College Planning Check List for High School Students

…that the best way to prepare for college is to take the most rigorous courses you can in high school?

…that you should have an “Activity Resume” typed and ready for college applications, scholarship applications, and for anyone you request a reference or recommendation letter from?

…that you should start researching colleges as early as your freshman year? Meeting graduation requirements doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll meet college entrance requirements.

Freshman Year
  • Schedule rigorous high school courses. By graduation, you could have taken four years of English, and three years of math, natural science and social science.
  • Become familiar with college entrance requirements. Your academic performance (grade point average, class rank, and types of courses you take), ACT test scores, teacher or counselor recommendations, extracurricular activities, community service hours, essays, and interviews are all important factors at most colleges.
  • Research college costs, scholarships, and other forms of financial aid. If you haven’t begun to save for college, do so as soon as possible.
  • Start keeping a list of all class office positions and extra-curricular activities you’re involved in.
Sophomore Year
  • Continue to take challenging college prep courses.
  • You have the option of taking the College Board’s PSAT exam as a practice for when you take it again your junior year. It is good preparation for the SAT Reasoning Test.
  • Learn about the training that different careers require.
  • Start collecting information about colleges on the internet. You may begin getting brochures from colleges in the mail if you give permission on your exams.
  • Build a list of colleges in which you are interested or that you may want to visit.
  • Continue researching sources of financial aid. Keep saving!
  • Attend local college fairs.
Junior Year
  • Continue to take challenging college prep courses, including our Honors English & Honors History classes.
  • Take the College Board’s PSAT test and be entered into the National Merit Scholarship Program.
  • Consider putting together a portfolio that highlights your special skills and talents.
  • Schedule college visits. If possible, your visit should include: a campus tour, a chance to sit in on a class, a meal in the campus dining hall, meetings with faculty and students, and an interview with an admissions counselor.
  • Request admissions and scholarship applications from your top colleges.
  • Get an estimate of how much financial aid your family may qualify for by completing ACT’s Financial Aid Need Estimator at
  • Begin comparing the costs of colleges that you are considering.
  • Schedule an appointment with the CVCA registrar and your parent/s to make sure you are on track to graduate and fulfill college admission requirements.
  • Sign Senior Contract.
  • Consider taking courses at a local university or community college.
  • Begin Senior Project if you are seeking the CCC Advance Honors Diploma.
Senior Year
1st Semester
  • Examine the CVCA campus test Schedule and choose test dates.
  • Attend the Senior Parent Night information session with your parents in September.
  • Register for the ACT Assessment online at and/or the SAT Reasoning Test at (In order to get a Sunday test date, students must register for the first time through the mail, subsequent tests may be registered for on-line.)
  • Take the ACT Assessment and/or the SAT Reasoning Test.
  • Ask for personal references from teachers, school counselors, or employers early in the year.
  • Visit with admissions counselors who come to campus, and from colleges and universities you are interested in.
  • Attend college fairs.
  • Begin your college essay(s) and personal statements.
  • Apply for admission at the colleges you’ve chosen.
  • Look for scholarship opportunities.
2nd Semester
  • Complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) as soon after January 1 as possible. Visit for exact date.
  • Attend the Senior Scholarship/College Prep session with a college counselor on the CVCA campus in early January. They will “walk you through” the FAFSA application.
  • Apply for the Cal Grant before March 2.
  • Keep working hard all year; 2nd semester grades can affect scholarship eligibility.
  • Visit colleges that have invited you to enroll.
  • Continue to look for scholarship opportunities.
  • Watch the mail for your Student Aid Report (SAR) – it should arrive three to six weeks after the FAFSA is filed.
  • Compare financial aid packages from different schools.
  • Decide which college to attend; most colleges require a decision by May 1.
  • Notify schools you will not attend of your decision.
  • Notify your college about any outside scholarships you received.
  • Graduate!


What are all these tests about?

ITED (Iowa Tests of Educational Development)
The ITED is our standardized test given to all students every September.  All students must reach at least 10th grade proficiency in the three major areas before graduation.   A 12th grade proficiency is required for our advanced diploma. We encourage students to try their best on these tests to allow the faculty and staff to clearly monitor improvements each year.

ACT/SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test & American College Test)
The ACT and SAT are tools colleges and universities use when deciding whether or not to accept a student.  These exams are also used to determine scholarships.  Most postsecondary schools will accept either one of these. Pacific Union College, for example, prefers the ACT. Students should check with the schools in which they are considering and make sure they are taking the right test.  These tests may be taken more than once, and the highest score is the one that will count. 


Seniors should take the ACT and/or the SAT in the fall, if possible. This allows students to have their results in time for college admissions.  However, later testing dates are available.


There are distinct differences between the ACT and SAT: ·

  • The ACT is based on curriculum in core courses.  The writing portion is optional, depending on the college the student wishes to attend.  Only a small portion of postsecondary schools are requiring the written portion.   If a student opts not to take the written portion of the exam and discovers it is needed later, he/she will have to retake the entire exam.
  • The SAT is a primarily a test of the student’s ability to reason.  There is now a writing portion of the test.  Students do not have the option to take the SAT without the writing portion. The SAT is becoming a more curriculum-based test.

PSAT (Preliminary Scholastic Assessment Test)
This exam is given to all Juniors at CVCA.  The PSAT is a practice SAT.  Statistics show that students who take the PSAT score an average of 50 points higher on the SAT.  Students who take the PSAT during their junior year will automatically be entered into the National Merit Scholarship Program.  Students may request to take the exam in their Sophomore year.


ACT (ACT Information)

The College Board (PSAT, SAT, AP Information)

California Virtual High School (ACT/SAT practice exams online)

Sat Prep Plan (SAT prep and practice exams online)

Spark Notes (a site that has a wealth of information about the ACT & SAT, especially about the writing tests)

Test Prep Review (ACT/SAT practice exams online)