Steps to Prepare for College

It’s never too early for you to embark on an exciting journey towards your dream college! Follow these helpful steps, and you’ll not only be well-prepared for the college application process but also supercharge your chances of discovering the perfect match for your academic and personal aspirations.


  • Meet with your guidance counselor to discuss your college interests and goals.
  • Talk with your parents about the realities of paying for college and what your options are.
  • Get involved in extracurricular activities that can help you channel your passions productively.
  • Use the summer to explore enrichment programs or try a job or internship.
  • Take challenging classes, and keep those grades up!


  • Develop a plan for standardized tests. Take a practice ACT & SAT, and consider a prep course if your budget allows.
  • Start figuring out what you want from college, research schools that fit your criteria, and learn their admissions requirements.
  • Pursue AP and honors courses if you can handle them to show that you accept the challenges your school has to offer.
  • Tell a story of personal growth by continuing in your extracurricular activities and seeking leadership roles.
  • Attend spring college fairs and start thinking about your potential college major.
  • Volunteer during the summer or consider career-focused initiatives like interning for a relevant company.


  • Take the PSAT in October if you haven’t already; it’s good practice for the testing atmosphere.
  • Narrow down your career thoughts to two or three potential college majors of interest to you.
  • Continue to talk with your family about your college interests.
  • Begin visiting a handful of colleges of interest, attend college fairs if you can, and explore the social media pages and websites of various schools.
  • Find out about the financial aid you may qualify for by completing the FAFSA Forecaster [Link to https://studentaid.gov/h/apply-for-aid/fafsa].
  • Meet with your counselor to sharpen your college application and start to identify teachers or counselors to write letters of recommendation for you.
  • Register for AP exams for the classes you are currently taking; they are offered in May.
  • Prepare, practice, register, and take the ACT/SAT in the spring.
  • Keep developing your list that highlights your activities, awards, and experiences so you can write about them when the time comes.
  • Start exploring ideas for your college essay – areas of interest that you may want to explore once you know the specific writing prompts.
  • Conduct in-person or virtual interviews with your favorite schools.


  • Finalize your list of target schools, determine your Early Decision/Early Action/Regular Decision strategy, and put the deadlines of your top colleges in one centralized calendar.
  • Begin the Common Application and retake the ACT/SAT to try to improve your score.
  • Attend college planning and financial aid info sessions.
  • Communicate deadlines to the people writing your letters of recommendation.
  • Complete a FAFSA [Link to https://studentaid.gov/h/apply-for-aid/fafsa] and a TAP [Link to hesc.ny.gov/pay-for-college/apply-for-financial-aid/nys-tap.html] application in early October. Some private colleges, such as Syracuse University, also require that students complete a CSS Financial Aid Profile [Link to cssprofile.collegeboard.org/]
  • Create a Say Yes Syracuse account [link to sayyestoeducation.escholarshipsolutions.com] and submit a Say Yes Syracuse application [link to sayyestoeducation.escholarshipsolutions.com]
  • Complete your personal essay and ensure that recommendation letters are ready.
  • Keep your grades up. Finish strong!
  • Make any final campus visits to target colleges.
  • Submit college applications and transcripts according to the deadlines for your target schools.
  • Watch your email for communications from schools, especially regarding any missing application components and early admissions decisions.
  • Keep researching and applying for scholarships. Compare financial aid offers.
  • Keep track of registration, orientation and housing information.

Contact Us

Are you inspired by the goals and approach of Say Yes or have questions about scholarships? We invite you to subscribe to our mailing list, set an appointment, or reach out to and learn more about how you can get involved.

Ahmeed Turner, Executive Director

Dana Lyons-Canty, Officer, Scholarship and Student Support