College-prep timeline: Grades 9 through 12


Welcome to high school! Ninth-grade is a time for exploration, so it’s important to do just that. Join clubs, athletic teams and get involved in other school activities. Volunteer! How else will you know what you’re good at or what you enjoy if you don’t try new things? It’s also important to make sure you get off to a strong start in all your courses! Students who have to repeat classes close off their options and choices in coursework/internships, etc. later down the road.

Some things to look for this year:

  • Spring: Guidance counselors schedule personal conferences with each ninth grader in March or April to develop a high school “game plan” and select courses for Grade 10. Parents are personally invited and strongly encouraged to attend this conference.


During your sophomore year, you’ll want to be watching for these things:


  • Highly motivated and academically driven students should sign up for the PSAT.

November or December

  • Parents should attend the Financial Planning for College workshop. Look for the date and time in the guidance newsletter and on the district’s website.

January through March

  • Counselors meet with each sophomore for his or her annual review. At this time, course selections for 11th-grade are finalized, academic standing is reviewed and continued career exploration is encouraged. Parents are not sent individual notifications about the sophomore conference, but they’re encouraged to call their son or daughter’s counselor in early November if they would like to attend.


  • Highly motivated and/or accelerated students may want to register for the SAT II exams given in June.


Students who have registered (in April) take the SAT II exams.


Your junior year will be a challenging one in terms of academics. Most 11th-graders will take at least four key Regents exams at the end of the year (English, math, science and social studies). It’s important to work hard and keep up in all your courses since your junior year academic record will impact – positively or negatively – your choice of colleges and scholarship opportunities next year.

Some specific things to be on the lookout for this year include:


  • Sign up for and take the PSAT, a pretest for the SAT. Also, plan to meet with college representatives visiting Watervliet this fall. (Listen to the morning announcements for details, visit the website or ask your guidance counselor.)

November or December

  • Parents will want to attend the Financial Planning for College workshop if they didn’t attend last year. Look for the date and time in the guidance newsletter and on the district’s website.

January through March

  • Counselors meet with groups of students in their English or social studies classes to help them select courses for their senior year. Counselors will also meet with every junior to complete an annual review. Discussions focus on academic progress, PSAT scores, course selections for Grade 12, the college selection process and career plans. Parents are not sent individual notifications about the junior conference, but they’re encouraged to call their son or daughter’s counselor in early November if they would like to attend.

March through April

  • During this time, students should register for the SAT I, ACT and/or SAT II exams that are given in May and June. Pick up registration materials from your guidance counselor or register on-line at the College Board Web site and/or Consider taking an SAT prep course – they are worth the cost!

May through June

  • Take the SAT I, ACT and/or SAT II exams. The SAT or ACT are required for admission to almost every college and most students take it in their junior year.

June through August

  • The summer before your senior year a good time to visit colleges. Students should call for an appointment first to avoid visiting a campus when it may be closed or between semesters. An interview with an admissions officer is advisable. Pick up application materials whenever you visit, although most colleges will also allow you to apply on-line. Check out our tips for visiting colleges and list of sample questions you can ask.


Congratulations, you’re almost there! Your senior year will be an exciting one which, for most students, will be focused on making the smooth transition to college. There is A LOT to do this year (for parents and students alike) so take a deep breath and try not to get overwhelmed. Here’s a step-by-step checklist to keep you on track.

September to October

  • Take (or re-take) the SAT and/or ACT College Entrance Exams. The SAT is required by most colleges and most students take this extremely important exam as juniors. Many re-take it as seniors to try to improve their scores. Register for the October SAT by the September registration deadline. Registration materials can be picked up in the Counseling and Career Center, or you can register on-line at If one or more of the colleges you are applying to require the ACT exam, register for the October test by the September registration deadline. Registration materials can be picked up in the Counseling and Career Center. Remember: you must take tests like the SAT and ACT at least six weeks before scores can be submitted to colleges. Registration deadlines and test dates are listed in Watervliet’s district calendar.
  • Senior Conference. Each senior meets individually with his or her counselor to review graduation and course requirements and post-graduation plans. A college application timeline is formalized at this meeting. Parents are encouraged to call their teen’s counselor in early September if they would like to attend.
  • Start checking for scholarship applications. Plan to visit the Guidance Office at least once a week to check the scholarship board for announcements and application information. New scholarships come in at all different times during the year and they aren’t just for the “straight A” students. Don’t miss the boat; check in weekly.
  • Meet with college representatives visiting Watervliet High School. The Guidance Office can tell you which schools will be visiting WJSHS and when. Ask for a pass to get out of class and ask the college representatives lots of questions! (Keep in mind you are responsible for making up any missed class work.)
  • Visit colleges. If you haven’t done this already, try to schedule some college visits this fall. Interview some students, faculty and staff, if possible. Check out our tips for visiting colleges and list of sample questions you can ask.
  • Gather all application materials. Get an application packet from every college you are thinking about applying to. The Guidance Office keeps a good supply of applications to SUNY colleges, so just ask. If you’re applying to an out-of-state or private college, you’ll probably need to call or e-mail the admissions office to request the materials. Once you have all the application packets, read through them to get a feel for what’s required and what’s involved in applying.
  • Start your college application essay(s) early. Most schools require essays as part of their application packet. Even if the essay is optional – do it! It is the first “test” to see how much time you will spend on that college’s application. Get the topic and start writing it early. Try to make your essay compelling and be sure it reflects your best effort. Give it lots of thought, edit, spell-check and ask for feedback from an English teacher, counselor, parent, etc.Finalize your college choices. Decide on a minimum of three potential colleges. You should be thinking about some “reach” schools, “comfortable” choices and a “safety” school. This pertains to academic as well as financial considerations.
  • Make a list; check it twice. Make a checklist for each college you are going to apply to. Include all the pieces of information that need to be assembled (i.e., forms, recommendations, essays, transcripts, etc.) and all deadlines (including when the application must be postmarked by). This will help you break the application job into smaller parts. It will also help you stay organized, calm and on track.
  • Request letters of recommendation. NOW is the time to ask teachers (from your junior and senior years), guidance counselors, coaches and employers for letters of recommendation related to your activities and employment. These will be required for college applications. Ask for the recommendations in person. Be sure to write each person a thank you note.
  • TRY TO FINISH YOUR COLLEGE APPLICATIONS BY THE END OF OCTOBER. Even though many colleges have rolling admissions, the earlier you apply, the better your chances of getting accepted. Even if the college’s official deadline is March 1st, it’s better to get your application in to your counselor by November 1. You’ll be ahead of the game and able to shift your focus to financial aid applications, scholarships and simply enjoying your senior year. Unless you thrive on stress, there is no good reason to wait until the last minute to begin working on college applications. Look here for some more tips on the college application process.
  • Parents: Begin planning now for a smoother financial aid application process.


