College Planning Guide The Aquinas Institute The Aquinas Institute

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Planning Guide

Going to college is a big step, but there are lots

of smaller steps to take along the way. You can Contents
use this guide as your roadmap as you chart your

journey to college.

Your staying-on-track checklist

• Use it to stay on track and organize information Juniors …………………………………………………………………………….. 1-2

and resources. Seniors …………………………………………………………………………….. 3-4

  • Download or print it so it’s handy when you talk Meeting with your counselor ……………………………………….. 5-6

with your family and high school counselors Choosing a college

about college. Exploring majors, careers, and experiences ……………………. 7

Assessing costs ………………………………………………………………….. 8

  • Refer to it often — the content is clickable, Paying for college

and the radio buttons let you check off your Completing the FAFSA ……………………………………………………… 9

tasks, so you can come back to your selected Applying for scholarships ……………………………………………….. 10

section later. Applying for college

Taking the ACT or SAT …………………………………………………….. 11

Building a resume …………………………………………………………….. 12

Additional application documents ………………………………… 13

In addition to this guide, subscribe to our

Managing your money

CollegeSTEPS newsletter for ongoing, relevant, Keys to financial independence …………………………………….. 14
and tailorable financial guidance now and through

your student career.

We’re committed to helping college-bound

students like you take control of your finances

and develop good financial habits so you can

make informed decisions through college

and beyond.


Your staying-on-track checklist

Planning for college begins while you’re still in high school. This checklist lets you

know what you need to do — and when — so you won’t miss important milestones.

You can download and save, or print the checklist to help you keep track of your progress over time.

Be sure to research the timelines and calendars for the colleges you’re considering.



{ Meet with your school counselor { Take inventory of your extracurricular activities

Set up a meeting at the beginning of the school year Consider if your college application might benefit

to ensure the courses you’re taking will put you on from additional school or community involvement.
the right path for college admission. Consider classes

that may give you college credits while you’re in high { Register and prepare for the ACT or SAT

school. (For conversations starters, visit pages 5 – 6.) If the schools you’re interested in require it, you

can register to take these exams in the Spring.

{ Consider taking the PSAT in October You may want to take a course to help you

The exam will help prepare you for the SAT and prepare. You can find test dates on the ACT

serves as a qualifying test for the National Merit and the College Board websites.

Scholarship Program.

{ Talk to your parents or guardians

{ Explore careers and majors that interest you What are their assumptions about college for you?

This may help you narrow your choices — not all What are yours? What financial contribution is

colleges specialize in or offer all majors. (For more your family planning to make, if any? A candid

resources and information, go to page 7.) conversation early on may help you map out your

college planning journey.

{ Go to college fairs and financial aid events

Attend workshops at your school or in your community.

Visit the websites of schools you’re interested in and

look for virtual campus tours or other informational

online opportunities.


{ Narrow down your list of colleges

Spring Use your junior year grades, college entrance exam scores, and extracurricular activities to prioritize

{ Make a list of colleges that interest you your list. Discuss your choices with your parents or

If you can, schedule campus visits for spring or other trusted advisor to ensure your list is reasonable

summer break and continue to explore virtual and and balanced.

online opportunities to learn more about the schools

you are considering. (Go to page 7). { Create or update your high school resume

While not all schools require a resume, having one

{ Assess admission requirements handy may help you with the application process and

Create a checklist of the schools that interest you will be useful to share with those who you ask to write

to include application components, key dates, and recommendation letters.

deadlines. Consider who you’ll ask to write letters of

recommendation for you. { Start drafting your college and scholarship essay(s)

{ Meet with your school counselor

Set your senior schedule with your counselor. Use this

time to review your college application checklist.

{ Take the SAT and/or ACT

Check to see if the schools you’re interested in require

these exams.

{ Consider summer opportunities

Expand your experiences through volunteerism,

a summer job, or an internship.

{ Research scholarship opportunities

Make a spreadsheet to help you keep track of

scholarships you’re interested in applying for as well

as application requirements and deadlines. Go to

the TFS Scholarships website to access more than

7 million scholarship opportunities.

Tip: Ask your counselor if you qualify for fee waiver

for the SAT/ACT.



August – September November – January

{ Work on application essays { Complete your applications
You may need to write essays for scholarships and

admissions. Ensure that you note all requirements like { Request your high school to send transcripts

word count deadlines, then recruit a trusted adult to Have your school forward them to the colleges

proofread for you. and universities you’ve applied to, adhering to each

school’s requirements.

