The College Train

College and Scholarship Advice


Game Plan

Plans and what do to in high school careers and college searching events.

Your Junior Year

Your junior year of high school is really the best time to do college searching and start some of the college process. Below is a list of things you should be doing.

  • Start touring colleges. Make a list of your top college choices and go visit them (with your parents/guardian). Colleges offer tours everyday of the week and certain Saturdays. It’s important to walk around campus and see if you’re going to like or not.
  • Take the ACT/SAT. With standardize test, practice usually results in a higher grade. The more you take it, the more comfortable you are with it. It may be pricey, but $50 now can save hundreds of dollars in the future.
  • Start researching scholarship you can apply for next. Go to my “Scholarship Hunting” page to see how you do this. Also there are some national scholarship competitions that offer juniors scholarships. If you see one you qualify for and are interested in, apply for it.
  • Start thinking of teachers, coaches, community leaders, family friends, neighbors, etc. that can write letters of recommendation. Scholarships (and some colleges) require at least one letter of recommendation. Make a list of people who you could ask and who would write a GOOD recommendation letter for you. Ask them at the beginning of your senior year and give them a resume or a list of your accomplishments.

Your Senior Year

If you are a senior in high school, here is a list of things you should be doing in order to start college in the fall.

  1. Have a financial talk with your parent(s)/guardian if you haven’t already. Ask your parents if they have a college fund set up for you and how much is in there. Ask them if they can or will help you pay for college. Go to and find out how much financial aid you qualify for using FAFSA4caster.
  2. Apply for your top college choices. Even if you haven’t visit the college yet, go on and apply, so you don’t miss the application deadline. You can visit later.
  3. Retake the ACT/SAT. Unless you have an amazing score and can get into the college you want and the scholarships you want, retake it. It can’t hurt.
  4. Find and apply for scholarship applications. Go to the “Scholarship Hunting” page to see how to find scholarships you can qualify for. Fill out every application that you find.
  5. Apply for the FAFSA. Applications for the FAFSA open February 1. The earlier you apply, the higher your chances are for getting grants and other financial aid. Income taxes are not a requirement to fill out the FAFSA. You and your parents can use a pay stub or last year’s taxes to fill it the application and qualify you for grants in February. Then fill in the correct tax information in April.

The Importance of Starting the College Search Early

Before I even started this blog, people have asked me questions about getting scholarships and the college search process in general. I have no problem answering their questions and giving them any advice. My only problem is when they ask me. Parents and students will ask me questions at the beginning or in the middle of the student’s senior year in high school. And though that is when I started the college application and scholarship process, it is much easier if you start earlier than that. I suggest students start searching for colleges his or her junior year. But why start early when everyone else doesn’t?


Whether you are a high school student that knows exactly what college they want to attend or a student that has no idea if they want to go to college starting the college search early will give you more time to research. Research colleges. Research possible careers. Research scholarships. You have options and you need to know what they are.


Deciding where to attend college is the first major decision most students will make. Once you know all your options you can make a better decision. You will make a decision (hopefully) understanding all the benefits and drawbacks to you.


Senior year is filled with so many celebrations, traditions, and parties. No mention your regular school load, any extracurricular activities, and/ or any job you may have. You will be busy. Thus, your college search will take a backseat to more pressing thing like your English paper due tomorrow morning. Starting early will require less work from you your senior year. Your college search your senior year should be a to-do list not a research project.

You want your college search to be marathon not a sprint. Doing a little work here and there, so you is not rushing at the end filling out applications, writing essays, and trying to make a decision.

When to look for scholarships?

In early February, I got call about scholarship search advice. The parent of a high school senior asked me how could they find scholarships and was it too late to apply for scholarship. I told that parent it’s getting close and advise them on all the things I mentioned in my “Scholarship Hunting” and “Using Google to Find Scholarships” articles.

I have noticed that students and parents wait until the last minute to look for scholarships. I think it is because they are so worried about getting into the college they want (or that will give them the best price) that they forget about scholarship searching. So as always I am here to help.

When is the best time to look and apply for scholarships?

Beginning of the school and winter break. Students (and parents) have more free time during the periods to search and plan. Also few scholarship due dates occur during these times. So if you find one you qualify for, you don’t have to worry about rushing to apply for it.

When is it too late to look and apply for scholarships?

March. After March, there are much less scholarships available. Strangely, there is another surge in scholarships in June. However, most people’s determination for scholarships wavers in the summer.

When is the busiest time for scholarship packet due dates?

From February to Mid-March. During this time, there are a large number of scholarship packets due. This is why I recommend looking during winter break.


Campus Tour Like A Boss

It’s very important to tour a college. Every college looks good in their brochures. The earlier you tour a college the better. To get a tour, you can sign up online or just drop by the campus.

There is a standard flow to tours given by all universities. Students will give the tour. You will go on a path around the campus. They will point out the major places on campus like the library and the place where all the students gather. You will get a tour of one dorm room. [Warning: the dorm room you will tour will probably be the most spacious and expensive dorm.] Then the tour will end. Here are some additional things you should do while you’re there.

  • Talk to someone in the department/college of your major. There are advisors, professors, and staff members who job is to talk to prospective students. You can usually set up an appointment to talk to them ahead of time or ask the tour guide.
  • Eat at the cafeteria. If you are thinking about having a meal plan or you can’t cook, eat at the cafeteria. You need to know if you like the food they serve. “Not bad” is fine for one meal, but three meals a day every day “not bad” becomes “disgusting”. Also ask students do they enjoy eating there.
  • Visit financial aid and admission office. This is your time to ask all the questions you want. You may also learn something you couldn’t learn online.
  • Visit program offices for scholarship programs and athlete departments. Again, this is the time to ask questions you’ve wanted to ask. You can set up a meeting beforehand.

In addition, the best time to tour a college is on a “senior day” or “junior day”. It’s usually on a Saturday morning. All the departments/colleges, scholarship programs, financial aid office, admissions, residence life (on campus living), etc. will be there with tables. You can get all the information you want with less running around.

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