Planning a Successful High School Career
Take an active part in mapping out and carefully planning your high school courses for a successful high school career. High school planning helps students track and plan their high school courses so that it aligns with their academic and career goals through course offerings, planning guides, and graduation requirements.
View the Choice 101 Presentation from 2021.
It is never too early to start planning for the future! Build a solid academic foundation:
- Credits are awarded on a semester basis - .5 credit for each semester of a course passed. The “averaging policy” applies only to math courses, foreign language courses, chemistry, physics, and accounting. So, work hard each semester!
- Build strong academic, language, mathematics and critical thinking skills by taking challenging courses.
- Study hard and get excellent grades. Most colleges like to see at least a 3.0 GPA to meet their admissions criteria. In addition, to qualify for the Tennessee Lottery Scholarship you need at least a 3.0 on the Tennessee's uniform grading scale or a 21 on the ACT. So start now!
- Remember to buckle down early, since even your ninth-grade A's (or D's) will count in the eyes of most college admissions officials.
- Strengthen your vocabulary by increasing your reading.
Develop your interests:
- Colleges want to see passion and commitment. If there is something that really excites you, explore it. Too often, students wait until junior or senior year and then hurriedly - and unconvincingly - pad their resumés. Colleges are looking for consistency over time, not last minute quantity.
- Take some time to think about why you want to go to college, which may have a huge bearing on where you should apply.
- If you're old enough to get a summer job, try it. You can get good experience and save money for college. Not old enough? Consider volunteering or enrolling in an educational summer camp. This could help you find your interests and start narrowing down some career choices.
- Research careers and talk to your parents or other adults about your interests and goals. Find opportunities to meet people working in the professions that you think may interest you.
Make this a solid year to base the rest of your years off of:
- Create a file to keep:
- copies of report cards
- a record of honors and awards
- a list of extracurricular activities, clubs or sports involvement at school, volunteer work, community service, and paid employment.
- By the time you are a senior or applying for a job, you can quickly put together a resume and not have to remember what you did three years prior (you can do this by setting up an account through www.collegefortn.org to start an academic profile)!
- Focus on your grades and your interests. If you learn how to handle school, extracurricular activities, and a social life now, you'll be ready to apply to college senior year.
- Get to know your counselor. You can get a lot of good advice as well as a letter of recommendation.
- Browse through college literature or surf the web to get an idea of what kinds of schools may be of interest to you.
- Check out what high school courses colleges require.
- Know NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) requirements if you want to play sports in college.
- When ready to register for next year's classes, challenge yourself academically. Slightly lower grades in challenging courses are better than higher grades in easy courses.
- Choose electives carefully, ensuring that they don't replace the college-preparatory courses you need.
Begin college selection process. Attend college fairs, financial aid seminars, general information sessions, etc., to learn as much as you can about the college application process. Make sure you are meeting NCAA requirements if you want to play Division I or II sports in college!
- Consider taking the PSAT in mid-October. The PSAT is the qualifying exam for the National Merit Scholarship Program and is given on a Wednesday at RHS. Deadlines to register will be announced.
- Save samples of your best work for your academic portfolio (all year).
- Maintain your co-curricular record (all year).
- Get serious about your schoolwork if you haven't already; junior-year grades are extremely important as is the rigor of your coursework.
- Attend college fairs and gather information.
- Visit with college representatives during lunch. Visiting Schools and dates will be in the announcements.
- Attend the college fair at Cool Springs Galleria. This is usually in September.
- Junior year, PSAT scores may qualify a student for the National Merit Scholarship Competition and the National Achievement and the National Hispanic Scholars programs. So, even though these scores will not be used for college admission, it is still a good idea to take the PSAT. The more times you take standardized tests, the more familiar you will become with the format and the types of questions asked. If you wish to receive free information from colleges, indicate on the PSAT test answer form that you want to participate in the Student Search.
- Take SAT preparation courses, or study for the SAT and/or ACT.
- Talk to your parents about limits - e.g., financial or geographic - they may set on where you attend college. It may affect your decision about where to apply.
- Visit with college representatives during lunch.
- Pick up an application to Governor’s school if interested. Applications are due in November and December. Make sure to check due dates for each Governor's School program to which you are applying.
