College Search Timeline

Your college search is an exciting time to explore all of the possibilities before you. Start early and you’ll have plenty of time to discover the college or university that fits you best.

You’ll find lots of mixed messages about the cost of higher education. Don’t believe the myth that it’s not affordable. It is! Most importantly, investing in your education will bring lifetime returns.

Sometimes the greatest challenge is knowing how and where to start.

Begin with you. What are your interests, priorities, and values?

Here are some simple questions to ask yourself. 

  • What do I enjoy studying? What major(s) might best fit my interests?
  • Do I want to be a short drive from home, a few hours, or a great distance?
  • Do I want to choose a college in a rural or urban setting?
  • Would I be most comfortable in a large or mid-size city or a small town?
  • Do I want to be at a big university with large classes and the opportunity to go unnoticed or would I prefer smaller classes, interaction with professors, and mentors who will guide me in making decisions about my future?
  • What activities, organizations, and programs are important to me? Athletics? Performing arts? Social life? Study abroad?

Begin with questions like these, add your own, and then prioritize. What matters most to you?


This college search timeline provides with a road map for a successful college search.

Freshman Year

The transcript you will provide with your college admission and scholarship applications begins now. Start strong, take good classes, and do your best work. College preparatory classes in English, science, math, and social studies will provide a strong foundation for college courses. Studying a second language is encouraged.

Get involved in activities that interest you. Studying is important; contributions to your school and community are, too.

Sophomore Year

This is an appropriate time to begin preparing for your college search.

  • Check out college and university websites.
  • Attend college fairs in your area.
  • Continue your involvement in school, community, and/or church activities.
  • Continue to do your best work in your courses.

Junior Year

Now is the time to start thinking more seriously about the future. Enjoy high school but begin to imagine what kind of college experience you may want to have.

  • Create a college checklist based on your priorities (majors, size, location, etc.).
  • Attend college fairs.
  • Begin making campus visits. Participate in group visit programs or individual visit experiences tailored specifically to your interests. Talk to students, meet with professors, attend a class, sample the food, and more.
  • Take the ACT or SAT. April and June are both good options. Remember it is just a test, you can take it again, most colleges/universities make decisions based on your best score, plus your high school transcript, involvement in activities, essay, etc.
  • Be thinking about scholarship opportunities. Visit college websites, talk to your guidance counselor, and investigate community scholarship programs.
  • Make a folder of favorite essays or papers you may want to submit for your writing sample/essay.
  • Continue to take good courses and do your best work. It will soon be time to share your transcripts with colleges and universities.

Senior Year

  • Create a resume, focusing on school, community, church and civic involvement.
  • If you haven’t yet taken the ACT or SAT, make plans to do so.
  • Identify teachers, counselors, and/or coaches you will ask to write letters of recommendations on your behalf.
  • Submit applications for admission and scholarships. Your first deadline is Halloween.
  • Make note of scholarship application and deadline requirements.
  • Make first or second campus visits to your top choices.
  • Communicate with admission counselors. They will be great resources for information and can serve as your advocates.
  • File the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) at
  • Participate in scholarship events and/or make final visits to your top choices.
  • Review your scholarship and financial aid awards.
  • Consider your priorities along with the net price. Choose the college/university that will help you become your best self and achieve your goals.
  • Make your college decision!
  • Submit your housing preferences.
  • Register for classes.
  • Get ready for an awesome four years!