2016 College Planning Tips for Current High School Juniors

This Year is Different - Don’t Rely on Old Schedules

Many current high school juniors want to attend college in the fall of 2017. It can be hard to think about what to do this weekend, let alone plan out a year and a half in advance to make sure the college you attend is a great one. While some students do realize they have a significant amount of work to do, most think there is plenty of time to complete everything.

They rely on previous time schedules which said that students should visit colleges in the summer, submit applications in the fall, apply for financial aid in January, and make their final selection by May.

All of that will change in 2016. This year, in addition to the current FAFSA for 2016-17, there will be another FAFSA for 2017-18 available in October for the very first time. This will add another layer of stress to the planning process, but it is designed to bring the financial aid decision in line with the college application process. Those who previously applied for early action or early decision sometimes made decisions without full financial aid knowledge, but now those choices can be based on complete cost comparisons. Here is what current high school juniors will need to do this year to be prepared for this major change in scheduling:

  • Save all information from 2015 tax returns: You’ll need it! This is another big change, to what the Department of Education is referring to as prior-prior year income reporting. Previously FAFSA and income tax filing periods overlapped and made it difficult to provide accurate information. Now you will be able to use information from tax returns that should already be filed. For the 2017-18 year you will be using information from your 2015 tax returns to file the FAFSA.
  • Talk to your parents: That’s right - although it is probably the last thing you want to do, schedule some time to talk to your parents and have a serious discussion about your college aspirations. Discuss the colleges you have in mind, have a frank conversation about what your family can afford, and ask them to help you map out a schedule to complete the necessary activities given the new timeframe.
  • Get ready for those tests: As if it’s not difficult enough already, there are going to be changes to the college testing process this year as well. Make time to learn about the changes and take the SAT or ACT, but also leave some time to retake the test if needed before you begin applying.
  • Plan out some college visits: You may need to move the college visits up a bit given the new timeframes. Talk to your parents to see if you can visit some colleges during your spring break or early in the summer, so you will have enough time to apply in the fall.
  • Keep up the good work: Think about the impression your current high school resume will make on college admissions officers. Make sure it has a strong list of classes where you are earning good grades, and also a solid variety of extracurricular activities. Don’t take on too much this year, though, and then drop it once you apply as some colleges will still request transcripts of your senior year activities.

The Common App will be available in August and the FAFSA will be online in October. Make sure you use the rest of your junior year and the coming summer to get yourself prepared.