{ Secure recommendation letters

Many applications require recommendations from a { Ensure all information is correct

teacher, coach, or other influential adult. Make sure When you receive your Student Aid Report, make sure

to ask for the recommendation well in advance of it’s accurate.
the deadline, and include your high school resume for

their reference.

{ Review application deadlines

Note the deadlines for schools where you want to Money tip: College application fee waivers are a

apply. The Common App is used by hundreds of great way to save money when you’re applying to

colleges and opens August 1st every year. For more college. Talk to your school counselor to learn more.
information, visit the Common App website.

{ Continue your scholarship search

You’ll find scholarship information on the

TFS Scholarships website. Make a note of

application dates and deadlines.

{ Get your federal aid eligibility estimate

Get your estimate using the FAFSA4caster on

the Free Application for Federal Student Aid


{ Compare estimated costs and aid availability

Use the Net Price Calculator (NPC) on each of your

top college and university website.

{ Review social media accounts

Update your accounts if necessary.


{ Create your Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID

{ Complete your FAFSA

Apply as soon as possible after October 1 every year

you plan to attend college.

{ See if you need additional financial aid applications

If your college requires them, note specific deadlines

for completion.



February – May June – July

{ Watch for financial aid award letters { Watch for college notifications

These may include dorm selections and assignment,

{ Compare award letters on-campus parking, registration, etc.

Determine whether awarded financial aid and family

resources cover college costs. { Watch for upcoming fall term class registration

process and deadlines
{ Register to take AP exams

If you’ve taken AP courses, be sure to register to take { Watch for college bills

the exams at the end of the semester. Verify costs are covered by financial aid and

family resources.

{ Select your college

Submit the tuition deposit by the deadline to secure { Visit Get College Ready on the CollegeSTEPS website

your admission. Make sure you have what you need as you head

to college.

{ Register for summer orientation at your college

or university

{ Celebrate your high school graduation

{ Apply for additional financing, if needed

Money tip: Does your bank have branch or ATM

locations near your school? If no, consider opening

an account with a local bank.


Meeting with your school counselor

Your two key considerations about your college career are where you want to go and

how you’ll pay for it. Both can be complicated, requiring thought, research, and a formal

application process. Fortunately, there’s someone who can help — your school counselor.

To make the most of your counselor’s time, it’s helpful to be prepared for your meeting.

Think about topics you’d like to discuss and any questions you may have. Below and on the

next page are some conversation starters to help you get ready.


Your class schedule

Are you currently on track to graduate? Are you taking

all the necessary courses? What kind of grades and test

scores do you need for college? Should you register for

AP/IB/Honors courses? Are there certain electives and

extracurricular activities you should consider?

Colleges you’re considering

Bring a list if you have one, or talk with your counselor

about how to get started exploring different schools.

Are there college fairs or financial aid events planned at

these schools?

ACT/SAT prep and sign-up

Will you need to take the SAT/ ACT? Do the colleges

you’re considering require these exams? What resources

are available to help you prepare? Where and when can

you take the exams?

Financial aid
List any questions you might have about the financial

aid process, including when and how to apply. Find out if

your school hosts a financial aid night and plan to attend

with your family. Now is a great time to start researching

for scholarships — ask your counselor if there are local

scholarships that may be available to you.



Potential scholarship opportunities

Ask if there are local scholarships your counselor is

aware of. Discuss how to begin outlining a basic

application essay.

ACT/SAT prep and sign-up
Will you need to take or re-take the SAT/ ACT? What

colleges that you’re applying to require these exams?

What resources are available to help you prepare?

Where and when can you take the exams?

Financial aid

List any questions you might have about the financial

aid process, including when and how to apply. Find out if

your school hosts a financial aid night and plan to attend

with your family. Share where you are in the process and

any scholarships you may have applied for already. Ask

your counselor if there are local scholarships that may be

available to you.

Applying for colleges
Ask if your counselor writes letters of recommendation

for students. Can he or she go over your application to

make sure nothing’s missing? Is there anything that

would make your resume look better? What would make

your personal essay stronger? Do you qualify for fee

waivers for your college applications?

Tip: Are you the first in your family to attend

college? Ask your high school counselor for

resources for first-generation college students or

visit the Go College! Now website.


