Seniors: Get a head start on your college apps this summer!

College Planning: All You Need to Know in Advance

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Students discuss their college planning ahead of a lectureWhile it might be okay to go into your weekend without an itinerary in place, the same can’t be said for college admissions. If you’re looking to minimize your stress levels while boosting your odds of getting accepted into your first-choice school, creating a college planning process is essential.

What Does College Planning Mean?

College planning is a process that involves researching potential colleges, creating a list of best-fit schools, selecting classes that align with your academic goals, and staying on top every admissions-related deadline. While having good grades and strong standardized test scores are advantages during the admissions process, high school students won’t be able to capitalize on them without an understanding of the college planning essentials. Another part of college planning is navigating the financial aid process, which is a critical component of the academic journey for most college students.

Why Is College Planning Important? 

College planning is important because it helps you prepare for college and learn how to better navigate crucial decisions in the future. Some components of the college application process mimic what you will experience when completing job applications down the line, so it’s in your best interest to get comfortable showcasing your achievements, personal growth, and future goals.

How to Make the Best College Decision 

While keeping track of application deadlines might feel like college planning 101, some components of the process are more challenging — and deciding on a college is definitely one of them. Rather than letting friends or family impact where you choose to enroll, you should reflect on what excites you about each college you gain admittance to. Ultimately, you should choose a school that offers opportunities that align with your professional, personal, and developmental goals.

How to Start Planning for College: An Actionable Guide 

College planning can often feel overwhelming at first, especially because there are so many different components of the application process. As you become more familiar with the admissions process and what goes into it, college planning will start to make a lot more sense.

Think About Your Interests and Goals

Before compiling a list of best-fit schools, you should think about what interests you most and where your future career aspirations might lie. Reflect on the classes you enjoyed most during high school, the extracurricular activities you look forward to, and any job or internship experience that you participated in. Thinking about your interests and goals will help inform future decisions you’ll need to make regarding schools to apply to and academic programs.

Determine a College Major

Since most schools offer an array of different college majors, choosing a course of study can be challenging for many students. While selecting a major is an important decision, you should keep in mind that you will likely be able to explore careers outside of this subject if you later choose to do so.

Even aspiring doctors can choose a major outside of the sciences as long as they complete their pre-med requirements. In fact, a major outside of the medical realm can help students stand out to admissions officers, making it a potential advantage for medical school admissions.

Research Different Types of Institutions

While many students begin their college search process by researching schools nearby, you shouldn’t be afraid to broaden your horizons. Many schools across the world have plenty of exciting opportunities to offer. As you’re researching different types of institutions, it’s important to keep in mind that the college application processes will vary slightly depending on where the school you’re applying to is based. For example, U.K. admissions focus on academic accomplishments, rather than the holistic review process that’s popular in the U.S.

Plan Ahead to Meet Important Deadlines 

Part of what can make the college application process so challenging is that most schools have their own specific application deadlines, supplement college essay questions, and admission decision release dates. Keeping tabs on all of these deadlines can be a lot to juggle, especially if you’re interested in applying Early Decision and Early Action. To make sure you’re staying on track, use a planner and add reminders in your phone so you can be alerted whenever an important deadline is coming up.

Understand the True Cost of College

In addition to the academic part of college admissions, students also need to complete the financial aid process. For most applicants in the United States, that starts by sitting down with family to learn about the information needed to fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).

During this conversation, you can ask about various funding options to get an idea of how much money your family might be expected to pay and how they’ll cover various college costs. These options can include:

  • Mutual funds.
  • Custodial accounts under UGMA/UTMA.
  • Qualified U.S. Savings Bonds.
  • Roth IRAs.
  • Coverdell ESAs.
  • 529 plans.

You can also research and apply for college scholarships to help reduce the amount of money your family will need to pay out of pocket.

Be Prepared for Every Scenario

You need to prepare for every type of college admission scenario, including rejection, acceptance, and waitlist or deferral.

What Does Getting Deferred Mean for College Admissions?

Basically, when the college admissions office is undecided about whether to admit an applicant who applied in an early round. Rather than rejecting them, the admissions office decides to reconsider the application during the regular admissions round and decide following this secondary review.

