Thinking about and preparing for college begins prior to a student’s junior or senior year of high school. A student’s freshman year of high school is the time to prepare for their post high school education. Below is a grade level checklist, with important information from the Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance (LOSFA) and the U.S. Department of Education.
Meet Your Advocates
- Utilize “Unlock My Future” LOSFA’s match-and-fit tool to help you with personal interests and career choices.
- Participate in school sponsored virtual College or Career Day browses and business and industry events to acquaint yourself with various career options.
- Get involved in school and/or community-based activities that interest you.
- Start a list of awards, honors, volunteer work and extracurricular activities.
- Talk to your school counselor or teachers about Advanced Placement and Dual Enrollment classes, and other challenging courses in core academic subjects.
- Familiarize yourself with TOPS and other State Aid such as GO Grant and Federal Aid.
- Research scholarships. LOSFA compiles a list of scholarships every month, which can be found here.
- Create a LOSFA Student Hub account and have your parents create a Parent Hub account starting in January,
- “Like” LOSFA on social media (Facebook: @LOSFA, Instagram: @losfa001, Twitter: @LOSFA) to receive helpful information relating to college access, financial aid opportunities and financial literacy advice.
- Your parent(s) should make sure they are fully aware of the provisions of any college savings accounts, like the START 529 College Savings Plan, that they have opened for you.
- If your school participates in the Louisiana GEAR UP program, explore opportunities to connect with the activities that your school coordinator and assigned GEAR UP representative offer at the school.
- Have a conversation with your school guidance counselor to learn about various postsecondary education options.
- Take the practice Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT\NMSQT) and the ACT Aspire Exam.
- Continue to participate in any college and career virtual events.
- Educate yourself about ways to pay for college such as grants, scholarships, work-study and loans. Explore any state-based grants, such as the Louisiana GO Grant and familiarize yourself with the qualifications and application deadlines for these financial aid opportunities.
- Continue to use the LOSFA Student Hubto update your accomplishments and achievements and to monitor your progress toward meeting graduation, college admission and scholarship qualification requirements.
- Identify your areas of interest and potential career paths by using the tools provided atunlockmyfuture.org.
- Begin researching postsecondary options (4-year college, community and/or technical college, etc.) that best fit your needs and compare them by location, size, program offerings, and cost.
- Visit the websites of various colleges and universities of interest and speak to representatives in admissions and financial aid as well as department faculty and staff.
- Continue to Research Scholarships through Unlock My Future and other helpful resources.
- Take the Pre ACT-Test.
- If you’re interested in technical education, look up information about TOPS Tech Early Start (TTES). Familiarize yourself with the qualifications and deadlines to apply for assistance.
- If you have not already done so, register to the take the ACT Plan Assessmentor the PSAT.
February – May
- Meet with your school counselor to find out if you qualify for TTES.
- Search for available TTES course offerings and the postsecondary schools that offer them. Have a parent review this information with you.
- Register for TTES courses.
- Take the ACT and PSAT exam. Remember that deadlines for registering for these tests during the Fall and Spring are usually three to four weeks prior to the actual test date.
- Upload any photo requirements for the ACT and PSAT before the deadline.
- Continue to explore career choices and their earning potential.
- Participate in virtual college fairs and college preparation events hosted by college representatives.
- Utilize free scholarship search engines to identify college scholarship opportunities. Some scholarship application deadlines are during the summer between the 11th and 12th grade year.
- Explore what state and federal government financial aid might be available.
- Continue to get involved in after school activities and aspire to leadership roles.
June – July
- Investigate careers of interest.
- Consider subjects you do well in and enjoy. Talk to your parents, guidance counselor, and other adults about the careers that interest you. Many resources are available on the Unlock My Future website.
- Find connections through family, friends, teachers, counselors, and leaders in the community who work in the careers that interest you. Ask them about their work. You will learn a lot about the careers that would best suit you.
- Make a list of important factors.
- Think about what factors are the most important to you when considering your future college. Some examples are cost of attendance, programs of study offered, school size, class size, city and neighborhood, campus culture, distance from home, extracurricular activities, and religious affiliation.
- Research colleges using the tools available on the Unlock My Future website.
- Based on what you’ve learned about careers and your own interests, look for colleges with programs that can help you achieve your goals. Search for your program interests using online resources. Take note of which colleges offer the kinds of programs you want.
