Planning Steps to consider NOW:
If you don't already have one, apply for a Social Security number by going to http://www.ssa.gov or calling (800) 772-1213. You must have a Social Security number to apply for most federal and state aid.
Make sure your e-mail address is appropriate for corresponding with colleges, lenders and employers. If not, get another one that's more professional. Clean up your voicemail and Facebook pages.
Check your transcripts to make sure you will have all the credits you need to get into your colleges of choice. Find out from the colleges whether or not they need official transcripts (transcripts sent directly from your high school) sent at the time of application. Begin asking for letters of recommendation for college applications.
Arrange to meet with your counselor on a weekly basis to discuss your college plans. Browse the web for college planning tips. Start with http://www.going2college.org and http://www.mapping-your-future.org
Find out which financial aid application your prospective colleges require. Virtually all schools want the Federal FAFSA form, but the CSS PROFILE is also used by many private schools to calculate financial aid. Review the list of colleges that require the CSS PROFILE at http://www.CollegeBoard.com (search for PROFILE Student Guide).
If any of the schools you are applying to appear on the list, you must submit a PROFILE application online. When you have registered for your customized PROFILE application, review the instructions carefully and make note of school's deadlines.
Research military and veteran education benefits, if applicable. Look into AmeriCorps to learn how you can earn money for college or to repay your loans in return for community service.
Narrow your list of prospective schools to around ten or a dozen colleges, including at least one dream and one safety school. Focus on colleges on your list that are a match for your SAT/ACT scores. If you are looking for merit aid to help pay for college, you need to be in the top quartile of the incoming Freshman class, or have special talents (music, performance arts, athletics, etc.). Keep a calendar of important deadlines for both college admission and financial aid.
Review this list of colleges with your parents to make sure they are going to be affordable. It makes no sense to apply to, and be accepted at, a college you will not be able to afford to go to!
If you are not happy with your SAT score and are not applying Early Decision, register for the October SAT.
Look into Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate exams for college credit held in the spring if your school offers them.
Finish writing essays for college admission applications and scholarship competitions.
Begin looking at your family's budget, and find ways to save money or cut expenses in light of upcoming college costs.