Important College Planning Dates

Melissa Cox CFP® CFLSA

Important College Planning Dates


Welcome Back to Cox Collegiate Planners!


As a College Planner and CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, I know that college planning has many factors to consider. Cost and funding, but most importantly... timing. Hitting specific date targets can make or break your college plan. While most don't consider college planning a significant factor until senior year of high school, it's something that you should at least have on your radar much earlier! The best college plan takes you all the way from entering high school to college orientation and beyond. This means that you should have an outlined plan of what you should be completing and by when. 


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All of this planning doesn't just magically happen; you may be best served by getting in contact with a college planner, like myself, who can help you coordinate and watch out for the essential dates on the horizon. Not planning for college correctly can cause a slew of unanticipated problems. And don't think that college planning should be left entirely up to the student. One of the main reasons many adults delay their retirement is improper financial planning for college. So, let's jump into it by discussing some of the most important dates that you should have on your calendar if you or your child is planning for college!

Start By Identifying Student Interests


By identifying what your student is interested in, you're better able to narrow down career opportunities and colleges that will help you reach your area of interest. This is an ongoing process that doesn't have a hard-set date; however, the earlier you begin identifying what you're interested in studying, the easier your college experience will be in the long run. It'll also help you to identify colleges and universities that have stellar reputations for assisting students to achieve great heights in their potential field of study!

Have a Talk About College Affordability

As a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ I encourage families to talk about college affordability and paying for college as early as possible. Having this discussion helps parents to balance paying for school with saving for retirement, and allows students to develop healthy financial expectations. Families should be aware of how college will be funded, and if loans are necessary. It's also a great time to bring grandparents into the college funding plan.

Students should be encouraged to think about the long term effects of going to an expensive school and using loans to pay for their education. Will their intended career earn enough to comfortably repay student loan debt?



The PSAT or the Preliminary SAT is a great way to gauge where you are in your readiness for the SAT. While it isn't designed to, it'll also help you sort of gauge where you are in your readiness for the ACT as well. The PSAT is a two-hour test offered in 8th, 9th, 10th, and 11th grade. Many, but not all, high schools provide a PSAT and a PSAT course that will help you study and get ready for the real thing. However, if your high school doesn't offer such a course or test, there are ways that you can go about it yourself! 


The PSAT 8/9 can be taken between September 20, 2021, and March 25, 2022. The PSAT 10 and PSAT can be taken October 13, October 16th, or October 26 in 2021. These dates may shifts lightly year-to-year but are usually fairly consistent. While the tests are offered during those dates, you must usually order them about a month in advance. All of that information can be found on College Board's website by navigating to the specific test page's tab and the "Dates" section of that page. 


Like I said above, the PSAT will help you gauge your readiness for the SATs, but there's another benefit to it as well. If you score high on the PSAT, you may qualify for academic recognition programs or scholarship opportunities. Academic recognition programs help colleges recognize students in underserved areas; this can serve as a huge morale booster and look fantastic on a college application. The PSAT's scholarship program matches high achievers in underserved areas to a network of scholarship offerors. 

Extracurriculars, Shadowing, and Internships


By tenth grade, you or your child may be showing signs of interest in specific areas. If that's the case, it's time to start on the extracurriculars. On top of looking great on college applications, extracurriculars may open doors to specific scholarship areas and deepen interest in a field or help gain insightful experiences. By engaging in extracurriculars, you or your child may also find out that they aren't as interested in an area as they thought they were. While it can be easy to feel like that's time wasted, in reality, it saves you from pursuing a degree and switching majors down the road. This, in turn, cuts down on the number of semesters you're in college. 


Internships and shadowing experiences are other ways that students can gain invaluable experience in their prospective career field. Internships likely have deadlines of their own, but there's no hard-set deadline overall. These also help beef up that college application and may be required by some colleges for admission.  

Standardized Tests (ACT,SAT, and AP)


Standardized tests are a huge part of getting into college and getting scholarships. However, the test deadline perhaps shouldn't be your biggest worry. By taking part in the PSAT mentioned above, you should have a decent idea of where you are in your preparation to take the ACT and or SAT. Once you've got a picture of your standing, it's time to start preparing. There are oodles of resources (both free and paid) online that can help you prepare for the specific test you're taking. The key to this is getting started and getting started early; if you start studying for your standardized test the week before, you've done something wrong. 


For the ACT, you can take the test from September to July, but you need to register about two months in advance. If you're late to signup, you'll have to pay a late registration fee. You can find more information about when the ACT is offered here on the ACT website. 


The SAT is available from August to June, and you'll need to register at least a month ahead of time. Like the ACT, you can sign up late but will be required to pay a late registration fee. More information about the availability of the SAT can be found on the College Board website here. 