What Does a Waitlist Decision Mean?

In contrast to a deferral, students who are waitlisted may not find out their admissions outcome until the summer before their freshmen year of college. If you’re wondering what to do if you’re waitlisted, unfortunately there’s not a simple answer. If the school that you’re waitlisted at requests grade updates or a letter of interest, it’s in your best interest to submit these materials — otherwise, sending documents that aren’t requested should be avoided.

How to Make a College Planning Checklist

Making a college planning checklist is an easy way to stay on top of the admissions process and hold yourself accountable. Detail some of the most important parts of the admissions process, including working on college essays and submitting your applications. Create a handful of agenda items to complete during each year of high school to make the process feel more manageable.

What Services Can You Benefit From?

There are a handful of college planning services that can help you confidently navigate the admissions process, including:

Admissions Counseling

What does a college counselor do? Generally, students in admissions counseling work one-on-one with their counselor to compile a list of best-fit schools, prepare for college tours and interviews, and craft applications that present themselves in the best light possible.


Students can work with a tutor to improve their academic performance in a class or classes they are struggling with. They can also participate in tutoring for standardized tests to develop strategies that will maximize their performance.

Academic Advising

Academic advising helps students make the most of their school experience. Advisors often work with college students and provide guidance as students choose a major and work towards completing it.

Frequently Asked Questions About College Planning  

What Are the 5 Benefits of Planning?

College planning comes with a host of advantages. Some of the top benefits that you can gain by completing a college planning process include:

  1. Reducing stress.
  2. Gaining a more positive outlook on your studies.
  3. Promoting productive habits.
  4. Coming closer to achieving your goal.
  5. Improving learning. Research shows that planning an initiative out on paper helps improve learning and memory.


How to Plan for Life After College? 

Once you have completed your college planning journey, it’s time to set your sights on preparing for life after college. You should consider whether you’re interested in attending graduate school or jumping straight into the workforce. You’ll also need to think about the types of careers that will suit you best and what you can do to prepare for work in those fields.

What’s the Importance of GPA in College Undergraduate Admissions in the U.S.?

Grades are one of the factors that admissions officers weigh most heavily when making college admissions decisions. Consequently, you should strive to perform as well as possible in all the classes you take and seek help if there’s a course you’re struggling with.

How Many Colleges Should I Apply To? 

Unfortunately, there’s no magic number of colleges you should apply to that will work well for all students. However, it’s important to have a well-balanced list of likelies, safeties, and targets, so most complete college lists tend to include between eight and 12 different schools. You should avoid applying to too many institutions, as it will make it difficult for you to create compelling applications for each college.

When Should I Start Planning for College?

While some students may be tempted to put off planning for college, it’s best to start thinking about the admissions process during your first year of high school. Planning in ninth grade gives you the chance to consider the advice of college planning experts and set long-term goals. Since college admissions officers will review all four years of your high school transcript, it’s important to start focusing on your grades and extracurricular involvements as soon as possible.

Who Should Students Ask for College Recommendations? 

Most colleges will ask applicants for at least two recommendation letters from teachers at their high school. Generally, it’s best to choose teachers you have a good rapport with and whose classes you excelled in. Typically, students should choose one teacher in a subject like English or history and a second from a teacher who specializes in math or science. It can be a good idea to ask a teacher you worked with during your junior year of high school, so they remember your time together more vividly.

Can Students Accept Two College Offers? 

While it can be challenging to decide which college to attend, ultimately you will only be able to attend one college and shouldn’t accept more than one offer.

The only possible exception to this would be if you’re waitlisted at your first-choice school but want to ensure that you’ll have a college to go to if you’re not admitted off of the waitlist. In that situation, you may choose to put down a deposit at one school with the hopes of getting off the waitlist at another.

If the college planning process sounds daunting, don’t be afraid! The college admissions experts at IvyWise are here to help.  Learn more about what you can expect out of the Initial Consultation with an IvyWise admissions counselor. Working one-on-one with a counselor who specializes in college admissions is an excellent way to develop a plan for college that will help you reach your academic, personal, and professional goals.


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