Planning checklist: When to do what

There’s no doubt about it: The process of planning for college and other types of postsecondary training can be confusing! But it should be part of every junior’s and senior’s life—along with pizza, football, friends, concerts and English class, of course. It pays to start planning early and know the key steps to follow, whether you end up hunting financial aid or applying for an apprenticeship. Here’s a timeline to help guide you on your way. You can find and download a similar “to-do” list at

2019-2020 Test Schedules

Talk to your school’s guidance counselor to confirm testing dates:


Go to for locations, cost, and information on how to prepare for the exam.

December 14  November 8 November 9-22
February 8 January 10 January 11-17
April 4 February 28 February 29 - March 13
June 13 May 8 May 9-22
July 18 June 19 June 20-26


SAT test dates typically follow a set formula–the first Saturday in November, December, May and June; the second Saturday in October and March; and the fourth Saturday in January. For more information and to register, go to

Advanced Placement (AP)

Visit the website at for details, including test subjects, results, cost, etc. The exams are held over two weeks in May—May 4-8 and May 11-15.


 Explore your interests and career goals. Use the Individual Graduation Plan (IGP) as a tool to help you envision the ways your high school courses fit into your long-term goals.  

 Work with your counselor to choose the diploma pathway that matches your goals. You will choose between the TOPS University Pathway and the Jump Start TOPS Tech Pathway at the end of your sophomore year.

 Lay out a plan for completing your remaining required courses. Talk to your counselor about Dual Enrollment, Advanced Placement® (AP) courses, and/or industrial and technical workplace training options. Louisiana has more course options than ever before!


  Use your summer to do things that will make your college application or résumé stronger. Volunteer at a food pantry. Participate in a summer college program for high school students. Or just work a summer job!

  Use your best study hacks to prepare for state and national tests. Ask questions in class! Try all the different kinds of resources you have available to you.

 Update your IGP with the courses in your chosen diploma pathway.

• Ask your counselor and teachers about ways to strengthen your GPA. Your grades determine your eligibility for TOPS and can help you qualify to receive additional financial support after high school.

 Investigate the Industry-Based Credentials (IBCs) you can attain before graduation. Whether you are on the TOPS Tech or TOPS University Pathway, earning a complementary, regional or statewide credential can open doors to multiple opportunities.  

 Athletes: If you want to play NCAA college sports and receive a scholarship at the DI or DII level, you will need to register and be cleared by the NCAA. Go to to register.



• Download applications from prospective colleges and start drafting your admission and scholarship essays.

• Decide on a system for tracking your application deadlines, testing windows and other important dates. Use a wall calendar, spreadsheet or online calendar—whatever method works best for you.

• Prepare or polish your high school résumé. You may need it for college, job and scholarship applications. 


• Register at to retake the ACT and/or visit to register for the SAT if necessary. 

• Start applying for scholarships. (Some scholarship programs have deadlines in the fall.)


• Update your calendar and to-do list. Add upcoming college fairs—they allow you to get information about several schools at once and talk with representatives from the schools. Very cool!

• Create your FSA ID at 


• Work with your parents to get their tax information together and set up their FSA ID. Call askLela’s helpline at 844-GO-FAFSA or email for assistance. LELA is Louisiana’s nonprofit resource for FAFSA completion and college access.

• Finalize your list of colleges and universities. Many counselors recommend narrowing your final list of schools to your top three, but there is no limit to the number of schools to which you can apply.

• Make sure your ACT/SAT scores are being sent to your current college choices.

• Request a copy of your high school transcript from your school counselor and review it for accuracy before you send it to your prospective schools.

• Find out the application deadlines for each of your colleges and start preparing your applications. Be totally OCD about DEADLINES! Mark them on your calendar.


• Find out the scholarship deadlines for all your colleges and add them to your calendar. 

• If colleges request letters of recommendation, compile a list of teachers and mentors you can ask to submit a letter for you. These may also be needed for scholarship applications.

• Watch for a FAFSA completion event at your high school if you’d like assistance with the FAFSA. Follow @LOSFA on Twitter for updates on FAFSA and scholarships.


• Review your FAFSA/Student Aid Report (SAR) for accuracy. Submit any corrections to the FAFSA processor.

• Submit all of your completed admission and college academic scholarship applications by the end of the year. Remember, many schools award scholarship funds on a first-come, first-served basis.

• Search and apply for nonacademic scholarships. These are scholarships from organizations other than colleges that have admitted you.


• If you are applying for nonacademic scholarships, January is crunch time for deadlines. Try to get all applications in the mail (or posted online) by the last week of January.

• Follow @LouisianaNEXT on Twitter for career ideas, financial aid tips and news and pics of other Louisiana high schools!


• Contact financial aid offices at schools you’ve applied to and find out as much as you can about their processes. Research all the financial aid options you may need: TOPS, loans, grants, work-study, etc.


• Watch your snail mail and email inbox. Most schools begin to notify students of admission and financial aid awards in late March or early April!

• Continue looking for scholarships. Some scholarship competitions don’t close until late spring. Lela’s FAFSA Completion Guide has a list of scholarship search websites. You can find the guide at


• Notify your schools’ financial aid offices of any non-academic scholarships or grants you’ve won.

• Make some campus visits if you’re still deciding between two (or more) colleges. Spring break is a great time for one last visit.

• Keep checking your email. April is the month for acceptance letters, rejection letters, and—if you got accepted at multiple schools—one of the biggest decisions of your life!


• You should make your final decision by May, as this is when many schools require you to accept financial aid offers. In fact, some require an enrollment commitment deposit.

• Notify other schools that accepted you that you will NOT be enrolling.

• Write thank-you notes to teachers who wrote letters of recommendation.

• Check with your college’s admissions department for any additional requirements. You may need to submit a separate application for housing if you plan on living on campus.

Enjoy senior week and your commencement! Class of 2020! Hooray!


• Attend freshman orientation program at your college.

• Find out when payment of your fall semester charges is due.

• Explore your options if you made a last-minute decision to apply for college or other training programs.  

By the NEXT staff

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