11th Grade College Preparation Timeline

By SAGE Scholars
June 2, 2022

In the world of college preparation, eleventh grade is a pivotal year. Soon, you’ll be submitting your applications, and you may wonder what you should be doing now to increase your chances of opening an acceptance letter. For eleventh graders, think of this year as the final push to demonstrate growth and achievement. Knocking this year out of the park can alleviate stress in the future and increase your chances of admission to your top choice school. Below, we’re offering some helpful tips and tricks to ensure you don’t miss any necessary steps during this pivotal year in the college preparation process.


  • Take the PSAT

    By taking this test, you’ll determine what area of study you need to focus on for the spring and summer. Taking the PSAT also qualifies you for the National Merit Scholarship program, which can help you earn money and acknowledgment during the admissions process.

  • Determine What Education is Best for You

    By now, you’ll want to narrow down your college list. Decide whether you want to target a liberal arts college or state school. Then, consider what kind of college is best for you. Interested in pursuing a career in the Arts? At SAGE Scholars, we have a consortium of Arts Schools ranked top in the country. This means that your SAGE Scholars Tuition Rewards Points can be used for a tuition discount upon admission.

  • Revise Your College List—If Needed

    Perhaps your interests or college prospects have shifted since tenth grade. For many students, these shifts are common. It’s important, however, to begin to think about finalizing your list. Remember to consider key factors like size, location, cost, academic major, or special programs. Your college list should also include a tier system—schools you’ll likely receive admission from, schools where it’s somewhere in the middle, and schools that are considered a reach. You can learn more about the college list tier system here.

    If you’re still having trouble narrowing down your schools, our SAGE Scholars consortium includes over 440 private liberal arts colleges—among the finest in the country—to browse. On our member college profiles page, you’ll find fast facts and additional information on colleges’ missions, campus life, demographics, and more!

  • Solidify Your Testing Plan

    Though many colleges are becoming test-optional—particularly Liberal Arts colleges that are moving toward a more holistic admissions process—it’s still necessary to take the test if any schools on your list require it. Pay close attention to each colleges testing requirements. Some schools require the SAT, while others require the ACT. For those SAT schools, some may also require specific subject tests and AP exam scores. Once you know what test to take, go ahead and register for August or September of your senior year. This gives you time to take the test again if your score isn’t what you hoped. Aim to take the test no later than the end of October of your senior year.


  • Stay Involved with Extracurriculars, and Step Up Where You Can

    Colleges pay close attention to consistency and quality of involvement over quantity. If you’re involved in an activity that’s dead weight, now’s the time to let it go and focus on how you can step up or advance your involvement in things that you’re passionate about. Ensure that you have a healthy balance between academic actives and nonacademic activities. Some examples of meaningful extracurriculars can be found on our website. Now’s the time to take on leadership roles, if you can.

  • Create An Organization System

    Searching and navigating the college admissions process can involve a lot of lists, internet tabs, websites, passwords, documents, and numerous other things. We recommend creating a strong organizational system to keep overwhelm at bay. Make sure to keep all your passwords in one place and create a spreadsheet of colleges, so you don’t lose track of any prospective schools. Create desktop folders to organize this information. If you do not have one already, set up an email account that you check regularly. Colleges, the Common App, and recruiters will all send emails as application season rolls around. You must have a professional email to streamline correspondence throughout the admissions process and prepare for email’s importance in college.

  • Begin Search for Financial Aid

    Did you know? The SAGE Scholars Education Foundation has pledged over a million dollars in hard dollar scholarships for students. Every year, we award the James B Johnston Scholarship through our annual essay contest. National funding and scholarship sources include the College Board’s Scholarship Search. While national scholarships usually offer more money, don’t forget to look at local and state aid sources as these can also add up quickly. For more information on local and state options available to students, it’s important to communicate with your career and college admissions counselor.

  • Check in With College Counselor

    Before winter break or near the end of the semester, you should schedule and meet with your college counselor. At this meeting, see if you can invite a member of your support team—whether it be a parent, guardian, older sibling, or mentor. Use this time to discuss ways to improve your college selection process and make sure you’re on target to graduate in good standing. Ask about any scholarships, summer internships, or other programs that can help set your application apart.

  • Explore AP

    If you haven’t already, now’s the time to start exploring AP courses. Some of these you may take in the spring semester. If you’re currently in AP courses, register for the exam given in May. To learn more about AP courses, visit: apstudent.collegeboard.org/exploreap.


  • Start to Gather Documents for Financial Aid

    Be sure to keep a copy of your tax returns handy. You’ll use these to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which opens on Oct. 1.

  • Decide on Early Decision or Early Action

    Approximately 450 colleges have early decision or early action plans. ED and EA mean that applicants apply early in the fall—way before regular applications are due. Why does this matter? ED and EA students have a substantially greater chance of getting into these schools—if they choose to submit. There’s a risk associated with the reward, however. Early Decision is binding, so if students are accepted, they must attend that college. Early action, however, is not binding, so students can still go elsewhere even if they’re admitted.

  • Register for the SAT and ACT

    If you can, register to take the test in the spring to get a feel for it. This can help better prepare you when you take it again in the fall, ideally around mid-October.

  • Prepare for Summer

    Now’s the time to apply to any internships, jobs, or courses you may want to take over the summer — already involved in a club or with an organization? See how you may take on some more responsibility or leadership roles during the summer months.


  • Log into the FASFA

    Before you can begin filling out your FASFA, you’ll need to ensure that you have a username and password, known as your FASFA ID. You’ll use this when completing and filing the application in October.

  • Visit Colleges

    Many colleges are bustling with prospective students who join in on college tours during the summers. Though college tours do not give you any preferential treatment for admission, they can help you get a feel of the campus, community, and academic life. Exploring the college and asking the tour guides questions is essential for making the most of your time on these tours. While walking around, don’t be afraid to go up to college admission staff, students, and professors to ask about campus life. Plan and email the admissions counselor to see if you can meet to discuss all things campus life.

SAGE Scholars

At SAGE Scholars, we deeply believe in the value and quality of private higher education. Our mission is to provide access to affordable college opportunities while bringing together families, colleges & universities, and benefit providers to create college funding solutions. Since 1995, SAGE Scholars has bridged the gap between students who want a quality private college education and colleges that will work closely with member families to ensure affordability — all at no cost to the student, family, or college. As the nation’s oldest, largest, and most trusted private college preparation and funding organization, we’re providing families with the guidance and resources they need for every step of the college process.
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