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Think BIG. Don’t let location, size, or costs limit you. If you have a dream school list, that’s great. If it’s in your head, write it down!

Once you’ve created your list, look into the following:

  • Admission and student aid application deadlines
  • Tuition costs for in-state or out-of-state students
  • State, federal, and school aid programs based on both need and merit
  • Any unique deals, such as first-generation and community-service awards
  • The average annual cost increase of tuition, fees, and room and board

Throughout the junior year, focus on the following to ensure that you get in and get the money you need to pay for it.

Fall: Explore financial aid

Get ready for your tests
Make sure to take the PSAT. Not only is it great practice for the SAT, it can also qualify you to compete for a National Merit Scholarship!

TIP: Recent articles have stated that some colleges are allowing alternatives to standardized test scores. Some institutions will accept high school grades in lieu of SAT or ACT scores. Check with the institutions before you plan your test dates! (But either way, take the PSAT.)

Check out financial aid nights
It might not be exciting, but you’ll learn all kinds of great stuff and gather important financial aid information that will help you pay for college.

Start looking for scholarships
Think of your search like a game — with prizes! Good places to start include the Web, your parent’s employers, religious institutions, local organizations, and your guidance office.

Winter: Build your student aid credentials

Start your SAT or ACT prep
It’s not too early! A lot of scholarship competitions and college grant programs use test scores to screen applicants.

Build a portfolio
Start keeping track of all of your successes. It’s easy to forget little things, like marking periods on the honor roll, or winning a prize in the freshman science fair. By keeping track, you’ll feel good and remember what you’ve done when it’s time to apply for awards.

Spring: Gather more financial aid information

Visit your friendly student financial aid counselor
While the financial aid for college process may seem like it’s all paperwork and waiting, it should be a face-to-face process. Visit an aid counselor on campus and ask to have an early aid estimate. It’s best to know your situation a year ahead, rather than a few months before enrollment.

Take the SAT or ACT
If you reach your score goal, the test will be out of the way! If not, you’ll have plenty of time to study for the fall sitting.

Summer: Prepare your own financial aid for college

Work it
Squirrel away as much money as you possibly can. You’ll thank yourself later.