Check out the Complete Cheerleader's Guide To College Prep!

getting ready for collegeIf you are entering your junior or senior year of high school, you need to start seriously thinking about what you are going to do when high school is over. If college is a part of your plan, you need to start prepping and organizing now. Yes, n-o-w. The sooner, the better!

There is a lot to consider, and keep track of, when applying for college. Use the guidelines below, from CollegeBoard.com's College Application Calendar, to help you get started.

Summer Before Senior Year

  • Have an idea of which colleges interest you and visit their campus over the summer.

  • Prepare for the application process by organizing your achievements, honors, activities, offices and work experience into a "˜resume' of sorts. Having everything written down will save you time and make sure that you don't leave anything off of your official applications.

  • Don't miss any important deadlines. Make, maintain and routinely check a calendar of all admissions deadlines for your potential colleges.

  • If you want to be recruited by colleges for their athletic programs be sure to register with the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Initial Eligibility Clearinghouse.


September

  • Narrow down your list of colleges. Decide which ones you are most serious about, and honestly rank your chances of getting accepted.

  • Create a main filing drawer for all college materials. Also create a file folder for each individual college you are applying to. This will save you from having to look under a pile of dirty clothes for that important piece of paper!

  • Double check the calendar you made for any early admissions deadlines. November is the standard deadline for early applications, so you'll need to start now.

  • Start thinking about, and taking general notes on, your college essays. What are topics that you would want to write about? What makes you stand out? What experiences have you had that make you a unique candidate?


October

  • Start requesting letters of recommendation from your teachers, advisors and employers. Don't wait until the last minute; they will need time to get the letter ready. If you are asking them to send the letter themselves, make sure that you supply the (addressed) envelope and stamp.

  • If you complete any testing, make sure that the scores are scheduled to get sent to each of the colleges that you are applying to.


November

  • Remember those early applications you were working on? Get them submitted!

  • Start proofing your essays. This will only be the first round of many. Ask your parents, friends and teachers to proof it as well. Take all of their mark-ups and recommendations seriously, and work hard to fix all mistakes. Every time you make edits, you need to do another round of proofreading "“ from the top.

  • If you haven't confirmed that all of your letters of recommendation have been sent, follow up with the ones that are still open.

  • If you complete any testing, make sure that the scores are scheduled to get sent to each of the colleges that you are applying to.


December

  • Give yourself a break! If you can get all of your college applications complete before winter break, you'll have more time to relax! When you begin sending your applications, be sure to make a copy of each before you send to add to your files.

  • Start thinking about financial aid. Contact your potential colleges and ask them to send you any financial aid forms that you would need to fill out.

  • If you complete any testing, make sure that the scores are scheduled to get sent to each of the colleges that you are applying to.


January and February

  • If your colleges require a report of your first-semester grades, make sure that you coordinate with your counselor to get those sent.

  • Ease your mind by confirming that each college received all necessary application materials from you.


March & April

  • As you start getting admissions and financial aid letters, but sure to read them carefully. Some of them might list action items for you, which you'll need to add to your calendar.

  • The time had come to make a decision! After carefully considering all financial, athletic and academic options, pick your college and mail in your enrollment information and deposit.

  • After your final decision has been made, be sure to inform the other colleges that you will not be attending. That way they can open your spot up for another student hoping to get accepted.


This is only a general guide. Consult application materials, admission offices and college websites for the specific requirements and deadlines for each college.

Still not sure where you want to attend college? Check out Forbe's list of America's Top Colleges, including rank, total cost per semester and total student population, or the U.S. News & World Report's 2012 rankings of Best Colleges.

Outside of financial aid and athletic and academic scholarships, branch out and look for unique, fun and creative scholarship contests like the Duck Tape®'s Stuck At Prom Contest.

Check back every Monday this month for more college prep insights!

Sources: CollegeBoard.com's College Application Calendar