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College Planning

Tips for high school students planning to pay for college

Junior year in high school is the time to start thinking about your college financial plan. Here’s a timeline to walk you through the process.

Your junior year of high school can often feel as though you are finally nearing the finish line. However, if you're planning on college, then there are some things you need to get on your “countdown to college” timeline well in advance of your senior graduation.

Beginning of school year-December of your JUNIOR year

By now your teachers have made you aware that this academic year is crucial for anyone planning to attend college. If you're not enrolled in any advanced placement (AP) courses your junior year, inquire as to whether there are any openings. If you pass the AP tests at the end of the semester or school year, you could be eligible for FREE college credit, which will be a real boon to college financial planning. When you're not hitting those books, be sure to...

  • Research colleges and universities that you're interested in attending.
  • Find out what sort of in-state college financing you may be eligible for, and inquire as to whether you're eligible for national need-based grants.
  • Talk to your family about their college financial plan for your education. How much have they saved? What can they feasibly contribute?
  • If you haven't taken the SAT or ACT, or you'd like to take it again, sign up for a practice test, or enroll in a local SAT/ACT prep course. If you think you may be competitive for a National Merit Scholarship, there is a PSAT in October that you must take in order to qualify.

January 1st-April 15th of your JUNIOR year

  • TAX TIME! Your family's tax information for the previous calendar year is vital to your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) submissions. Tax returns for the last fiscal year can be submitted as early as January 1st, and must be submitted by April 15th to avoid penalties. Once tax returns have been filed, you can submit your FAFSA. Your FAFSA doesn't just determine your federal financial aid eligibility, colleges also use it to determine what kind of in-house financial aid package, scholarships, and grants you'll be eligible for. You can fill out your FAFSA and find more info about relevant deadlines at the Federal Student Aid website. Once you know what kind of financial aid you're eligible for, it'll be much easier to iron out your financial plan.
  • Take the SAT or ACT! There are usually several dates to choose from for either test. Find one that suits your schedule and sign up to take the exam.
  • Make an appointment to talk to your school guidance counselor about your college plans, and ask him/her any questions you have about the college application process.
  • Start making a short list of colleges or universities that continue to hold your interest.

April 16th-End of your JUNIOR year

  • If you haven't taken the actual SAT or ACT yet, it's time to bite the bullet. If you've already completed your testing, but you weren't happy with your scores, consider taking it again.
  • Start researching and applying for college scholarships. Many scholarship deadlines land at the beginning of your senior year, so the more you apply for now, the better. If you're clueless as to what kind of scholarships you should bother applying for, check out Don't forget to look into non-academic scholarships that might cater to students with your hobbies, interests, or religious affiliations.


  • Don't squander it! Use your break to beef up your college applications. Take an internship, do volunteer work, or get a job (preferably with an employer who has something to offer by way of college scholarships).
  • Schedule college campus visits. Visit your top 3-5 choices with your family. Take a campus tour, and if you know what you plan to major in, try to schedule a meeting with a professor who works in your academic field of choice.



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All Learning Center articles are general summaries that can be used when considering your financial future at various life stages. The information presented is for educational purposes and is meant to supplement other information specific to your situation. It is not intended as investment advice and does not necessarily represent the opinion of Protective Life or its subsidiaries.

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