by Emily Gunter

High school is a busy time, and it can be a challenge to find the time to prepare for college admissions. In addition to juggling extracurriculars and difficult classes and preparing for tests, teenagers are also expected to make major life decisions about their career path and where to attend college. That’s a lot of pressure for someone so young!

While students do not typically start working on college applications until the summer before senior year of high school, the college prep journey ought to begin as early as 9th grade.

It’s important for students to understand colleges’ admissions requirements early on in high school so that they can plan accordingly. Parents should talk to their students about college early on in high school so that they can set clear expectations and provide needed support along the way.

Colleges often require that students take certain courses, obtain high test scores, and maintain a moderate to high grade point average.

To help you stay on track, we’ve mapped out the college admissions timeline by each grade level to help guide you through the entire process.

college admissions timeline

College Planning Seminars

Every year we provide our current students with college planning seminars for each grade level. During these events, we provide in-depth information about each step in the college prep process and answer common questions. We encourage both parents and students to attend these events because they include practical guidance that can help both parties as they progress through the journey to college.

Our current families can attend these events at no additional cost. To find out how to register for these events, contact a director at your home campus.

College Admissions Timeline for 9th Grade

  • Take challenging classes – Competitive colleges like those in the Ivy League like to see that students take the most difficult classes they can while in college. Students should choose courses that will challenge them and help them prepare for college courses covering similar subjects.
  • Join sports, clubs, or other student organizations
  • Introduce yourself to your school counselor
  • Get involved in your community
  • Take the PSAT 8/9 Test
  • Start exploring potential career paths


College Admissions Timeline for 10th Grade

  • Take challenging classes
  • Stay engaged with your extracurriculars
  • Discuss goals with your school counselor
  • Continue preparing for the PSAT, ACT®, and SAT® tests
  • Take the PSAT 10 test
  • Focus on your grades
  • Build relationships with your teachers
  • Volunteer or find your first job
  • Start building your college resume
  • Take practice tests


  • Attend summer prep classes for the PSAT, ACT®, and SAT® tests
  • Go on college visits
  • Take SAT® Subject Tests
  • Starting thinking about what your major will be
  • Attend a college summer course or camp

College Admissions Timeline for 11th Grade

  • Take challenging classes
  • Take the PSAT test
  • Identify who will write your letters of recommendation
  • Take the SAT and ACT tests
  • Start building your college list
  • Pursue leadership roles in your extracurriculars
  • Attend college fairs/info sessions
  • Stay on track by meeting with your school counselor
  • Retake SAT and ACT tests
  • Hire a college counselor for admissions guidance
  • Volunteer, work, and continue to add depth to your resume
  • Take AP® Tests
  • Ask teachers and school counselor for letters of recommendation
  • Have a serious talk with your parents about how you’ll pay for college


College Admissions Timeline for 12th Grade

Fall Semester

  • Decide if you’ll apply Early Decision or Early Action
  • Take challenging classes
  • Find out if you are a National Merit® Semifinalist
  • Stay ahead of your deadlines
  • Fill out the FAFSA® with your parents (Opens Oct. 1)
  • Tell your school where to send your transcripts
  • Edit and perfect your application essays
  • Apply for scholarships
  • Finalize and submit your college applications. Make sure to avoid these common mistakes.
  • Schedule and prepare for college interviews (if applicable)

Spring Semester

  • Finish strong! Aim to get your best grades yet.
  • Follow any additional instructions you receive from colleges
  • Check the mail for acceptance letters and scholarship offers
  • Review scholarship offers and financial aid awards
  • Make your final college decision
  • Complete next steps to finalize your acceptance
  • Accept financial aid awards and make decisions about housing
  • Graduate from high school
  • Celebrate this major milestone!
  • Thank everyone who helped you along the way!

Need advice for preparing for college?

We know it takes a lot of hard work to get into the college of your dreams. Luckily, you don’t have to go through it alone.

KD College Prep has helped more than 65,000 students expand their college opportunities through improved test scores and expert college admissions advice.

We offer test prep and college counseling programs to help guide your family through every step of the college admissions process. Contact us to find out how to get started.

Emily Gunter is a marketing and communications specialist at KD College Prep.