Your Checklist for College Begins in 9th Grade

College Steps for High School Students,

by PALNYC Guest Writer Franca Rawitz,
founder of ReadySetCollegeNYC

While high school juniors are now in full swing with their college search (and seniors have submitted applications), many freshmen and sophomore parents are also thinking about college steps. In fact, with the ever-increasing competition for college seats, more and more families are beginning the college journey sooner rather than later. The extra time is a true bonus on every level, and it can – and should – be used to the student’s advantage.

One of the key reasons is financial. The student’s first year of college aid eligibility is based on the tax year that begins on January 1 of the sophomore year.  When parents wait too long to learn about financial aid, they may lose out on opportunities to obtain it later on.

Aside from the economic considerations, there are many details for parents of high school freshmen and sophomores – and of course juniors! — to be aware of. 

Here is a checklist of steps that you and your teen can take right now to ease the pressure of the college journey, and to boost applications later.


  • Visit your guidance counselor to discuss next year’s course selection. You want to take the most advanced classes available at your school (ask about AP or IB classes), but only if you feel confident that you can handle the academic rigor.
  • Stay focused on schoolwork. Freshman grades will appear on your high school transcript so aim to finish the year on an upswing.
  • Participate in after-school activities and clubs. Find the one that interests you most and stick with it.
  • Volunteer for community service events in and out of school.
  • Talk to your teachers about possibly taking an SAT subject test this June.  It’s best to take these as soon as you complete a course so that the subject matter is fresh in your mind. [Most 9th graders are taking biology now and some do take the SAT Biology exam.]
  • If you do plan to take a subject test, make sure to enlist some test prep at least three months before the test. Also, register with the College Board in due time.


  • Focus on schoolwork. Colleges want to see an upward trend in grades throughout high school.
  • Concentrate your time on one or two extra-curricular activities that you are most passionate about.
  • Consider a summer program that enriches your extra-curricular interests and investigate internships and classes.
  • Plan to start test prep this summer for the SAT or ACT in fall of junior year.
  • Begin test prep now for the SAT subject test you plan to take this June. [Many sophomores take one of the History SAT subject tests or the Chemistry SAT.]
  • There is a huge advantage to getting a head start on college visits. Start a preliminary college list and visit campuses this spring.
  • If you do visit colleges, take careful notes and make sure to send an email thank you to the college official who spoke at the information session and to the student tour guide.


  • Create a list of activities, honors, leadership positions, internships and jobs. This will be the foundation for your student resume for applications.
  • Continue with test prep and register for the spring SAT or ACT within the deadlines.
  • Attend meetings with the college counselor at your high school to learn about the admissions process and to refine a list of schools.
  • Peruse college websites to learn as much as you can about schools.
  • Check out local college fairs at and attend as many as you can.
  • Use spring break to visit college campuses, but confirm that schools are in session. You want to speak with students and professors and perhaps sit in on a class if possible.


  • Do not fall into senior slump – this year counts! College DO request a final transcript and will rescind an admission if final grades plummet.
  • Once you are accepted, visit the schools you have not seen and revisit the ones you have, to make a final decision. Your decision and housing deposit are due May 1.

About our Guest Perspective: 

Franca Rawitz, founder of ReadySetCollegeNYC, has been successfully guiding students on their college journey for the past 12 years.  Through personalized guidance and continuous support, Franca empowers students to take control of their journey and to achieve success in a sensible and strategic way.  Partnering closely with families, she allays parent concerns and student anxieties by organizing and overseeing the process.

Franca is a member of the National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC) and the New York State Association of College Admissions Counselors (NYSACAC).  She holds an MA in Journalism from New York University and an MA, and BA, in Biology from Queens College.

To begin learning about today’s college admissions landscape, parents are encouraged to attend one of Franca’s complimentary parent workshops.  Some presentations provide an in-depth overview of the process and others focus on a specific component of the college search (i.e. standardized tests, how to maximize campus tours, application strategies).  Visit to find upcoming events.

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