  • College applications should be completed and turned in to your high school counselor this month. In the best case scenario, turn them in by November 1. Your counselor will review each of your applications, look for any missing pieces, complete his or her portion and then mail the final application to the colleges for you. In the worst case scenario, you’ll need to give your counselor your completed applications at least two weeks before the college requires that it be postmarked and in the mail.
  • Attend special programs such as college fairs and the College Financial Aid Workshop for parents.


  • If you’re still applying to colleges, complete those applications and turn in to your counselor as soon as possible, allowing at least two weeks for processing. (Keep in mind counselors do not work over the holiday recess.) January 1 deadlines should be turned in to your counselor by December 1 at the latest.
  • Parents: Save year-end payroll stubs that show your earnings for the year. You may need it for financial aid eligibility reviews by schools and to estimate your taxes on the FAFSA form. Pick up the FAFSA form from the Guidance Office. Remember, FAFSA is the federal financial aid application form that colleges use as their formula for determining financial aid. If you haven’t done so already, visit the FAFSA Web site (see notes above) to find out more.
    Review the list above. Are you on schedule? Have you skipped anything?


  • January is financial aid month. Look for notification of Financial Aid night at WHS and other special programs throughout the Capital District.
    Get your income tax returns prepared early. Colleges may request them and you will need tax information to complete the FAFSA. Note: since some schools require the FAFSA by February 1st, and many employers don’t give out W-2 forms until late in January, you can opt to estimate your taxes using the prior year’s tax returns and this year’s pay stubs. (See the FAFSA Web site for more details.)
  • Complete the FAFSA form. Submit the form as soon as possible after January 1. Some schools require it as early as February 1, but be sure to submit it no later than March 1. You improve your chances of receiving financial aid if you submit your forms early. Colleges are handing out aid as the applications come in – and there IS a limit to how much they have to give. Get your application in late and all their available money may, quite simply, be gone.
  • Remember to keep copies of all financial aid forms you submit.
  • Apply for outside funding and scholarships. Keep checking for scholarship applications in the Counseling Department every week and explore other sources. For example, parents might belong to organizations or work in businesses that award scholarships. Ask around. Visit, the Internet’s largest free scholarship search. Look around.

February and March

  • Make sure your FAFSA has been filled out and mailed.
  • Check on mid-year transcripts. Did you tell your counselor which colleges require mid-year transcripts? Stop in the Guidance Office and confirm that transcripts were mailed.
  • Watch for your Student Aid Report (SAR). This is one-page summary of the FAFSA information you submitted. It is sent to you to confirm the accuracy of all data one last time before it is forwarded to your colleges. Occasionally the SAR will note that information is missing or incomplete. In all cases, follow directions on the SAR and return it as quickly as possible. If you have not received your Student Aid Report within five weeks after sending in your FAFSA, contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center at
    (301) 722-9200. The report arrives by mail or by email if you filed the FAFSA electronically.
  • Rank your college choices while you wait for responses to your applications.


  • Watch the mail for college acceptance letters. These typically start arriving in April. Compare financial aid packages from each college.
    It’s time to select the college you’re going to attend! You’ll need to send in a deposit to the college you’ve chosen no later than May 1. Among other things, missing this deadline can negatively affect your campus housing options.

May and beyond

  • Notify the other schools. Be sure to call the admissions and financial aid office of the colleges that you will not be attending.
    Watch for important deadlines at your college of choice. These may include housing deposits, financial aid, and more.
  • Register as an alumni. Remember to register in Watervliet’s online alumni database. This site will help you keep in touch with classmates in the years ahead and keep you informed about any reunions that your class may be planning.

Have a fun summer, and good luck in college!