Parent Checklist: 28 Ways to Prepare Your Child for College, Starting Now

Getting a child ready for college doesn’t have to be a mad 11th- and 12th-grade rush. We’ve put together a checklist of steps for every age. We’ve also made them available as downloadable checklists.  Alliance offers printable student & parent checklists for every age. Download them. Pin them up. And use them to help your child (and you) get and stay on track.


  1. Start saving for your child’s college education. Learn about the tax advantages of state college savings plans and prepaid tuition plans at Use the FAFSA estimator at to find out how much federal student aid your child might receive.
  2. Encourage good study habits, such as having all the necessary materials and planning ahead with daily tasks for larger projects.
  3. Talk to your child about their interests and explore how to best fit those interests with a college major/career.
  4. Foster a lifelong love of reading by reading to your child when they are younger and having regular reading time each day when they can independently.
  5. Check-in on your child’s academic progress periodically. Review report cards, assignments, and special projects.
  6. Be supportive. Words of encouragement and snacks on study breaks go a long way to helping build your child’s confidence to get to the next level.

9th Grade

  1. Continue saving for college and add to your child’s savings account regularly.
  2. Monitor your child’s study habits and stay involved with their academic/extracurricular lives.
  3. Help your child “keep their eye on the prize, talking to them about college plans as if they will definitely go to college.
  4. Encourage your child to take Advanced Placement and other challenging classes.
  5. Help your child manage their time. Don’t let them overcommit and get exhausted.  College preparation is a marathon, not a sprint! Occasionally there will be sprints, but in general, for every mile of progress, there should be a mile of rest.

10th Grade

  1. Try to connect your child with older students for advice; reach out to friends who have been through the college application and approval process. 
  2. Continue saving for college and add to your child’s savings account regularly.
  3. Begin investigating financial aid options available, starting with the US Education Department’s website.
  4. Find out whether your child’s school has college nights. Attend them!
  5. Investigate the availability of scholarships provided by corporations, labor unions, professional associations, religious groups, and other organizations.
  6. Schedule preliminary visits to nearby campuses.
  7. Help your child make summer plans. Summer is a great time to explore interests and learn new skills, and colleges look for students who pursue meaningful summer activities.

11th Grade

  1. Schedule college visits with your child. Go together and ask questions of the tour guides, admissions offices, and financial aid staff. Think of possible questions before arriving on campus.
  2. Make a college wish list together. Talk with your child about qualities he or she may want regarding location, size, majors offered, and so on.
  3. Help your child prepare for the standardized tests they will take this year – the PSAT/NMSQT, SAT and SAT Subject Tests, and/or the PLAN exam and the ACT. Visit and for more information.
  4. Make sure your child meets with the school counselor this year to begin preparing for the application process.
  5. Attend college fairs and financial aid events. These events allow you to meet with college representatives and get answers to questions. Your child can ask the school counselor how to find events in your area.

12th Grade

  1. Make sure your child knows when their applications are due! These deadlines are non-negotiable and late applications may prevent them from going to the college of their choice!
  2. Help your child decide about applying early. If your senior is set on going to a certain college, they consider if applying early is a good option. Early applications are usually due in November. Read about the pros and cons of applying early.
  3. Encourage and assist your child, if necessary, in setting up college interviews. An interview is a great way for your child to learn more about a college and for a college to learn more about your child.
  4. Work together to apply for financial aid. Have your child contact the financial aid offices at the colleges he or she is interested in to find out what forms students must submit to apply for aid. Make sure he or she applies for aid by or before any stated deadlines. Funds are limited, so the earlier you apply, the better.
  5. Help your child process college responses. Once your child starts hearing back from colleges about admission and financial aid, he or she will need your support to decide what to do.

“Don’t waste life in doubts and fears; spend yourself on the work before you, well assured that the right performance of this hour’s duties will be the best preparation for the hours and ages that will follow it.”

—Ralph Waldo Emerson, American transcendentalist

Bonus Tip

Apply for an Alliance Scholarship Program. We’ve awarded millions of dollars to thousands of high school graduates and continuing college students since 1996. This year, we plan to award five deserving students with scholarships. Learn more here.

Don’t forget to download this checklist and keep it in plain sight. And be sure to check out The Alliance College Guide. It explains what you need to know about choosing, preparing for, applying to, and paying for college. All in clear, no-nonsense language.

Additional Resources

Apply for FAFSA

Learn more about ACT


PSAT/NMSQT Information

Access the FAFSA Estimator here



Don’t forget to download our checklists and start getting your child ready for college.