October College Prep Checklist for High School Seniors

Seniors have 12 college admissions tasks to undertake this October.

Shawna Newman

September 25, 2023

October College Prep Checklist for High School Seniors
Focus on college planning checklist tasks this October and you'll eliminate any stressful hocus pocus.
It’s hard to believe it, but the first semester of your senior year is underway. Now that you’re settled in your senior year classes, it’s time to really start focusing on the college admissions process. While it may seem daunting, it’s much more manageable once broken down into a task list. This year, take the time at the beginning of each month to evaluate what you can do to continue your focus on your college applications.

College Planning Checklist for High School Seniors

Here’s what high school seniors should do throughout the month of October in terms of the college planning and admissions processes:

Focus on Your Grades

Although your grades will no longer significantly impact your grade point average, that does not mean you should stop trying. Your grades still matter in terms of college admissions! College admissions officers will want to see your senior year grades, and you will need to keep those grades up to remain admitted to whichever school you decide upon. Showing continual improvement will also boost your chances of admission into your top school choices.

Fill Out the FAFSA

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, also known as the FAFSA, is typically released on October 1st of every year. However, this year, the form won’t be available until December. This launch delay gives you time to prepare in advance. Discover Fastweb's FAFSA headquarters to help you learn more and to find everything you need to fill out yours. You can also visit the Federal Student Aid website for more FAFSA information.

Make a Final Plan for the SAT or ACT.

You may be taking the SAT or ACT if you’re applying to colleges that require the SAT and ACT. Some institutions have gone test-optional. Check with to see if the colleges you’re planning to apply to are test-optional. If they require it, and you’d like to take the SAT or ACT to improve your score, you may be able to take one more test before regular decision deadlines.

Start Narrowing Your College List

While it’s easy to place this on your general “things to do” list, it’s vital that you actually do it. Schedule time on your calendar to research schools. Ask yourself: “Do you want or need to be closer to home?” There are likely colleges within a drive of a few hours that may not have popped up on your radar before. Have your family finances changed? Look beyond the bumper sticker schools for those that meet your needs. With this time set aside, you should eventually narrow down your list to somewhere between six and eight colleges that vary in difficulty of admissions (your “safety,” “match,” and “reach” schools). Here’s the breakdown of the school categories:


The school you are almost positive, based on admissions criteria, you will be admitted to because your academic credentials are well above the average incoming freshman’s range. You do not plan on attending this school; rather, it is seen as your back-up. However, you should feel comfortable attending this college, should you need to. At this school, you will most likely fall at the top of the class.


The school you are quite likely, based on admissions criteria, to be admitted to because your academic credentials are well within the average incoming freshman’s range. This is the college you are most likely to attend. At this school, you will fall within the mid-range of the class.


This school is called a reach school because it’s possible, but not guaranteed, that you will be admitted. Your reach school shouldn't be a pipe dream; it should be somewhat within reason. For example, if you have a 2.5 GPA and are applying to Georgetown, it’s not a reach school – it’s a dream school. Your academic credentials usually fall below the average incoming freshman’s range.

Consider if Early Admission is for You

Have you considered early decision, early action, or rolling admissions yet? If not, it’s time to start deciding and applying now. Be aware that some of the decisions can be binding, such as early decision. You want to be certain that, when applying early decision, you’re sure you’ll want to attend this college if admitted as it is contractually binding. There are plenty of pros and cons to early admissions, which you should evaluate before pursuing these routes. If you do decide that early admissions options are right for you, it’s time to work on your early applications. Many deadlines fall between October and November, so now is the time to focus on finishing up your early applications for submission.

Obtain Letters of Recommendation

If you have not already obtained letters of recommendation from teachers, coaches, and other important people in your life to include with your college applications, reach out and ask as soon as possible. The more notice you give, the better. A letter of recommendation can speak to your character as a student. If you’ve been working on your brag sheet, email it to those individuals you have asked for a recommendation letter. This will make things so much easier for them!

Start Finalizing Your College Essays

While some of your college application essay prompts may differ, many of them will be quite similar. It’s important that you perfect your essays by proofreading them through the editing process. Also, take the time to ask others to read them. Extra sets of eyes on your writing can make all the difference in the world, especially on a body of writing you have been working so closely with.

Request Application Fee Waivers Through Your Counselor

Many colleges waive application fees for qualifying students. If you’d like to have your application fees waived, speak with your school counselor sooner rather than later so that the inquiry won’t slow down your application submission process.

Fill Out the Common Application

Set aside time to fill out the Common App thoroughly. Many colleges use the Common Application in place of an individualized school application, so filling out the Common App will save you a lot of time and effort. Bonus: it’s free! Some schools do require a fee in association with the Common App; however, fee waivers are available to qualifying students.

Gather Any Required Documents

As you’re researching the colleges you’re thinking of applying to and finalizing your list, note what each college requires in terms of documentation for the application process. Gather the necessary materials ahead of time in order to make your application process as smooth as possible. Consider using a notebook to keep your documents extra organized!

Double Check Your Transcripts

Before your school submits your transcripts to any college, you want to make sure they are, in fact, your transcripts. You also want to ensure that your credits appear and that they are accurate. Don’t assume that everything is correct – administration errors happen more often than you may think! You don’t want a clerical error to stand in the way of your future – or admission to the school of your dreams.

Apply for Scholarships

As always, it’s important to stay focused on your scholarship applications. College is right around the corner—scholarship money will certainly come in handy and help you avoid unnecessary student loan debt. Bookmark this list of Scholarships for the Class of 2024. Plan to apply for at least one scholarship per week. If you can swing more applications, do it!

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Shawna Newman

Managing Editor, Contributing Writer

Shawna Newman is the Managing Editor and a writer at Fastweb. She has over 10 years of experience in higher education. Her direct work with college admissions teams, financial aid officers, college deans, ...

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