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The key to not getting overwhelmed with the college admissions process is to stay organized and know what to focus on when. The focus in 9th-10th grade should be on academic success, extracurricular interests, and exploring career ideas. College visits and gaining real world experiences through volunteerism and job-shadowing can happen anytime. 11th grade can be tough because students will typically be faced with standardized testing, taking more rigorous courses, and possibly more intense extracurricular schedules. In 11th grade, students should also narrow their college research to a final college list of 7-10 schools (reach, target, and at least 1 safety choice), establish first and second choice majors, and determine eligibility for any special university programs (such as honors colleges, dual degree programs, etc.). Students should begin working on college applications and the necessary supplementary materials the summer after junior year, with application deadlines in fall of senior year. Waiting to begin the application process until the start of senior year can result in added stress, tight deadlines, and some missed opportunities.


Students can submit the FAFSA as early as October of senior year. Even when a family isn’t likely to qualify for much if any financial aid, we still recommend completing the FAFSA in order to ensure they qualify for any and all scholarships. Financial aid awards packages are often sent out with admissions offers. Most scholarships are awarded based on academic merit using information provided on the admissions application, but colleges also offer additional scholarships that may require applications. Applying for scholarships is a year-round process as deadlines can occur anytime. Students should use scholarship searches to help match with scholarships.

For more information please view our College Admissions Timeline presentation here:


It’s important to gather data and organize your research. We recommend using a spreadsheet to keep track of college visits, information sessions, and admissions requirements with deadlines. There are many information tracking templates available online or you can easily create one yourself. Students should take advantage of opportunities to meet with college recruiters on their high school campuses as well as signing up for campus tours and preview weekends. Colleges track demonstrated interest from prospective students, so signing up for events is a great way for a student to show interest. Students should also plan to follow colleges on social media, especially if the admissions committee has a social media following.


A robust college list should include 7-10 choices, including Reach schools (dream schools that might have a <30% acceptance rate), Target schools (or match schools in which a student meets the GPA and test score averages, approx 50% acceptance rate), and Safety schools (which shouldn’t be backup choices, but schools with guaranteed admissions policies). We also recommend students choose at least 1 Texas safety choice, even if they are mostly planning to apply out of state. Keep in mind that the likelihood of acceptance is based mostly on high school course choices and GPA. Standardized test scores, resume info, and college essays help round out a student application and show off strengths and passions.


Don’t put off college visits until Junior year – start early and often! Make sure to get students on campus at colleges nearby or a drive away. If a student is interested in visiting colleges that would require travel planning, start with virtual tours and virtual information sessions first to help a student narrow down their choices. If travel isn’t an option for college visits, then students should also set up alumni interviews and read student reviews online to find out more about the student experience on campus.


Most colleges accept universal applications, which means students may only have to complete one application and submit to multiple colleges. A personal statement or personal narrative essay is almost always required, but the good news is that with the universal application, students can often craft one excellent essay to submit to all schools. Students can diversify their narrative using the supplemental short answer essay that may be required for some applications. Recommended but not required materials often include resumes, letters of recommendation, and portfolios. “Recommended” should always be read as “submit if possible.” Deadlines are deadlines, but as applications are generally reviewed in order of submission, earlier can often meet more likely to be accepted as long as a student meets the GPA and test score averages of a university. Students should generally plan to apply to Safety and Target school earlier than the Early Admission deadline. For some students, an Early Decision application might be a great idea to help improve acceptance for their first choice Reach school, but other Reach schools should be submitted under Regular Decision in order to take more time to craft an excellent admissions application.

The college essay is a student’s opportunity to relate who they are as a person, their passions, their skills, and is the best way to help them shine and differentiate their application from the thousands of others. Students should always get help revising and editing any college application writings. High school English teachers often help prepare students for essays, but one of the best ways to prepare for writing an excellent college essay is to read multiple essays from students who were accepted to their top colleges. Students should read the prompts and sample essays and find writings that inspire them and sound like something they could write. More Than A Teacher has a College Essay Workshop to help students craft the perfect essay to submit with their applications. Learn more here.