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The College Timeline

College readiness doesn't happen overnight. The college search & application process is a journey that should ideally take place over several years, to allow students time for personal, professional, and academic growth. While every student is unique and requires a personalized approach, we do follow a general timeline to help best prepare students to make the most of their high school experience and position themselves to find their best college fit. While each year has its own goals, we emphasize six major Growth Goals.

  1. Foster Independence & Cultivate a Sense of Agency

  2. Align Personal Values With Academic & Professional Goals

  3. Promote Critical Thinking & Creativity 

  4. Encourage Self-Reflection

  5. Improve Communication Skills 

  6. Embrace Uncertainty  

9th Grade

9th Grade is all about laying the foundation for a productive high school experience. The transition to high school can be difficult for some students, both academically and personally, and we want to make sure things go smoothly. 


Evaluate Student Profile

Assess Student Needs

Build Rapport

Understand Our Process

Envision a Fulfilling & Successful High School Experience

  • High School Transition: Supporting students as they transition to high school. Varies from student to student, but can include academic, social, and/or emotional transitions.

  • Academic Advising: Working with the student to understand and plan which high school courses will be most beneficial for their education goals. While the University of California schools will not incorporate your freshman year grades in the GPA, most colleges will so it is important to maintain good grades. Colleges look at your overall high school performance and grade trends, and academic course selection is a critical piece of student academic growth. We want students to take as rigorous a course load that they can do well in.

  • Networking & Relationship Building: Encouraging and strategizing with students about how to find faculty and staff who can act as mentors, advocates, and eventually recommenders.

  • Extracurricular Involvement: Exploring a students passions/interests and finding meaningful ways for them to get involved in extracurricular opportunities early in the high school process. Depth of extracurricular engagement is viewed more favorably than breadth of these activities. We never want students to participate in activities because they think it will “look good for college applications.” Colleges would much rather see students explore their strengths and passions in authentic ways. A good litmus test is if a student can explain why they are engaged in any extracurricular and why it’s important to them. Summer Planning: Strategizing with students about possible summer opportunities that might involve camp, volunteering, internships, shadowing, jobs, or independent projects.

  • Summer Planning: Strategizing with students about possible summer opportunities that might involve camp, volunteering, internships, shadowing, jobs, or independent projects.

  • Expected Meeting Frequency: With a Premium Package, students should be prepared for two meetings per semester.

10th Grade

For 10th grade, we continue to develop many of the seeds that were planted in the previous year.


Discover Academic Interests

Emphasize & Encourage Students' Passions

Begin to Envision a Fulfilling & Successful College Experience

  • Academic Advising: Depending on the curriculum of the school, we will begin to see students diverge into more rigorous academic options, such as Advanced/Honors, AP, IB, and Dual Enrollment courses. Sophomore year is a good time to begin requesting any necessary accommodations for standardized tests, as it may take several weeks to process the request and receive confirmation, prior to registering for the PSAT/SAT/ACT.

  • Networking & Relationship Building: Students will continue to build relationships with faculty and staff, and look for ways to leverage those connections for personal, professional, and academic growth.

  • Extracurricular Involvement: Extracurricular involvement should continue, but we will be looking to start engaging in more meaningful participation or leadership positions.

  • College List Building: Toward the end of 10th grade, we also work with students to start shaping their criteria/filters for the college search. Spring and summer of 10th grade are good times to begin visiting colleges virtually and in person.

  • Summer Planning: Lastly, we look to continue the trend of finding meaningful summer opportunities. These opportunities can build on the previous one or create a new avenue for exploration. Summer activities should be fun and allow students to explore potential strengths, passions, and interests outside of the classroom. Once a student is 15/16, it is a good time to start looking for summer jobs and internships that aren’t typically available to high school freshmen.

  • Expected Meeting Frequency: With a Premium Package, students should be prepared for two meetings per semester.

11th Grade

11th grade is when the traditional college search begins. While students are still expected to perform well in their schools and communities, as with previous years, we also begin to develop the college list.


