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College Countdown: What to Do Between Now and the End of the School Year

As your high school year heads into the home stretch, now is also prime time for some key college application activities -- and a good opportunity to take stock of what you need to keep tabs on in the coming months. Let's take a look at what you need to do between now and the end of the school year:
If you are a high school junior:
1. Keep researching schools: Hopefully, you've already got a list of colleges you're interested in attending -- whether online or on campus -- and a good sense of the pros and cons for each. Haven't started? It's not too late. But get started quickly so you have plenty of time to select the college or university that's right for you -- and gather all the materials you'll need to apply to college next year.
2. Start narrowing down your list of colleges: Already have your long list? Time to start narrowing down to the short list of schools you are serious about applying to next year. Factors to keep in mind include tuition, location, scholarships and financial aid available, majors offered, and of course the average GPA and standardized test scores for the majority of students accepted.
3. Keep tabs on recommendations: While you won't start your applications until next year, now is a great time to start deciding which teachers, counselors, community members and mentors you'll want to ask for recommendation letters. These should be written by adults who know you well, so it's a great idea to continue nurturing those relationships now and over the summer.
4. Visit prospective colleges and universities: Spring is a great time for a campus visit! Start calling the admissions offices of schools you are seriously interested in to arrange for a campus tour and to meet with an admissions counselor. Not only will they get to know you off paper, but you'll get a chance to see if the campus environment feels right for you.


If you are a high school senior:
1. Make your college decision: Chances are, your applications were sent in back in January, and you're starting to get decision letters in the mail. Now is the time to make the decision of which school you will attend. Don't delay -- most schools will want to hear of your decision by April 1.
2. Pay your tuition deposit ASAP: Make sure to hold your spot in the 2015 freshman class by sending your deposit promptly -- otherwise you risk your place being offered to a waitlisted student.
3. Mind your P's and Q's: Now is the time to personally thank everyone who helped you get into college. All of the teachers and counselors who wrote you recommendation letters? Send them a personal thank-you note. Anyone who helped provide advice on your essays or proofread your application? An email or nice phone call at the least is just good juju. Letters are even better, and few friends would sneeze at a coffee date in which you express your gratitude (and pick up the check).
4. Finish up the paperwork: Even though the application process is thankfully long over, you still have some final documents to follow up on. Make sure to request your final transcripts be sent to your college of choice. They will want to make sure your final grades hold up to your previous academic performance. Speaking of which...

5. Don't succumb to senioritis by slacking off: It's spring, you have cause to celebrate, you're about to graduate, you just wanna take it easy. That's understandable -- but dangerous. You still need to keep up with your grades and activities now. If your final transcripts show a significant drop in academic performance, the luster of your application will dull, and your school of choice retains every right to withdraw your admission offer. Consider it a good life lesson in maintaining your excellence. And after all, you are excellent -- so keep it up!

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