Tips: Preparing for College

Preparing for College shows Serious students sitting for an examination

If you haven’t begun to prepare, here are some steps to take and things to consider as you enter your junior year of high school and are preparing for college.

Presented by Tom Kennedy, CFP®:

Let’s pretend that you have just turned 17. You’ve probably got plenty to keep you busy—school, driver’s ed, maybe a job. By now, however, you should also be thinking about college.

Decisions to Make in Preparing for College

What college or university would you like to attend? It’s hard to choose from among the thousands across the U.S. It helps if you have an idea of the major you want to pursue—that way, you can compare schools based on a particular program or department.

Sign up for the PSAT (i.e., the preliminary SAT). High PSAT scores can qualify you for a National Merit Scholarship. Even if you don’t qualify, taking the test is a great way to prepare for the SATs.

If you are up to the increased workload, you can take Advanced Placement (AP) classes to satisfy some college requirements before you arrive at college. Most high schools offer these courses, which are taught at a college level, to students in their junior or senior year. Bear in mind that not all universities give credit for AP courses and that different universities require different test scores.

Some colleges require other standardized tests, including the SAT I, SAT II, or ACT exams. Meet with your guidance counselor and determine which tests you need to take.

Work hard in class. Grades in junior year are typically most relevant to college admissions offices. Save past awards or honors to include in your academic file.

Timeline of Preparing for College

Students typically take the ACT or SAT in the spring of their junior year.

When possible, visit the schools you may want to attend. Sign up for a guided tour or to meet current students. If interested in a particular area of study, get in touch with the appropriate professor or even sit in on a class. Ask students about the best places to eat. Spend the night in a dorm. Assign plenty of weight to these experiences, as they can tell you more about a school than its website.

Each school has different application deadlines and requirements. Remember, it takes time to acquire application materials, including recommendations or transcripts. Know the deadlines for the schools you are looking at, and begin working on the applications early.

During the fall of your senior year, assemble your portfolio, recommendations, writing samples, and official transcript. Then, apply to the schools of your choice.

Once your school applications are complete, it’s time to think about applying for student aid through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Students and parents report income from the tax year two years prior to the current FAFSA application year. For example, on the form for 2021-2022 aid, 2019 income should be reported. Here are a few tips to help you get your FAFSA application started:

  • Visit the Federal Student Aid ID website at to create a personal username and password. This way, you can easily complete your FAFSA.
  • Start the process as soon as you can—some schools have a financial aid deadline as early as February.
  • The application asks about family income, so your parents generally must complete or estimate their federal income tax return before you can complete your FAFSA.
  • Even if you don’t think you can qualify for financial aid, apply anyway. Aid is dispensed for all different reasons, and the application is free.

Several weeks after submitting your FAFSA, you will receive your Student Aid Report (SAR) for review. It is automatically distributed to the schools you specified on the FAFSA application. Your SAR tells schools for which portion of the bill you need financial assistance. When you are accepted, the school will issue you an award letter with various grants or loans that make up this financial assistance. Please note: If you applied to another school after completing FAFSA, you must send a copy of your SAR to that school yourself.

Other Activities to Help You Prepare

Throughout the spring, look for scholarships offered through your high school or preferred university. Talk to your guidance counselor, attend a financial aid event, and search online to find as many scholarships as you can.

By the end of spring, you should have received your award letter. Be sure to review your SAR again, as well as your award letter; financial aid officers can make mistakes, too. Note whether one university gives you much less aid than most others. Contact a school if you think you may be entitled to more aid. Even if you think there has not been an error, financial aid is sometimes flexible. If you cannot afford tuition—given the current aid package—call the school’s financial aid office and explain your situation.

Confirm your enrollment in one of the schools to which you were accepted. Notify the other schools in writing that you will not attend.

When you go to college, you will have huge expenses for tuition, fees, housing, and food. Be sure that your money from loans, grants, family, and savings can cover these costs. Prepare for how you will pay for college. If you haven’t already, prepare a budget for your time at school. A budget can help you stay on track.

Students normally attend orientation in July and August. Even if your school is far from home and orientation isn’t mandatory, it can be worth the trip. 

This material has been provided for general informational purposes only and does not constitute either tax or legal advice. Although we go to great lengths to make sure our information is accurate and useful, we recommend you consult a tax preparer, professional tax advisor, or lawyer


Tom Kennedy is a financial advisor located at Global Wealth Advisors 520 Post Oak., Suite 450, Houston, TX 77027. He offers securities and advisory services as an Investment Adviser Representative of Commonwealth Financial network®, Member FINRA  / SIPC, a Registered Investment Adviser. Financial planning services offered through Global Wealth Advisors are separate and unrelated to Commonwealth. He can be reached at (832) 649-8111 or at

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