- Make a list of prospective colleges.
- Request materials.
- Go online or call the colleges to request catalogs and financial aid materials.
- Narrow your list.
- Based on what you’ve learned, narrow your list of schools. If possible, rank your colleges in order of preference.
- If applicable, enroll to in TOPS Tech Early Start (TTES) courses for the fall semester.
- Ensure that you will graduate.
- Look at your high school’s graduation requirements and compare your credits. Make sure you will graduate on time. The easiest way to do so is by checking your Individual Graduation Plan against your TOPS Tracker report in LOSFA’s Student Hub.
- Research private scholarship and grant opportunities.
- This information is available at your high school guidance office, local public library, civic and professional organizations and free scholarship searches.
- Continue to identify your areas of interest and potential career paths.
- Follow your progress toward eligibility for the TOPS scholarship.
- The TOPS Tracker feature on LOSFA’s Student Hub records the courses you take during the academic year.
- Take the PSAT/NMSQT.
- Take these tests to practice taking admissions tests and to establish your eligibility for the National Merit Scholarship Program, the National Achievement Scholarship Program, and/or the National Hispanic Recognition Program, and additional scholarship programs.
- Make a list of college and university entrance requirements.
- Look up the minimum acceptance requirements for entering freshmen at your top colleges, such as grade point average, high school subject credits, and standardized test scores.
- Talk with your parents about your college plans and finances.
- Become more specific about how you and your parents can finance your plans. Compare costs of attending the schools you are interested in.
- Contact your guidance counselor.
- After your PSAT/NMSQT scores come in, schedule a phone call or virtual meeting. Have your list of entrance requirements. Determine with the counselor if your list of colleges is reasonable or needs to be adjusted, and if your current and future high school classes are appropriate.
January – June
- As you learn more, narrow your college list even more.
- Continue to participate in college events and, if possible, schedule individual sessions with representatives from your top colleges to learn more about their programs.
- Take the ACT and/or SAT.
- If these tests are required for your list of colleges, register and take them. (Enter the proper code so that LOSFA receives your scores)
- Take achievement tests.
- Take these in May or June if the colleges that you are considering require them.
- Start preparing portfolios, audition tapes, writing samples, or other evidence of talent.
- List your academic achievements, extra-curricular activities, community service involvement and employment history.
July – August
- Request information.
Contact the colleges that interest you and request admissions procedures and financial aid information.
- Starting October 1, complete and submit your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) as soon as possible. After submitting this application, you should receive a Student Aid Report (SAR). Quickly make any necessary corrections identified in the report and submit it to the FAFSA processor.
- Well before the college application deadlines, ask your counselor and teachers to submit required documents such as transcript and letters of recommendation to the colleges and universities of your choice.
- Submit college applications and other institutional financial aid applications to those institutions in which you are interested.
- Review your college acceptances and compare the colleges’ financial aid offers.
- Utilize LOSFA’s “5 Point Match” tool to learn how to select the college or university that will be best for you.
- When you decide which school you want to attend, notify the school of your commitment and submit any required financial deposit. Most schools require notification and deposit by May 1st.
- Continue to update your accomplishments and achievements and to monitor your progress toward meeting graduation, college admission and scholarship qualification requirements.
- Follow your progress toward eligibility for the TOPS scholarship using the TOPS Tracker feature in LOSFA’s Student Hub.
- Review your plans with your guidance counselor.
- Discuss your grades and test results from junior year.
- Register to retake the ACT and/or SAT, if necessary.
- You can take these tests as many times as you want, through the April national testing date of the year you will graduate from high school.
- Finalize your list of the colleges that interest you.
- Request admissions, housing, and financial aid information from each of these colleges.
- Investigate financial aid.
- Start investigating federal, state, college, and local financial aid opportunities.
- Males – register with the U.S. Selective Service.
- If you are a male, age 18-25, register with the U.S. Selective Service so you will be eligible for federal student aid. You can register online at: www.sss.gov.
- Begin requesting letters of recommendation from teachers/counselors, etc.
- Register for an FSA ID.
- Go to StudentAid.ed.gov to create your account. This account is called your FSA ID. It will serve as your e-Signature for the online Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). If you are a dependent student, a parent should also register at this time.
