College Planning Timeline

College-Going Milestones

It’s never too early to start thinking about colleges and careers. Here are steps you can take now to get ready for college.

two students studying
COLLEGE & CAREER MILESTONES
Make sure you are on track. The milestones below outline what students need to know about college and career readiness at various grade levels. You can do this!
Grades 5-6
Grades 7-8
Grade 9
Grade 10
Grade 11
Grade 12
Postsecondary

THINGS TO DO:

  • Explore career options during field trips and other school activities.
  • Join clubs, sports, or similar after-school activities to learn more about your interests.

THINGS TO KNOW:

  • There are many different career options for you!
  • Most careers require additional training or education beyond high school.
  •  Your career choice can change over time as you develop new interests.

THINGS TO DO:

  • Meet with a school counselor to develop a college/career plan and discuss the costs associated with college.
  • Attend an information session and/or shadow a student at your local high school to get a feel for what’s next.
  • Take a career exploration course (online if not offered in school).
  • Participate in college and career experiences like visiting a college campus or job shadowing.
  • Participate in school and student organizations (like clubs, sports, school newspaper, theater, and more).
  • Participate in summer activities related to your interests or talents.

THINGS TO KNOW:

  • Different careers require different levels of college or training.
  • High school will be different from middle school. There will be more of a focus on choosing your college/career path.
  • It is important to continue to explore and broaden my academic, career, and personal interests.

 

THINGS TO DO:

  • Begin taking courses based on your personal interests and career plan.
  • Have a conversation with your parents/guardians about the costs of college and how you will plan for those costs.
  • Experiment with different organizational and study methods to see what works best for you.
  • Try something new to expand personal skills or interests (like a new sport, club, or course).
  • Schedule a meeting with your school counselor to update your college and career plans.
  • Talk to teachers, family members, and other adult mentors to work through your college and career interests.
  • Become involved with school student organizations, clubs, or teams.
  • Learn about eligibility criteria for honor societies, special diplomas, certifications, or other merit awards.
  • Start a resume to document extra-curricular activities, accomplishments, work experience, and skills.
  • Participate in college and career exploration experiences (like campus visits, hands-on events, college and career fairs, industry-specific events).
  • Volunteer in your community and/or in a professional field related to your academic, personal, or career interests.

THINGS TO KNOW:

  • Your GPA, along with your ACT or SAT, has a high impact on college opportunities, including admission, scholarships, financial aid, etc.
  • Learn how to backward plan from your career goals to what you should be focusing on in high school.
  • It is important to save money for college expenses (including direct costs like tuition and indirect costs like transportation, supplies, and fees).
  • It’s important to take challenging coursework to prepare for college.

 

THINGS TO DO:

  • Participate in a meaningful summer experience such as a job, internship, or early college preparation (like a pre-college summer camp, computer coding camp, apprenticeship related to CTE concentration).
  • Continue participating in school and student organizations.
  • Volunteer in your community or school.
  • Update your resume to include your work, volunteer experiences, honors, or skills that you’ve acquired since last school year.
  • Do a practice job interview with a school counselor or other adult mentor.
  • Update your college and career plan with your school counselor and have a conversation about your potential eligibility/competitiveness for admission.
  • Have conversations with a teacher, family member, or other adult mentor to talk about your college and career interests.
  • Have a conversation with a counselor and family members about tuition, fees, and other costs of college, as well as your potential eligibility for need- and merit-based aid.
  • Research course offerings for your junior year, including early college opportunities like AP, dual enrollment, and dual credit, or work-based learning.

THINGS TO KNOW:

  • Know the structure and content of ACT or SAT college readiness exams.
  • Understand the different postsecondary options available to you and the admissions requirements.
  • Challenging coursework and your course performance will impact future course opportunities, especially opportunities to earn early college credit and to qualify for merit-based scholarships (like the HOPE Scholarship).
  • Revisit your college and career plan regularly and discuss your plans with a counselor, teacher, advisor, or family member who can help.

