College Planning

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If you are thinking about attending college, there is a lot you need to know! This guide will help you identify the types of colleges, create a college list, help you write a resume and much more! Here is what we will cover:

Guide Contents

  1. Types of Colleges
  2. College List
  3. Campus Visits and Interviews
  4. SAT and ACT
  5. Resume
  6. College Application
  7. College Essay
  8. Types of College Admission 

College Planning Timeline

Click below to view a month-by-month infographic including the college planning steps you should be taking throughout your senior year of high school. 

College Planning Timeline


Types of Colleges

There are four primary types of colleges. We will cover each of them in more detail here. 

  • Private vs. Public Colleges
    • Public colleges, which receive funds from the state government, tend to have a lower sticker price, especially for in-state residents. However, private colleges may have more funds available for financial aid. Don't rule out a school just because its private or public. Instead, pay attention to whether or not it is the right fit for you and it has the potential to meet your personal and financial needs.
  • Four-Year Colleges
    • Four-year colleges award bachelor's degrees upon completion. Some four-year schools are liberal arts colleges, which tend to focus on undergraduate education, while others are universities, which offer graduate, doctoral and professional degrees in addition to undergraduate degrees. Certain four-year colleges focus on specialized studies, for example in art, music, agriculture, or religion. A bachelor's degree is necessary if you are considering pursuing an advanced degree such as a master's degree, Ph.D. or professional degree such as a J.D. (lawyers) or an M.D. (doctors).
  • Community/Junior Colleges
    • Community and junior colleges offer associates degrees or certificates in two years and are often much more affordable than four-year schools. Many community colleges offer programs that teach you a specific skill to prepare you for a job immediately upon graduation. Other programs prepare graduates to transfer to a four-year college to pursue a bachelor's degree. If you are undecided on your major or want to save some money, you may want to consider pursuing your first two years at a junior/community college.
  • Trade School/Technical
    • Entering a program at a trade school could lead to a certificate, license, or degree, depending upon the school and program. Technical colleges and trade schools teach skills that prepare you for a specific career. The length of time it will take you to complete your program depends on what you study but can range from less than on year to several years.

College List

Developing a list of colleges to apply to is no easy task. Each school must address all of the characteristics you are looking for and you should be happy to attend any college on your list. Creating a college list is a big research project, but one worth your investment of time.

Things to consider:

  College list considerations

College list considerations










Tips on narrowing choices:

  • College is expensive. At schools where your credentials are better than the typical student, you may be eligible for merit-based scholarships.
  • "Good value" schools are those that provide a good education for the price. As an example, Rhode Island College has a great reputation for its teaching program. The low in-state tuition makes it a great value for students looking to become teachers.
  • Don't completely rule out higher priced colleges. Use the "Net Price Calculator" on the college's website to first get an idea of what that college would cost a family like yours.


College list

Campus Visits and Interviews

Campus visits are your opportunity to get a feel for what it would be like to be a student. If you are interested in playing a collegiate sport, meet with the coach of your desired sport. As you're walking around campus, talk to students about their experiences at the college. Ask what they like best and least about the college. An important stop is the financial aid office. Call ahead to make an appointment and ask questions. If you find yourself undecided about two schools, arrange an overnight visit that allows you to stay in the dorm and sit-in on classes. This will give you the ultimate feel for what your college lifestyle would be like. We suggest setting up a college interview so that the admissions counselor can have a chance to get to know you better. An interview is part of the application process for many schools - but not for all.



The SAT and ACT are both standardized tests that help colleges assess you in comparison to other applicants. But how do you know which test you should take? Most colleges will let you know if they require one test or the other so be careful to review application requirements at specific schools. However, some student find that one test helps show their strengths (or weaknesses) more than the other. Which test is best for you?




Do you need to showcase your education, jobs, skills, activities and awards? That's where a high school resume comes in! Use your resume to apply for jobs and provide it to teachers and others who will be writing letters of recommendation for you. Your resume should be clearly laid out and professional, like the examples below.

High school resume

Applying for College

To apply to college, you will either have to apply directly to the school or through the Common Application. The Common Application is an online application that allows you to submit a college application to multiple schools at one time. Not all schools accept the Common Application, but it can reduce the amount of applications you need to complete.

Apply for college with common application


College Essay

The very first thing that you want to do is to make sure you answer the essay question. Think about what you are going to write about for as much time as you actually spend writing. If you get stuck, brainstorm with someone you are close with. Write as if you are brainstorming and then go back to revise and edit.  Don't ask yourself, "What should I write about?" Instead ask, "What are they asking and how can I best tell them about me?" Have someone read your essay to see if your point comes across.


Types of College Admission

There are seven types of college admission. We will cover each of them in more detail here. 

  • Early Decision (ED)
    • Is an early application process that binds you to attend the school if you are accepted. The student and a parent must sign an agreement that, if accepted, the student will attend unless the aid award is inadequate. The colleges share early decision lists, so if accepted, you must withdraw all other applications. Students not admitted under ED are usually not reconsidered with the regular decision applicants.
  • Early Action (EA)
    • Is an admission plan that allows a student to submit his or her application by the college's deadline and receive an early admission decision. The EA student, if accepted, is not automatically bound to enroll. Students accepted under EA are not required to notify the college of their enrollment intentions until May 1. Check with each specific college to see if you can apply EA to more than one college with no penalty.
  • Restrictive Early Action (REA)
    • Is a program for students who know at the time of application that this is their first choice school. Generally, REA differs from ED in the following ways: REA programs usually provide time for families to consider financial aid awards from multiple schools before making a final commitment to enroll. Applicants agree not to apply to any other school under an EA, REA, ED or an Early Notification program.
  • Regular Admission (RA)
    • The college has a specific deadline date for RA. Generally, the college will also have a time frame for notification of admission decisions sometime after the application deadline. 
  • Rolling Admission
    • Is a procedure whereby a college accepts or rejects a student shortly after the student's application folder is complete. Many colleges use this system in selecting their incoming freshman class.
  • Wait List
    • Is a term used by institutions to describe a process by which the institution does not initially offer or deny admission, but extends to a candidate the possibility of admission in the future.
  • Deferred Enrollment
    • Many colleges allow an accepted candidate to defer enrollment for a year if they plan to work, travel, perform military service or develop an independent study program. Generally, a student may not defer in order to become a full-time student at another institution.