- October 1 is the first day you can file your FAFSA. You can submit it online at fafsa.gov or complete and mail your PDF FAFSA or paper FAFSA. You can also utilize the mobile app, My Student Aid on your electronic devices to complete the FAFSA.
- Submit the FAFSA in time to meet each college’s financial aid deadline. (These can vary and can be different than admissions deadlines.) Contact the financial aid offices at your colleges for more information. Louisiana’s priority FAFSA deadline is July 1, for the TOPS scholarships as well as all other scholarships administered by LOSFA.
- The FAFSA is a graduation requirement for public high school students in Louisiana. If your school counselor requires verification of submission, please save and forward the confirmation page to your school counselor.
- Look for your Student Aid Report (SAR). Your SAR is typically available within two weeks of filing you FAFSA. To access the SAR, log into your account at www.studentaid.gov.
- Each college that you included on your FAFSA will receive a copy of your SAR.
- Review the SAR.
- Make any necessary changes and return the corrected form to the Department of Education. If you filed electronically, make corrections online.
- Arrange in advance to talk to an admission counselor, financial aid advisor, and a professor in the academic department of your intended major. If you cannot visit the campus, the college’s Web site may contain an online tour.
- Start drafts of your college essays.
- Request high school transcripts.
- You will need a high school transcript for each application you plan to submit.
- Identify references.
- Ask if they will provide letters of recommendation for you.
- Finalize portfolios, audition tapes, or writing samples.
- Complete these if they are required for admissions or scholarships.
- Schedule admissions interviews.
- If your colleges require them, schedule these now.
- Apply for private scholarships and grant programs.
- Follow up with your references.
- Make sure they remembered to send in the forms if they are sent separately from your application.
- Complete revisions of all applications and essays.
- Review them with a parent or guidance counselor.
- Submit all revised, complete admissions and college academic scholarship applications before holiday break.
- Keep copies for your file. If you submit your applications online, verify that they were received.
- Send your mid-year grades to the colleges of your choice.
- Confirm receipt of your information.
- Check with your colleges to be sure they have received the information from your FAFSA and any revised ACT and/or SAT test scores.
- Look for admissions responses from colleges.
- Tie up loose ends.
- If required, send any additional information to the colleges to complete the admissions and/or financial aid process.
- Review your award letters.
- You should receive financial aid award letters from the colleges that have accepted you for admission. Review them with your parents or a trusted advisor. Be sure that you understand the terms and conditions that accompany each type of aid.
- Weigh your options and make your decision.
- Notify the colleges of your final decision.
- Each college that accepted you for enrollment needs to know whether you plan to accept or decline its offer. Follow the colleges’ instructions to let them know your final decision.
- Consider summer jobs to help with college costs.
- The April National Test Date for the ACT is the last opportunity you have to achieve a qualifying score for the TOPS Performance and Honor Awards. Make sure you take this test if you have not already achieved your desired score for these award levels.
- Take Advanced Placement (AP) exams.
- If you’d like to take AP exams or they’re required for your colleges, take them in May.
- Send in your financial aid forms.
- Sign your financial aid award letter and any other items requiring your signature and return them. If you have questions, schedule an appointment with a financial aid officer. If you have decided to accept a loan, understand all your rights and responsibilities before you and/or your parents sign.
- Send letters of decline to financial aid offices.
- If you have received financial aid award letters from colleges whose offers you have decided to decline, notify the financial aid office in writing because other students will need the aid you declined.
- Arrange for housing and meals at the college you will attend.
- If necessary, arrange for housing and a meal plan for the fall. Please pay any housing deposits before the college or university deadline. Failure to pay the deposit may result in forfeiture of any pre-arranged housing plans at the college or university.
- Update the college on your financial aid situation.
- Notify the financial aid office of any outside scholarships, grants, or other kinds of student aid from private sources that you have received since you submitted your aid application.
- Send your final transcript.
- Your college will need confirmation of your graduation.
This is your last opportunity to achieve a qualifying score on the ACT National Test Date for the TOPS Opportunity and TOPS Tech Award Levels. Make sure you take this test if you have not already achieved your desire score for these award levels.
July – August
- Work and save.
- Make a plan for saving a portion of your summer earnings.
- Make a budget.
- Prepare a budget for your freshman year in college.
- Attend orientation at your new college.
- Make plans to attend required summer orientation sessions at the college or via virtual events.