less costly education for one to two years before transferring to a university.

Don’t Neglect the Present

As you begin to more seriously plan for college, it is often tempting to neglect current responsibilities like homework and extracurriculars. However, Peterson’s suggests that students (and particularly to eleventh grade students) continue with both academic and non-academic activities through the application process. While colleges will be looking at your grades, they also will evaluate your extracurricular activities when deciding whether to admit you.

Plan College Visits

Researching the institutions you are considering is a vital step in the college readiness process, since you need to know if a given school’s cost, location, size, admission requirements, and course offerings are what you need. However, once you’ve narrowed down your list, it’s time to choose a few schools to visit.

A campus visit, especially one where classes are in session, can give you a sense of the school’s general atmosphere. During a visit, you may also be able to schedule a personal interview or speak with one or more professors in your chosen field.

Because campus visits can be expensive and time-consuming, planning them out in advance is recommended. While a visit to a nearby school may not take as much time, flying across the country to visit a school is a major undertaking. Be sure to plan your visits so you have enough time to take a tour, explore the campus, and speak with professors or students if you would like to.

Choose Your Recommendation Writers

Teachers and counselors are often overwhelmed with recommendation requests from students, so be sure to choose your recommenders early on. This is not only respectful, but it also gives your recommenders the time to put together a thoughtful recommendation for you.

Many letter writers are teachers, but also including a recommendation from a coach or someone else who has supervised you in an extracurricular context may give the institution a better idea of who you are as a person.A good piece of general advice is to make sure at least one of your recommenders has known you for at least a year, since this means they know you at least somewhat well.


The beginning stages of planning your post-graduation future are often daunting, especially if you don’t know how to start. While the above list isn’t exhaustive, these steps will help you develop your college readiness. By considering all aspects of preparation – including financial, academic, and extracurricular concerns – you will be well-equipped to put together a strong application.

Amanda Wilks is a valedictorian Boston University graduate herself who strives to motivate students all over to live, learn, and work smart, not hard. As Martin Luther King Jr. said: “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”



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