 

THINGS TO DO:

  • Continue to visit college and career-related campuses or events.
  • Volunteer in your community or school regularly.
  • Attend “Path to College” College Planning Night at your school.
  • Prepare for and take the ACT or SAT.
  • Continue to participate in school and student organizations and take on leadership roles and increased responsibility.
  • Update your resume to include your work, volunteer experiences, honors, or skills that you’ve acquired since last school year.
  • Schedule a meeting with your school counselor to discuss details of the college application process, how to choose a program of study, and how to identify colleges that are a good “fit” for you.
  • Complete and pass early postsecondary opportunities (Dual Credit, Dual Enrollment, AP, IB, Cambridge).
  • Research and apply for college scholarship opportunities – it’s never too early!
  • Write a draft of a college essay, personal statement, or cover letter, and get feedback from a teacher, counselor, or college access professional.
  • Identify two or three teachers who you think would write you a letter of recommendation for postsecondary and talk to them before the end of the school year.

THINGS TO KNOW:

  • Understand the major components of the college application process including admission, financial aid, and choosing a major, concentration, or certification.
  • There is a difference between scholarships, loans, and grant aid. Now is the time to learn about these opportunities.
  • Challenging coursework will prepare you for success in college.
  • Your school counselor is a great resource to learn more about scholarship opportunities.
  • Learn how to request a transcript for a summer program, job, internship, or scholarship applications.

THINGS TO DO:

  • Continue to research and apply for scholarship opportunities.
  • Finalize your college application list and which schools you will be applying to.
  • Participate in the ACT senior retake if you would like to improve your score.
  • Take rigorous academic coursework that aligns with your college and career plan.
  • Ask a trusted counselor, teacher, or college access professional to provide feedback on your application documents before submitting.
  • Complete a Tennessee Promise Application.
  • Track and celebrate college application submissions and results.
  • Complete the FAFSA by the Tennessee Promise deadline.
  • Update your resume to include your work, volunteer experiences, honors, or skills that you’ve acquired since last school year.
  • Attend Tennessee Promise meetings.
  • Meet with admission officers from the colleges to which you applied or have been admitted.
  • Review the financial aid options and awards you received from colleges with a trusted school counselor and your family.
  • Make a financial deposit at your chosen college (if applicable)  and attend orientation.
  • Identify and participate in volunteer opportunities to ensure that you maintain Tennessee Promise eligibility.

THINGS TO KNOW:

  • Know the deadlines for the major components of the college application process, and plan to meet each of them.
  • Senior year grades still matter for admission and scholarship opportunities.
  • Understand the differences between the postsecondary institutions and how to choose between them.
  • You should apply to several schools with a range of acceptance requirements based on your GPA and ACT or SAT scores.
  • It is important to have a teacher or college access professional review your application before submitting.
  • Understand the requirements and benefits of the Tennessee Promise program.
  • Know how to complete the FAFSA, and I know who to go to for help.
  • Know all the facts when deciding which college is the best match for you (academically, financially, and with regard to your career goal).
  • Know who your admissions and/or financial aid officers are and how to contact them at your college.
  • Know who to contact regarding your financial aid, course registration, housing, academic support/advising, and how to make a deposit.
  • Evaluate your financial aid awards to determine the net cost of each institution and compare your different options.

THINGS TO DO:

  • Schedule a meeting with your college academic advisor to discuss required coursework for graduation and/or transfer, eligibility for selective opportunities like honor societies or departmental scholarships or grants
  • Utilize the academic supports available such as tutoring, writing centers, or office of academic advising and student support
  • Update your resume to reflect your career goals and qualifications, and be sure to include your work, volunteer experiences, honors, or skills that you acquire during college
  • Choose a major or concentration
  • Monitor scholarship or program requirements to ensure you maintain eligibility (e.g., GPA requirements for HOPE Scholarship, volunteer requirements for Tennessee Promise)

THINGS TO KNOW:

  • Understand how to plan course choices to meet requirements on time and in the proper sequence to earn your intended degree, certification, or diploma
  • If attending a community college, there are several  pathways and requirements for transferring to complete a four-year degree
  • Know where to find the office of student support
  • Know where to go and who to contact for career services related to resume-building, job opportunities, interviewing, networking, etc.
  • Know where to go for health and support services such as counseling, wellness, tutoring, etc.
  • Know the requirements in order to maintain good standing at your college, and to maintain your scholarships or financial aid
  • Using support services on campus— such as a writing, tutoring, or counseling center—can help ensure that you stay on track for graduation/completion of your degree
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