Explore Professional Interests

Strategize College Search

Create Deadline Calendar & Timeline for Applications

Craft a Student-Centered Vision of College Fit

Begin College Application Work

  • Academic Advising: Junior year is the most important year for academics, as it is often the last set of grades that admission representatives will see prior to making an admission decision. Students should make an effort to engage in the most rigorous courses offered, as long as they can be successful in the courses.

  • Networking & Relationship Building: Students will request letters of recommendation by the end of junior year, ideally from a teacher from junior year. It is also important for students to be networking and building relationships with college counselors and admissions officers. Start to compile a resume, activities list, and/or student brag sheet to assist teachers in writing letters of recommendation. HERE is some advice on how to request letters of recommendation.

  • Extracurricular Involvement: Students can explore paid work or internships to acquire more professional or career-oriented experiences. Junior year is the last chance to make a meaningful extracurricular pivot, but be prepared to explain why you made the shift. It is also an appropriate time to begin assuming more leadership positions. Consider job-shadowing and professional/career opportunities to pursue.

  • College List Building: Using preliminary filters/criteria established in 10th grade, we dive deeper into examining which colleges might be a good fit for the student (academically, personally, professionally, culturally, and financially). As 11th grade nears its conclusion, we expect that students have formed a balanced college list with due dates/timelines for each application. Learn more about the importance of college fit and building a balanced list, as well as understanding college application deadlines.

  • Campus Visits (Virtual & In-Person): Traditionally, junior year is when students will begin physical visits to campuses. Be sure to register for the campus tours and information sessions prior to planning any travel arrangements, and we encourage students to schedule interviews with admissions counselors when available. HERE are some suggestions about questions to ask during visits and college fairs. And you can find advice on navigating virtual college fairs HERE. Take notes and pictures during or directly after each visit (schools tend to blend together over time), and don’t forget to write thank-you notes!

  • Testing: Students can also expect to begin standardized test preparation, and we recommend taking initial exams in the Spring. Keep an eye on registration deadlines, and consider taking a practice exam in simulated testing conditions without studying. This practice exam can serve as a baseline for determining tutoring needs and potential test-optional/test-blind application strategies. Learn more about college testing policies HERE.

  • College Applications: During the summer between 11th and 12th grade, students will work on college essays and assembling application information, including their activities list and resume. As you begin to brainstorm essay topics toward the end of 11th grade, keep in mind that there are some common essay topics that are typically best to avoid.

  • Summer Planning: Continued summer involvement that pushes students outside of their comfort zone. More opportunity for college visits/research. Our students complete the bulk of the college essay writing and application components during the summer prior to senior year.

  • Expected Meeting Frequency: With a Premium Package, students should be prepared for two meetings during the Fall Semester and monthly meetings during the Spring Semester. 

12th Grade

Fortunately, our previous work has created the foundation and scaffolding for making the senior year significantly less stressful. Most students have completed their applications, personal statements, supplemental essays, letters of recommendation requests, and activities list by the end of October. We encourage all of our seniors to be finished with applications by the Early Action (EA) deadline of their selected college (if EA is an option). We do consider Early Decision (ED), but will often caution against it unless there is a strong case. If you’re trying to make sense of this alphabet soup, HERE is some clarification. With applications finished early, students can spend their senior year focusing on academics, extracurriculars, friends, and family. Scholarship applications are most commonly due throughout the winter and spring of senior year. HERE is our advice for finding worthwhile scholarship opportunities. Once spring arrives, all that remains is to organize and evaluate the admission decisions and financial aid offers. We will provide our input, but ultimately allow students and families to discuss which path would be the best going forward.


Complete Application Essays & Activity Lists

Explore Scholarship Opportunities

Reflect on Personal, Academic, and Professional Growth

Interview Preparation

Embrace the Future & Embark on a New Adventure

  • First Semester

    • August

      • Finalize college list.

      • Institutional scholarship research.

      • Continue outreach and engagement with colleges to build demonstrated interest. Learn more about demonstrated interest HERE.

      • Most applications become available to students. 

      • Standardized testing opportunities. 

    • September

    • October

      • Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) opens (October 1st).

        • Complete the FAFSA and CSS Profile (when required) as early as possible to maximize federal financial aid detailed in award letters from colleges. ​Check out our step-by-step guide to completing the FAFSA and CSS Profile.

