Students > Preparing for College

Preparing for College

Preparing for college means planning ahead! The earlier the better! Beginning in ninth grade, it’s a good idea to work with school counselors and teachers to plan your academic program. Your counselor can also help you consider your interests and abilities, grades, test scores, and preferred geographic location in your college search. The better they know you, the better they’ll be able to help identify colleges that may be a good fit.

High school and middle school students who want to more deeply engage with academic preparation for college can take advantage of any of a number of programs that University of Chicago offers to ease and improve the process.

Without Questbridge or CAAP I would find it hard to even picture myself being in a college of this stature.

—Miguel Ortega, Class of ’17

You're not alone in making important college decisions. Your family, guardians, teachers, and counselors are ready to help, as are a variety of nonprofit college access programs with staff committed to helping talented students succeed in the college application process.


Freshman Year

Freshman year matters in the college admissions process. Be engaged in your classes, and maybe even find some extracurricular activities to join at your high school or in your community. They will bring a new level of meaning to your high school experience and allow you to discover and expand your interests.

Starting freshman year, students have the opportunity to apply to summer academic programs for high school students, enrichment programs, or community based organizations.

Sophomore Year

Challenge yourself to think. Ask your college counselor about any honors, AP, or IB classes offered by your school and try to fulfill their track requirements.

Ask your family members or teachers where they went to college. Ask them what they found meaningful in their college experience.

Now is the time to start visiting college websites online and going to college fairs to get a sense of what different universities have to offer.

Junior Year

Take those challenging honors, AP, or IB classes when you have access to them, and be sure to build a strong and well-rounded schedule for your senior year.

Take a leadership role in one of your extracurricular activities. You’re more organized and responsible than you might think.

Take the SAT or ACT tests for the first time (if you need a fee waiver, information can be found here and here). Think about the results. Maybe study extra hard on certain sections you felt unprepared for, and take the test again.

Continue going to college fairs and start visiting college campuses.

Summer between Junior and Senior Year

Look at different online college application sites (like the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success, the Common Application, and the Universal College Application) and start thinking about what you want to write about in your college application essays.

Continue visiting college campuses.

Fall Senior Year

What colleges appeal to you? Make a list of some potential ones, talk about it with your family, friends, teachers, and counselors, narrow it down or expand it, and then begin filling out your applications. Be sure to put plenty of time and attention into college supplements. There are a number of resources about essay writing, some of which can be found on UChicago’s admissions site.

Ask your teachers for recommendations a few weeks before the deadlines. They want to paint you in the best light possible, and it’s best to give them time to do that.

If you aren’t happy with your previous scores, consider retaking the SAT or ACT. Make sure to register for a testing date that will release your scores in time for your applications.

Attend meetings with college representatives visiting your high school.

Stay overnight on a college campus and sit in on classes. If you feel comfortable doing so, try to organize an interview while you're there.

Decide if you are applying early action or early decision to any schools and take note of all application deadlines. If you chose early action or early decision, this fall is when you’ll first be submitting applications.

Application fees should not be a barrier to applying. Ask your college counselor about fee waivers. The Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success application platform offers one simple fee waiver process that applies to all member schools.

Winter Senior Year

Submit the rest of your college applications. Work with your family to complete and submit financial aid forms and begin searching for outside scholarships.

Spring Senior Year

Receive your college admissions decisions.

Visit colleges during their special programs for admitted students.

May 1

Decide which college you're going to and then celebrate! You made it!