Stay on track: Your stress-free guide for applying to college

Junior Year Senior Year
September August February
Have the “college” talk with your parents
Where do you want to go?
What major? How much can you spend?
Start your essays!
With your top schools in mind, start drafting your work and be sure to leave yourself time for edits, edits, and more edits.
Mail’s here!
Keep an eye out for your college acceptance letters.
October September March
Take the PSAT!
It can give you an idea of where you fall in the college applicant pool. Plus, your scores may make you eligible for national scholarships.
Secure letters of recommendation
Reach out to teachers, coaches, and employers who would be happy to write you a glowing review. Don’t forget to send them a thank you note afterwards!
Watch for financial aid offers
This is when you’ll get financial aid offers from the schools that have accepted you. Compare them to see which offers the best financial aid package.
November October April
Consider how you’ll pay for college
Take a look at different types of loans and scholarships. From the exceptionally tall to the llama enthusiast, there’s a scholarship opportunity for everyone!
Submit your FAFSA
Some student aid programs award funds on a first-come, first-served basis so don’t wait too long to submit your FAFSA.
Consider re-taking standardized tests. You can also re-take your SAT to try to raise your score.
Decision time!
After deciding where you’d like to go, make sure to stay on top of communications from your school. Deposits, forms, and housing apps are all due prior to leaving in the fall.
December November May
Take the ACT/SAT
These tests are crucial to figuring out which schools are a good match for you. Be sure to take practice tests and even a prep course to ensure that you get your best score possible.
Stay on top of deadlines
Don’t let the date for early application sneak up on you. Many schools have different application deadlines; make sure you know when everything is due.
Make a budget
Talk with your parents to figure out how much you’ll expect to earn and pay while at school. Having a budget will start you on the journey toward financial responsibility.
March January Summer
Make a file for each school
Check out college fairs and visit campuses. Then compare information about each school’s academics, financial aid, and campus life.
Apps are due!
January 1st is the universal deadline for most schools’ applications, so make sure yours are in. If you applied early action, you could get your decision letter any day.
Final to-do items
This is the time to attend orientation, register for your classes, and make sure the tuition bill is paid. It’s also the time to have fun so have an amazing time!

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To access additional financial education resources for students, please visit our Financial Education Center.



The article is not designed or intended to provide financial, tax, legal, investment, accounting, or other professional advice since such advice always requires consideration of individual circumstances. Please consult with the professionals of your choice to discuss your situation.

Borrow responsibly. We encourage students and families to start with savings, grants, scholarships, and federal student loans to pay for college. Students and families should evaluate all anticipated monthly loan payments, and how much the student expects to earn in the future, before considering a private student loan.

All loans and lines of credit and all terms referenced are subject to credit approval and other conditions. Other terms, conditions, fees and restrictions may apply.

M&T Bank Loans are funded by M&T Bank.

Please note: For the 2021 academic year, many colleges have made SAT/ACT scores optional for admissions in response to COVID-19. Contact the colleges you are interested in applying to for more information.  Additionally, for students still interested in SAT/ACT testing, suggested timing for these exams may have shifted due to cancellations in response to COVID-19. Contact the testing agency(s) directly for available test dates.


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