      • Pay attention to Early Action & Early Decision deadlines for colleges. 

      • Complete applications due in November. 

    • November

    • December

      • Express gratitude to all of the people who helped you.

      • Complete applications due in January before Winter Break.

      • Enjoy your break!

  • Second Semester

    • January-March

      • Regularly check your admission portals for updates & new requirements. 

      • Complete housing forms (if available).

      • Research the deposit/enrollment policies for schools of interest.

      • Continue applying to outside, independent, and 3rd-party scholarships

      • Expect admission decisions in the March-April time frame (if not sooner).

    • April

      • Weigh Your Options​​​.

        • Compare Financial Aid Awards. Learn more about how to compare award letters HERE.

        • Revisit your vision of success & your college fit criteria.

        • Create a final pros & cons list. 

      • Participate in college opportunities for admitted students.

        • Visit Campus (virtually if necessary). ​

        • Find opportunities to engage with current students: overnight visits, interviews, digital outreach. 

        • Participate in larger event programs: local send-offs, admitted student days, scholar days, etc. ​​​

      • Make a Decision

        • Formally deposit/enroll. 

      • Notify other schools of your choice to withdraw from their system. Read more about how to accept and decline offers of admission HERE.

    • May

      • Let your support network know about your decision & thank them for their support.​​

      • Complete senior year and maintain strong academic/extracurricular involvement. 

      • Send all AP/IB test scores.

    • June-July

      • Complete the new student tasks/checklist assigned by your chosen college. 

      • Introduce yourself to your new classmates via social media. 

      • Participate in a meaningful summer activity: internship, job, research, travel, service, etc.

    • August

      • Double check your college move-in list & coordinate with your roommate. 

      • Travel to campus for move-in day.

      • Be adventurous, embrace the unknown, make new friends, challenge yourself, and enjoy college. 

Roles in the Process


  • Provide best practices according to the IECA, HECA, and NACAC professional organizations, including acting ethically, serving with integrity, and respecting confidentiality.

  • Respect the college pursuit process as a learning opportunity for everyone.

  • Request information for academic advising, college list development, and the application process. 

  • Analyze information as it becomes available from families, institutions, and professional organizations.

  • Modify plans throughout the journey in response to new information and changing circumstances.

  • Make no promises of acceptance or financial aid beyond printed material provided by individual institutions.

  • Communicate in a timely manner (reply to correspondence within one business day).


  • Provide requested information in a timely manner to ensure best possible service.

  • Meet all agreed-upon deadlines established by advisors, colleges, and your high school (including but not limited to essays, application components, and test registration).

  • Complete the application process with recommendations, test scores, transcripts, and written material at least two weeks prior to the institutional deadline.

  • Complete all applications prior to December 15th of senior year.

  • Maintain contact with high school counselors to ensure academic progress toward graduation.

  • Update college search/application progress and all information in GuidedPath software, including assignments, results, scholarship information, and admission decisions.

  • Adhere to creating and submitting original content for all parts of the application and advising process. 

  • Request advisor permission for other individuals to view/critique essay work, to ensure all writing maintains a single voice (the student's voice!).

  • Seriously consider and actively apply to at least three mutually agreed-upon schools of which the advisor feels confident. 

  • Take initiative and communicate in a timely manner (replying to correspondence within one business day).

  • Be respectful of late-night hours, and all meetings will culminate by 8 pm in the student’s time zone. 

  • Wear appropriate (but comfortable) attire during live sessions with their advisor.

  • Allow advisors to maintain de-identified copies of session content and essay drafts for the development of future educational resources and curricula.

  • Provide consent for advisors to communicate with school counselors.


  • Support their student’s autonomy, with the goal of encouraging their student to develop agency and independence throughout the college application process, in order to promote college-readiness.

  • Refrain from creating or submitting content on behalf of their student throughout the application and advising process, including essay brainstorming and critique.

  • Avoid impersonating the student in all situations involving college advisors, high school counselors, and college professionals.

  • Nurture the passion and excitement about student’s schools of interest and fields of study.

  • Involve students in meaningful financial aid discussions regarding their college journey. This is a great teachable moment for students to learn and appreciate the investment in their education.

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