College Checklist

There's a lot to learn about going to college. A good place to start is here, where you can take it step by step. This page provides an overview of the whole process. You can start from the beginning or click on any of the menu items below:


Think about College

When should I start thinking about college?
It really is never too early to start thinking about college. Setting a goal of going to college can help you figure out what classes you should be taking in high school and can drive you to achieve your potential.

Is college right for me?
College is typically a two- to four-year academic program that helps prepare you for a career. While getting a college degree is one of the best ways to get a good job, you might also consider vocational or trade school. There you can learn skills to enter a career field such as cosmetology, auto mechanics, or advanced manufacturing.

But don’t you need to be a genius to get in?
Good grades definitely matter. So do the kinds of courses you take during high school. But grades aren’t everything! College admissions counselors look at more than your Grade Point Average (GPA) — they also look at your activities, your personal essay, and other factors to see if you will be a good fit at their school. So even if you are worried about your grades, you should apply anyway.


Choose Colleges to Apply To

Here are some tools to help you figure out what kind of college and career are right for you:

What should I look for in a college?

  • Look at what programs and majors are offered
  • See how much it costs (but remember, financial aid can make a big difference in the sticker price)
  • Think about where the college is. You might want to live at home... or move far, far away.

Go for a visit.
One of the best ways to learn about a college is to go there yourself. See what the campus looks like. Can you see yourself there?


Where do you feel comfortable with your child going to college?

It is important to have a discussion with your student about what colleges they are interested in applying to.


Figure Out How to Pay for College

It is no secret that college can be expensive. But that shouldn't stop you.
Most college students — over 66% — get help paying for college through a combination of scholarships, financial aid, and loans.

There are other ways to make college more affordable.
For example, many students take an on-campus work-study job.

The easiest way to get financial aid is to fill out a FAFSA form with your parents (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).
There is free help available to help students and families fill out the form. Check out our Calendar of Events to find a FAFSA session coming up soon if you need help!

Ask the experts.
All college admissions offices offer help to prospective students in filling out financial aid forms. Contact them.


There is help out there! Cost shouldn't stop your child from going to school.

Filling out the FAFSA will require you to list some tax information. Providing this info does not make a difference to any State or Federal benefits you receive.


Apply to College

Each college has an admissions counselor interested in talking with you.
After you've made a list of schools you are interested in applying to, use our list of counselors to find the right person to contact! They can help walk you through the application process.

Most colleges will require you to take the SAT or ACT to be considered for admission.
These tests don't have to be as scary as they might sound. Many high schools have SAT and ACT prep opportunities. Talk to your counselor about possible fee waivers for these tests.

Many schools require you to write a personal essay to get a better sense of who you are. Here is a checklist that will help you write a great essay.
Grades aren't the only thing that colleges consider when you apply. A good essay can really set you apart from other applicants. Just because it is a personal essay, doesn't mean that you can't ask for help. Be sure to ask your English teacher or another trusted adult to read your essay before you submit it!

Colleges have different schedules for accepting students.
Check out our Calendar of Events to make sure you make all application deadlines.

Many students with financial needs can get a waiver of college application fees from the College Board.

If you have any questions along the way, make sure to talk to your high school guidance counselor.


Check out our Calendar of Events for deadlines and special events that will help you and your son or daughter get through the application process.

Essay writing tips.
When it's time for your student to work on a personal essay, you'll want to review our essay writing checklist.


Choose the Right College for You

Did you get accepted by several colleges?
For some people, picking the right one is easy. But it can be a very complicated process.

Once you have gotten in to a college, you must find out what it will cost.
You will not know which school offers you the most support until you receive each college's financial aid package. Cost is a big factor in choosing a college so a good financial aid package can be critical.

You might be tempted to go where your friends are going.
Don't let this be the biggest reason you choose a school! Find what is best for YOU.

Go on a campus visit.
A visit is the best way to find out where you'll feel most comfortable. Sometimes transportation is offered so accepted students can visit. Ask your admissions counselor.


Need more help?

Talk to your counselor, a trusted teacher, or another adult with college experience.

Take advantage of any college preparation program you might have in your school.

Take advantage of community activities, such as RCAN's FASFA Fest.