Planning by Year

The college application process can be far less stressful if you plan ahead and approach each year with purpose. This guide offers some suggestions by year. If you’re interested in what Stanford recommends or requires, click on the underlined text to learn more about Stanford’s process.

Grade Levels


Grades 7–8

  • Become ‘college aware’ by following college news and sports, talking to college alumni, and visiting a college if you have the opportunity.
  • Challenge yourself academically and work with your counselor to pick courses that put you in a good position to take college preparatory courses in high school.

Grades 9–10

  • Work with your counselor to put together a four-year course plan that prepares you to apply to the colleges of your choice.
  • Attend local college fairs and college visits to your school.
  • Explore online college resources.
  • Consider visiting colleges and registering for campus tours.
  • Understand your financial resources and types of financial aid available to help pay for college.

Grade 11

  • Get information from colleges by joining their mailing lists.
  • If a school tracks demonstrated interest, be sure to read their communications and consider attending their events.
  • Consider signing up for standardized testing on a timeline that allows you to take a test more than once and/or take more than one type of test prior to applying in your senior year.
  • Connect with your counselor to discuss your application timeline and preparation.
  • Identify possible letter of recommendation writers.
  • Create a list of colleges that you’re interested in.
  • Connect with your supporters (parents, school counselor, teachers, etc.) to discuss your application pieces, timelines, and approach to collaboration.

Grade 12
Application Planning & Submission

  • Hone the list of colleges you’re planning to apply to and capture key information to help your planning (e.g., size, location, programs of interest, application requirements, application deadline(s), cost and financial aid).
  • Understand testing requirements for the schools you are applying to and determine if scores need to be sent.
  • Work with your counselor and teachers to ensure you have requested all required materials for each of the schools you are applying to.
  • Once you have applied to each college, check to ensure that your application is complete.
Updated on February 6, 2024 11:30 AM