Choosing a college

Exploring majors and careers Exploring college experiences

and outcomes

Considering your college major and future career goals

early in the planning process may help you narrow your There are a variety of factors to note when evaluating

college choices. You’ll also want to consider: colleges:

• What are you looking for in a college experience? • Graduation rates

• What college amenities are important to you? • Job placements

  • Average debt upon graduation

Tip: Check out the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

  • Your dream schools

for information on choosing a career, such as what

to expect for salaries, job prospects, and what • Distance from home
majors align to the career.

  • Private and public school options

College and campus qualities
As you explore, consider the activities you enjoy, how you

like to work, and your personality type. • Type of school

• What have been your favorite extracurricular activities • Size of school
so far (both in and out of school)?

  • Location
  • What are your favorite school subjects? When looking

at online college course catalogs, which classes and • Campus safety

majors interest you? • Academic programs

For more information on finding the right college for you, • Activities
go to the College Board website.

  • Financial aid

The College Scorecard website can help you “find the

right fit” with information on colleges, their programs,

costs, admissions, results, and more.


If you’re able, it’s helpful to get a true feel of the campus vibe to know if it is a

good fit for you. Ask questions, take notes, and be sure to ask students there

about campus activities, local hangouts, and restaurants. If you aren’t able to visit

in-person, then research the town, look online for a virtual tour, read up on the

school from students, or ask to speak to a current student.


Assessing costs

Factor in these costs when choosing a college:
Search for the Net Price Calculator

{ In-state vs. out-of-state tuition on each college or university website

to get a cost estimate. You’ll then be

{ Living at home vs. living on campus

able to determine if you need extra

{ Bringing a car vs. public transportation money — and if you should consider

applying for financial aid.

{ Roommate(s) vs. living alone

{ Financial aid

Identify your list of schools to apply to and document

your impressions here:

College 1:
College 3:

Pros: Pros:

Cons: Cons:

College 2: College 4:

Pros: Pros:

Cons: Cons:


Paying for college

Student aid

Regardless of your income, all families should complete Your SAR and EFC

the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) You will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) within three

every year, each year you plan to attend college. weeks of completing your FAFSA. The SAR is a summary

The FAFSA is required in order to be eligible for all federal of your aid eligibility and includes your Expected Family

financial aid, as well as most state and institutional aid. Contribution (EFC). Review your SAR carefully to ensure

it’s correct and complete.

File your FAFSA as early as October 1

Families have from October 1 to June 30 each year to

submit their FAFSA. Funds are allocated on a first-come, Put your EFC amount here for quick reference
first-served basis, so the sooner you apply, the more aid

you may receive. My EFC

To complete and submit your FAFSA, set up your $

personal Federal Student Aid ID (FSA ID) on the FAFSA


Your EFC is the amount the government calculates you

Be sure to know the federal and state aid deadlines, as and your family can pay towards your college education.

well as cutoffs set by the colleges you are interested in. Schools will use this number to calculate your financial

Get deadline details on the FAFSA website. aid package.

Your 5-step guide

to paying for college
1. Complete the FAFSA
2. Apply for scholarships
3. Estimate and compare total costs
4. D etermine if you need additional money
5. Explore additional financing options

For more information, visit:



When it comes to paying for college, put applying for scholarships at the top of your priority list. There are many

scholarships available, and every little bit counts, so don’t discount even seemingly small awards.

Here are a few tips to consider when applying for scholarships:

{ Start your search early so you have plenty of time; the extra work is worth it for money that doesn’t have to be repaid.
{ Visit the TFS Scholarships website, a free scholarship database of more than 7 million scholarships.
{ Work with your school counselor on how to search for scholarships and which ones you should apply for.
{ L ook into organizations you’re connected with to see if they offer scholarships.
{ Ask your parents if their workplaces or civic organizations offer scholarships.
{ Talk with the financial aid office at the college you’ll be attending for help with your scholarship search.

Scholarship list

Scholarship name Special requirements Deadline Date submitted

(Essay/Recommendation, etc.)

ABC Scholarship Essay January 1 November 8

Take a personality quiz online and check

Tip: Check out these Wells Fargo videos about

out the career assessment tool on the


TFS Scholarships website.


Applying for college

The college application process

Now that you’ve narrowed down the colleges you’re As you plan ahead for the ACT or SAT, think about how

interested in attending, you can begin filling out you’ll prepare. Your high school counselor will be able to

applications. There are documents and information help you with classes and resources in your area.

you’ll need to provide. Be sure to allow yourself time to You can also study online and take advantage of study

complete these tasks based on the application deadlines. apps. In addition, free practice tests are available at the

ACT and College Board websites.
Taking the ACT or SAT

While not always required, taking the ACT or SAT can be

an important step toward college admission, which is

why it’s a good idea to take the test early. This gives you

time to prepare and still have additional opportunities to

take it again if you’d like to improve your score.