- Talk with your parents about how you will finance your college costs and how much they expect you to pay. Remember: a private school that seems more expensive on paper may actually be more affordable than a public school once you figure in financial aid, and you won't know that until you get in.
- Grades are used to determine scholarships and grants for which you may be eligible. So, put in the extra effort and keep those grades up!
- If you will require financial aid, start researching your options for grants, scholarships, and work-study programs.
- During December, you should receive the results of your PSAT. Read your score report and consult your school counselor to determine how you might improve on future tests.
- Review your PSAT results with your counselor, and decide whether you'd benefit from a prep course or from using test-prep software. You can also improve your score by practicing on previously administered exams.
- Consider attending Financial Aid/Scholarship Night. This program is really geared for seniors, but it’s never too early to start preparing to pay for college! The program is typically in September; check the daily announcements for dates.
- Begin to make a preliminary list of colleges you would like to investigate further. Surf the internet and use the college resources in the counseling office and school library.
- Watch for open house events at colleges you would like to visit.
- Identify the characteristics of a college that matter to you: size, geographical location, academic rigor, social environment, or diversity, to name some key examples.
- If you hope to play a sport and may qualify for an athletic scholarship, contact coaches at colleges you're considering.
- If you plan to take the ACT, register now for the February ACT. Many colleges accept the ACT or the SAT I. Some colleges require the ACT or both SAT I and SAT II. When you being to explore different colleges and universities, double-check to see if they prefer or require the ACT, the SAT I, and /or the SAT II.
- Meet with your school counselor to discuss your list of colleges. Discuss whether your initial list of colleges meets your needs and interests and whether you are considering colleges where you are likely to be admitted. You should be optimistic and realistic when applying to colleges.
- ALL juniors in Tennessee public schools will take the ACT in mid-March. You do not need to register for this test, and it’s free.
- Write, telephone, or email to request admission literature and financial aid information from the colleges on your list. There is no charge and no obligation to obtain general information about admission and financial aid.
- Make a list of schools to visit during spring break (or in the summer or fall). If possible, it's best to visit while schools are in session, so that you can visit classes and talk to students and professors.
- Visit college campuses and meet with admissions officers. Remember to call ahead for an appointment.
- When selecting your senior courses, be sure to continue to challenge yourself academically. Select courses for your senior year that strengthen your academic record and ensure that you meet College Entrance Requirements.
- Register for the May or June SAT or ACT if you want to apply early.
- If wanting to take the SAT Subject tests, check the calendar carefully to determine when the subject tests you want are offered.
- Continue to evaluate your list of colleges and universities. Eliminate colleges from the original list that no longer interest you and add others as appropriate.
- Look into or apply for special summer academic or enrichment programs. Colleges love to see students using their knowledge and developing their skills and interests.
- Take the Advanced Placement exam for any AP course you have completed. If you score well, you may receive college credits.
- Find a summer job that will boost your skills - or your savings. But leave enough time to visit a few colleges.
- Get a jump start on summer activities – consider enrolling in an academic course at a local college, applying for an internship, working, or volunteering. If you work, save part of your earnings for college.
- Check your transcript at the end of the year to make sure it is correct.
- Begin visiting colleges. Phone to set up an appointment. Seeing the college firsthand, taking a tour and talking to students can be the greatest help in deciding whether or not a school is right for you. Although, it is ideal to visit colleges during the academic year, going in the summer will be valuable. Admission offices employ their students to give tours and answer questions from prospective students and their parents.
- Continue to refine your list of colleges and schools.
- Compile a resumé of activities, honors, leadership positions, and jobs. You'll need this information for applications and scholarship forms.
- If you have a clear "first choice" college, decide if you are going to apply for early decision or early action. Be aware that if you are accepted for early decision, you are likely committing yourself to attend that school.
- If you are an athlete and plan on playing in college, contact the coaches at the schools to which you are applying and ask about intercollegiate and intramural sports programs and athletic scholarships.
- Complete the NCAA Initial-Eligibility Clearinghouse form if you hope to play Division I or II sports. (This form cannot be mailed to you until you finish your 6th semester of high school – your junior year).
- Start researching scholarships. You may find useful information in your school or public library and online at www.fastaid.com, and www.usnews.com. Start thinking about your college essays and who you want to write your teacher recommendations.