AP Tests or Advance placement tests should also be on your radar! AP Courses are a great way to get some college credit out of the way while you're still in high school. After you've taken a course, you'll be able to take an AP test, which will determine whether or not you can cross that course off your list! A student can theoretically take an AP course as early as ninth grade. However, this isn't usually recommended, and students must meet prerequisites for the course they'd like to take. The AP testing timetable is a little more complicated (and has been further complicated by coronavirus) but usually is given in the first two weeks of May. More information about AP courses and tests can be found here, including a complete list of AP courses and details about each.  

Complete the FAFSA


Once you've narrowed down your list of schools, you should start thinking about the FAFSA! The FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. As the name states, the FAFSA application is free! What's terrific about the FAFSA is that you'll be able to apply to federal student aid, scholarships, and work-study programs in one swoop. The FAFSA gets a bad reputation for being difficult, but it really isn't all that bad once you begin. Before you start a FAFSA application, make sure you've set yourself up with an FSA ID. An FSA ID is essentially how you will digitally certify who you are and sign the FAFSA to submit it. 


The FAFSA opens on October 1 each year and can be submitted on a rolling basis. However, that doesn't mean you should put it off. In fact, many funds offered by the FAFSA are a first-come-first-serve, which means you should get it in as quickly as possible. Making sure your FAFSA is in early will lessen the chance that you'll miss out on any possible scholarships or aid!


A NOTE TO PARENTS AND STUDENTS: FSA IDs can be sort of finicky. Each person, phone number, email address, and social security number can only be associated with ONE FSA ID. You'll need to be sure that you create SEPARATE student and parent FSA IDs, or it may delay how quickly you can submit your FAFSA, causing you to miss out on potential student aid.

CSS Profile


Not everyone will need to complete a CSS Profile. Still, they are required to apply for many private institutions (and some public). A CSS Profile is another student aid application that's sort of supplemental to the FAFSA. CSS Profiles go much more into depth about your family's financial situation, living situation, and taxes. They are used to ask questions that aren't requested on the FAFSA and take much longer to complete. 


CSS Profile applications open on October 1. Even though the CSS Profile is pretty arduous, if any schools that you're considering attending require it, you should complete it ASAP. Like the FAFSA, many funds offered by applying to CSS Profiles are first-come-first-serve. CSS Profile applications aren't free and charge for each institution an application is sent to. Because of that, it's best to speak with a College planning professional who can help you understand which schools require them when they're due. This will help you curtail your application experience to you. 

Scholarship Applications and Deadlines


Scholarships can be an essential key to financial success in college. Many who were very smart about their scholarship application have been able to "be paid" to be in college, which is a great position to be in. Overall, scholarships don't have any one set date or deadline. Instead, it varies and depends on what scholarship you're after. Possibly the best way to go about this is the old-fashioned way - creating a list. 


First, search websites like this to sort through a long, long list of scholarships that you may be eligible for. Write down each scholarship that you're interested in applying for and its due date. Once you've done that, you can set aside days to work through chunks of your list and complete applications. Perhaps the most critical part of applying for scholarships is just staying on top of the situation. With so many applications and scholarships to pick from/fill out, there's a lot to do, leading many to become very overwhelmed very quickly. 

Apply for College!


When you're in your senior year, it's time to begin applying for colleges! Take the narrowed-down list of schools you'd like to apply to and get on their websites! There you should be able to find (reasonably quickly) what the deadline for applying is. My best advice with this (along with just about everything else) is to get started and getting started early! Submitting an application early may show the school that you have initiative and your ducks in a row. Unfortunately, there's no date set in stone for an admission deadline. A great way to keep up to date about your potential school or schools is by working with a college planner! 

Orientation Dates


Once you've applied and been accepted to school, it's time to look towards the future! Most likely, the next step will be to set up an orientation session. Orientation is a great way to get a better feel for your new school and stay up to date on the next step in the process. For many, if you've done everything leading up to this point -you may be able to register for classes at orientation, which is both exciting and important. What many future students don't realize is that college courses "fill up." This means that you may not be able to get the exact teacher or time you'd prefer unless you're quick to the punch. Going to an earlier registration expands the chances that you'll be able to get into the classes you want. 


At orientation, you'll have the opportunity to meet many professors and students who are already in school. Once you've been advised about which classes you should take, you should take that opportunity to talk to students who've had experiences in those classes. From there, you can make a decision about which teachers you'd prefer and register accordingly. 



Don't Let Planning for College Be a Hassle!


College should be the next new and exciting adventure in your life, don't let it be overwhelming. Instead, take note of these important dates, and create a timeline of events. Using your timeline of events, you should be able to methodically and calmly complete each "next step" in the process. If you're feeling overwhelmed by the number of things you have to do, consider reaching out to a college planning professional like myself. 


As a college planner, I can help you understand and determine what those crucial next steps are and how to complete them. Reach out and give me a call or send me an email to schedule an appointment. Together, we'll develop an innovative, strategic, and forward-thinking plan to achieve financial success in higher education. 


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Until next time… this is Cox Collegiate Planners!


Melissa Anne Cox, College Funding and Student Loan Advisor, is also a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and financial coach in Dallas, Texas.

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