Map out your ACT/SAT plans and ideas below

Evaluate how many schools require these tests, and which one they need.

Target score:

What score do you need for college admission and scholarship opportunities?

First test date:

Second test date (if needed):

Consider a community college
one where you’d like to transfer. Make sure to ask

for transfer rates to understand how many students

A community college is a nonresidential, publicly funded actually transfer to a four-year institution.
junior college that serves your community. Attending a

two-year community college may reduce the cost of your • Ask about coursework, GPA, and credit requirements.

college education. Should you choose this option, you • Connect with the admissions office of your new school
can then transfer to a four-year college or university. for transfer requirements and application dates.
If transferring is your goal, you may find these tips helpful: • Prepare for the possibility of additional expenses of

your new school and be sure to complete the Free

  • If possible, choose a major and work toward completing Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

your associates degree.

  • Focus on transferable courses and get help from

college advisors from your current school and the

The Common Application is a single

Tip: Look ahead to the test dates that will work for undergraduate college admission application that

you and block those off on your calendar. you can use to apply to more than 800 member

colleges and universities.


Building your college resume

A college resume is an overview of your accomplishments, extracurriculars, hobbies, and work history. Not every college

requires one, but it can be helpful in preparing for college and scholarship applications. In addition, a resume is helpful to

anyone you ask to write a letter of recommendation for you. Writing a resume can also help you prepare for the application

process for colleges and scholarships.

Start with these topics to craft your resume:


List all the jobs you’ve held (paid and unpaid), where you’ve worked, for how long, and what your title was.


Highlight some of your personal interests or extracurricular activities in and out of school.

Volunteer work/community service

List all the volunteer work you’ve done, whether it was an ongoing commitment or a one-time thing.


List any awards, honors, or recognition that you’ve received over the years — both in and out of school.


Additional application documents

Writing a personal statement
Many college and scholarship applications require a personal statement or essay. This is your

opportunity to talk about yourself and your goals in your own words and convey why you should

be considered. Write so that your personality shines through, but be sure to use correct grammar

and punctuation, and proper writing conventions.

Here are ideas to get you started:

  • What are you passionate about now? What were you passionate about when you were 10 years old?

What sparked your interest in these things?

  • Name three accomplishments that you’re proud of and what you learned from each.
  • Name three times you didn’t achieve a goal and what lessons you gained from them.
  • Talk about someone in your life who inspires you and why.

Writing a college essay
College essays are important because they allow you to express yourself and show your personality.

You can get tips and ideas for writing your essay on the College Board website.

Requesting letters of recommendation
Colleges often ask for two or three recommendation letters from people who know you well,

who can describe your skills, accomplishments, and personality. Be sure to give your references at

least one month before your earliest deadline to complete and send your letters. You’ll find more

information about letters of recommendation on the College Board website.


Managing your money

Congratulations and good luck on your journey to and through college.

This is an exciting time — full of possibilities and promise. The work you’re putting

in now will not only help you get ready for college, it’ll help you develop habits you’ll need

to become financially independent.

Subscribe to CollegeSTEPS
We’re committed to helping you make money decisions with confidence. By subscribing to our monthly CollegeSTEPS

newsletter, you’ll get insights, tips, and action plans for meeting all your financial obligations.

Keys to financial independence

Beyond planning and paying for college, there are three key areas to start thinking about as you focus on financial

independence. You can refer to the CollegeSTEPS website for this information, or select the links below:

Managing money Earning Money Building credit

Learning how to earn, spend, and When you are responsible for paying Credit may not be something you

save are the keys to managing money. expenses, there has to be income need right now, but it’s something

to pay for those bills, whether it’s to start learning about now. It’s ideal

Creating a budget from scholarships, family, to start building credit worthiness

A budget is simply a plan for your or your own earnings. before you ever need to use credit.
income and expenses. It lets you

know exactly where you stand

financially and empowers you to

make confident financial decisions.

Staying on track

Staying on top of your finances can

help you become a well-informed,

thoughtful money manager —

before, during, and after college.

Tip: Share this guide with friends or anyone who

might find it helpful by email or directing them

to the Get College Ready section of the

CollegeSTEPS website.


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