- Review the rising seniors presentation and the financial aid presentation.
- Need a recommendation letter? Review the student information sheet that must be given to your counselor.
- When senior males turn 18, they must register with Selective Service. Visit www.sss.gov to register!
- If you have your college choices narrowed down at all, check their admissions requirements to see that you are registered for or have taken any entrance exams they require—ACT, SAT, SAT Subject Tests, ACT with writing.
- Counselors will meet individually with all seniors this month.
- Begin checking the scholarship web page under the Counseling tab on the RHS website. Also check the application file cabinet in the Counseling Office for any applications that are not on-line. Continuing checking every 2-3 weeks.
- Finalize your list of reasonable choices. Include at least one “long shot”, one “target”, and one “safe” school. Your first choice might very well be a school to which you are a likely candidate for admission. However, each one of you should include at least one safe choice on your list of colleges.
- Once you have narrowed your list of colleges to a recommended maximum of six, you should begin applying. Most colleges prefer students to apply online.
- Attend meetings with college representatives who visit RHS. Keep in mind that the representatives who visit us will more than likely be the ones to present your case to the admissions team at their college: MAKE A GOOD IMPRESSION!
- Register for the September/October ACT or November SAT if you have not taken the test or want to retest. Obtain packets in Guidance or register on-line. (see our testing page for links)
- Attend Williamson County college fair.
- Attend Financial Aid Night - usually mid to late September.
- Complete and turn in to your counselor the Senior Data Form or your resume before you ask her to write a recommendation.
- Begin work on application essays. Most senior English classes include work on an essay.
- Remember that the grades you make this semester will be an important ingredient in the way college admissions committees view your academic seriousness. Your first semester grades will be the last ones they see before deciding whether to admit you to their school.
- Keep your commitment to take challenging courses! Your senior year matters!
- Please do not push deadlines. It is to your advantage to file your application early. Most colleges admit that early applications automatically receive more attention because they demonstrate the student’s sincere interest in a school.
- Early decision deadlines and scholarship deadlines may be as early as October 15. Do not allow lack of planning on your part to create an emergency on our part. Submit your Transcript Requests two weeks before the deadline.
- The college to which you are applying may require official copies of your test scores. Some schools require test scores submitted directly from ACT/SAT. Check the websites of the colleges to see what they require.
- Notify your counselor if you would like to be nominated for a scholarship at the colleges you are applying.
- Complete a Transcript Request form for each application you submit. Your transcript includes your semester and final grades and the school profile which explains the grading system.
- Complete and file your FAFSA as soon as possible after October 1 of your senior year.. Aid is distributed on a first come, first served basis.
- Use your college visiting days well.
- Teacher Recommendations - If the colleges to which you are applying require a recommendation from a teacher, choose and ask a teacher who you feel knows you the best and will represent you well. ALLOW AT LEAST 2 WEEKS TO COMPLETE A RECOMMENDATION FORM.
- All college applications and transcript requests which need to be sent out before winter break are due in the Counseling Center two weeks before we leave for break. Applications that have a February 1 deadline should also be processed in December.
- If you expect your counselor to write an effective recommendation for you, then allow sufficient time to process your recommendation.
- Ace your mid-year exams—they matter!
- Check to see if your colleges require a mid-year report. Your counselor can send this for you if you let them know.
- Don’t ask to drop challenging courses. Colleges could withdraw their offer!
- Complete and file your FAFSA as soon as possible after January 1 of your senior year.. Aid is distributed on a first come, first served basis.
- If you haven’t already done so, visit schools to which you applied.
- SPRING BREAK --- ENJOY!
- By April 15, you should hear from all colleges. Use the two weeks before May 1 to make your final decision.
- Register for Advanced Placement exams if necessary.
- Notify all colleges which have accepted you of your final decision.
- Notify colleges who have put you on their waiting list if you wish to remain on it.
- Don’t go develop Senioritis! All college acceptances are conditional pending receipt of final grades in June.
- Reply to the college you choose. Do not place a deposit with more than one college: it is unethical and you can be dropped by both colleges if discovered.
- Fill out a Final Transcript Request for the college you will attend. You must make this request in writing to release your transcript.