How high school freshmen can start mapping a path to college

How high school freshmen can start mapping a path to college

As students transition to high school, the focus on college planning needs to shift a little to action items that can help prepare students for the college decision and application process. This activity begins as early as the freshman year and intensifies in later high school years. If parents and students can put together — and stick to — a plan for the four years of high school, the chances of a successful transition to college can increase.

Considerations for freshman year

For students

  • Start thinking about your interests and what you might want to pursue later in life
  • Set goals to achieve the honor roll and maintain a solid GPA throughout high school
  • Participate in extracurricular activities – focus on deeper involvement in a few areas (including work and volunteering) rather than sporadic participation in many different clubs or activities
  • Be aware of your social media presence
  • Make meaningful connections with your guidance counselor and teachers when the opportunity exists

Looking ahead: Considerations for sophomore year

For parents

  • Continue saving in a 529 plan and review asset allocation to ensure the investments are on track with the time horizon for making withdrawals for college
  • Compare living expenses of targeted schools, as costs vary by location
  • Consider tax-smart strategies and the impact of income on federal financial aid (FAFSA), since the aid calculation will be based on income information from next year’s tax return

For students

  • Begin researching colleges online or visiting local campuses to get a sense of preferences, such as an urban or rural campus, and a small or a large school
  • Consider a course schedule for junior and senior year to include Advanced Placement (AP) courses if pursuing more selective colleges
  • If pursuing athletics, complete online college recruiting forms and contact coaches
  • Attend college fairs or informational sessions
  • Open a Roth IRA with summer earnings

A plan can help families stay on track

Having a plan can help families stay on track with savings and academic goals. A timeline can also help families keep pace and not miss key deadlines. The years leading up to the final college decision are important. Students and parents will want to use the time efficiently so they can navigate the process without being overwhelmed.

Putnam 529 plan


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