It’s finally senior year! You’ve made it to the top of the high school food chain, but now it’s time to set your sights even higher: college.

Easier said than done, I know. The entire college process can seem incredibly overwhelming.

But it doesn’t have to be! Getting into college takes a lot of thought, planning, and preparation. Luckily for you, you’ve got this guide to tell you everything you need to do in September.

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1) Meet with Your School Counselor

Maybe you’ve never met them before, or maybe you’re already best buds. Either way, now’s the time to meet with your school counselor. They’ll help bring a little clarity to the whole college process.

Even the best blog posts, websites, and email guides are no substitute for a face-to-face conversation with a real person.

If you’re here reading this, you’re already doing the right thing by taking responsibility for your college planning.

But, even the best blog posts, websites, and email guides are no substitute for a face-to-face conversation with a real person. Schedule an appointment now.

2) Start Your College List

By September, most students fall into one of two camps. Either you know exactly where you want to go to college, or you have no idea. No matter where you’re at, it’s okay!

Either way, you need to start building a list of schools you plan to apply to. If you already have a school you know you want, make sure to plan for backups. It might not be pleasant to think about, but it’s entirely possible you won’t get into your first choice school. Make sure you have a solid list of alternatives.

That same advice goes for anyone without the first idea of where they want to go. If that’s you, a good first step is to narrow down what type of college you want to go to. Do you want a big, urban campus? A small cozy liberal arts school? Something close to home?

Now's the time to start asking these questions.

Read: Know the 5 Types of Colleges to Decide Where to Apply

3) Register for SAT/ACT

You might have taken a standardized test already. If so, great!

But it almost never hurts to take it again.

It’s not uncommon to improve your scores the second time around, and most colleges will take your highest scores.

If you haven’t taken any tests at all, that’s okay too. You still have plenty of time to register for a test date and knock it out of the park. It’s not a bad idea to register for the soonest available test, so that you'll have time to take it a second time if you’re not satisfied with your scores.

Of course, not all schools require you to submit SAT/ACT scores. (In fact, more and more are dropping the requirement altogether.) But you still shouldn't skip the tests entirely.

“Skipping the tests will severely limit your options.”

Here’s why: skipping the tests will severely limit your options. A lot can change through senior year, and the last thing you want is to discover and fall in love with your dream school only to find out too late that they do require test scores.

But if you take the tests, you’ll be ready for anything that comes your way.

4) Get Application Materials Ready

College applications can be as quick as 30 minutes, or they can suck up days of your life.

Some of it comes down to how well prepared you are for the application.

Now is a great time to ask trusted mentors if they’ll write you letters of recommendation, gather transcripts, test scores, and even financial aid information.

Keep it all in a folder (digital or real, it’s up to you!) and update it as you get closer to application time.

Read: How to Get a Stellar Letter of Recommendation

5) Ask the Money Questions Now!

Paying for college can be harder than getting in. You don't want to get accepted to your dream school only to find out that you can’t afford to actually go.

Or worse, that you can’t afford any of the schools you applied it.

It sounds like a nightmare, but it does actually happen to people from time to time. You can avoid any last minute surprises by sitting down with your parents now and having a frank discussion about finances.

There are a lot of options out there to help you afford college, but to know which ones you need to pursue, you need to have a solid grasp of your finances now.

6) Keep Your Grades Up

This one should go without saying. Your grades senior year still count toward your college acceptance. Make sure that you start the year off right so that you’re set up for success.

Even if your grades up until now haven’t been great, it’s worth it to work extra hard now. Everybody loves a good comeback story, including admissions committees.

7) Draft Your College Essays

Yep, you won’t have to submit your college essay for a long time. But now’s the time to start writing it.

I know what you’re thinking, “But I don’t know the essay prompts!”

That’s okay. Almost every college application asks for some form of a personal statement. If you start drafting an essay now, you’ll have some great source material to pull from when it comes time to write your actual essays.

Start with this: why do you want to go to college? Try writing down your answer, complete with all the honest, compelling reasons that you’re doing this in the first place.

Every few weeks, take a look at it again. Does it still seem true? Does it sound like you?

Read: 8 Fast Tips to Write an Amazing College Application Essay

8) Decide Where You’ll Apply Early

Notice we didn’t say “if” here. No matter what, you should apply early to at least 1 school.

But before you do, it’s critical to know the difference between early action and early decision.

For most schools, “early decision” means that the decision is binding -- so if you apply and get accepted, you automatically agree to go to that school. That can put you in a tough spot later if your financing doesn’t line up, or if you change your mind.

Instead, you should look for schools that offer “early action.” This is like “early decision,” except for it’s not a binding decision. Meaning, if you change your mind later, you can still back out.

If you get accepted, you’ll have the rest of your senior year to relax, keep your grades up, and have fun with friends.

9) Subscribe to a College Guide

By now you might be feeling like this is all a bit much to keep track of.

Luckily, this is the easiest and most helpful thing on the checklist.

“It’s like putting your college planning on auto-pilot.”

Signing up for an email guide is like putting your college planning on auto-pilot.

It just so happens that we offer just the thing!

Sign up for our Senior College Prep Series and we’ll email you at the beginning of each month with a simple, complete guide of everything you should be doing that month.

All you need to do is sign up, and watch your inbox for the monthly guide!

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Authored by Jared Meyer

Jared specializes in communication in higher education. He writes about getting into college and succeeding once you're there. He's the editor of the American Honors Blog.