How to Prepare

12th Grade


You made it. Three years of high school under your belt and you’re finally a senior. As you enter the homestretch, you should feel proud of yourself for reaching this point – the culmination of your pre-college education.

But remember: High school isn’t over until you walk the stage in your cap and gown, and there’s plenty of important work to be completed before that happens. From filling out applications to writing college essays, senior year is about applying yourself and getting serious about your future. Regardless of where you stand in the college application process, it’s never too late to get started. 

12th grade is known as the year of applying to college, but it’s so much more than that. It’s also the year of applying your knowledge and interests to solidify your future. Sure, the emphasis is placed on submitting forms to a variety of schools – but what you’re really doing is showcasing all that you’ve accomplished and all that makes you, you.

Similar to 11th grade, there is a lot to tackle during your senior year and it’s critical that you stay organized to prevent missing deadlines. To help you keep track, we’ve created a master checklist.

Note: If you haven’t reviewed our 11th grade college checklist, go back and familiarize yourself with the items on this list. It provides contextual information that will help you uncover what you’ve completed, and what you have left to do. 

Your 12th grade college checklist:

Meet with your school counselor to ensure that you are on track to graduate in the spring and fulfill college admission requirements.

This meeting should occur at the beginning of the school year, enabling you to adjust your course schedule and register for exams if necessary. Then, continue to meet with your school counselor throughout your senior year to check-in on college application progress. Be proactive about these meetings; do not wait for your school counselor to reach out to you. 

Don’t have a counselor? You have more resources available to you than you probably realize. Talk to your teachers, school administrators, coaches or assistant principals – you can even contact admission officers at colleges across the country. All of these people would be happy to help you think about your future; all you have to do is ask!

Solidify your list of colleges with your school counselor.

Now is the time to determine the final list of schools you’ll be applying to. As you complete your research, work with your school counselor to compile a list of colleges that excites you, meets your needs, and matches your academic credentials (GPA, SAT or ACT scores, and class rank). Your school counselor can ensure that your list is well-balanced, meaning that it’s comprised of colleges where you exceed the published admission criteria, fall within the range of the published admission criteria, and meet some — but not all — of the published admission criteria. While there is no “guarantee” in the world of college admission, a well-researched and well-rounded list will increase the likelihood that you’ll be happy with your end results. 

If you have identified a college as your first choice, discuss the possibility of applying Early Decision (ED) or Early Action (EA) – but make sure that you’d be happy to attend each and every college on your list (not just your ED or EA choice). Not familiar with the terms Early Decision and Early Action? Visit our Application Dictionary

PRO TIP: Visit the Explore Colleges section of our website to discover whether your prospective schools are among the more than 750 colleges and universities that accept The Common Application. 

Register for the SAT, ACT or SAT Subject Tests if you haven’t taken them already.

Talk to your school counselor to make sure that you’re taking the exams that your prospective schools require. Consult the official SAT and ACT registration websites for official exam dates and other registration information. 

PRO TIP: The College Board and the ACT both offer fee waivers for eligible students. If you’re concerned that the exams’ registration fees might impose a financial burden on your family, talk to your school counselor about obtaining a fee waiver. 

Apply! Fill-out and submit your college applications to all of the schools on your list.

Think of these applications as opportunities to tell your personal story – and keep in mind that telling your personal story will take time, effort, and careful attention to detail. Be mindful of deadlines and do not save your work for the last minute.

PRO TIP: The How To Apply section of our website will guide you through the Common Application and all of its components. Even if some of your prospective schools are not among the more than 750 schools that accept the Common App, this section is filled with helpful resources – like an application dictionary and a requirements tracking worksheet – to support you throughout the application process. 

Want to stay on track? Once you've started your Common Application, you can download our companion mobile app to help you stay organized. Track application status, invite recommenders and create reminders and tasks with Common App onTrack for iOS and Android.

Touch-base with your school counselor and teachers to ensure that all required documents were submitted to all of the schools on your list.

These documents include your official high school transcript and your letters of recommendation. 

PRO TIP: When logged-in to your Common Application, consult your dashboard to monitor whether or not your transcript and letters or recommendation have been submitted.

If applying for financial aid, complete and submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

This should be done as soon as possible after January 1st and before early February (the typical financial aid deadline). Pay careful attention to specific financial aid deadlines for individual colleges.

PRO TIP: Access the FAFSA application and refer to this guide to obtain more information about the FAFSA process. You can also visit our page, How To Pay For College, for additional financial guidance. 

Continue to work hard and maintain your grades throughout your senior year.

Even if you complete your applications in the fall and receive early enrollment offers, your second semester grades still count. Colleges will receive your 12th grade transcripts at the end of the school year, and a noticeable slip in academic performance may alter your scholarship eligibility or enrollment offer. 

PRO TIP: In addition to maintaining your grades, it’s also important to maintain involvement in your extracurricular activities. Senior year is a great time to seek leadership opportunities, if possible. 

Review your college acceptances and make your enrollment decision.

This is the most exciting part! Take time to assess your enrollment offers, compare financial aid offers, and visit your top choice schools (if possible). Most colleges offer special admitted students programs designed to help you make your decision. Your school counselor can also help you with this decision-making process. 

PRO TIP: You will likely have to notify your school of choice of your commitment and submit a financial deposit by May 1st. You cannot submit a deposit to more than one school. You will also need to notify the colleges that you do not plan to attend of your decision.