My College Checklist

Make your list and check it twice.

Our checklists are designed to help college hopefuls remember what to do, how to do it, and when. Our checklists don’t just help with the tasks on the path to the school of your choice. They also help with the tasks you’ll need to complete after you or your child have been accepted into your new school.

Sign up for email reminders to stay on track!

Get the reminders you need at the time you need them. We’ll send you timely information based on your current grade. It’s never too early to starting thinking about your post-secondary education.

Senior students can now apply for FAFSA.

If you are ready to apply for student financial aid, the link below will take you to the FAFSA site. To learn more before applying visit our FAFSA FAQ page or contact the Scholarship Hotline at [email protected] or 216.454.5400.

Current High School Seniors

Congrats! With high school almost finished now is the time to make sure you are ready to pursue your dreams after graduation. This checklist is designed to help you prepare for the scholarship application process for the college or career training program of your choice. You can also sign up for email reminders to stay on track!

1. Prepare to apply to a school | Summer – October

First, you will need to decide the schools to which you would like to apply. Next, you will need to prepare the materials to complete your application. To help, visit our Find a School page to make sure the colleges and career training programs of your choice accept the Say Yes Cleveland tuition scholarship.

Additional Things to Keep in Mind
  • Attend the College Now/CMSD College Fair in October to learn about different schools and meet recruiters.
  • The Common Application is released August 1 each year. Pick the essay questions (usually 2) you are going to answer and begin writing. Ask your English teacher to review it and give you feedback.
  • Gather a list or compose a short description of any extracurricular activities, athletics, clubs, or volunteer work you may have engaged in during your school career. Also consider any work experiences, special trainings, awards or special recognition you may have received. Finally, gather letters of recommendation from teachers, school counselors, or other important adults in your life. Remember to ask your recommenders for letters at least one month in advance so they have time to write a strong statement on your behalf.

2. Meet with a school counselor and College Now advisor | August – May

Make sure you get to know your school counselor and college advisor. Review senior year courses with them to make sure they are preparing you for college and contact your counselor and advisor when questions arise.

3. Complete the Say Yes Cleveland Scholarship Application | Open to seniors October 1 of their 12th grade

The Say Yes Cleveland application will confirm that you have been continuously enrolled in a CMSD or partnering charter high school and living continuously within the CMSD boundaries since 9th grade. Once you’ve logged in with your High School Student ID#, if you are eligible, your status will appear as “tentatively eligible” until you graduate. If you are listed as “tentatively ineligible,” you may be able to appeal. Visit the appeals page for more info.

Additional Things to Keep in Mind
  • If you need assistance with the Say Yes Cleveland application contact your school counselor or College Now adviser.
  • Watch a video tutorial of the application process.

4. Complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) | Open to seniors October 1 of their 12th grade

The FAFSA is a federal form that tells you how much the US and Ohio governments are going to provide you in tuition scholarships and grants, based on your family’s recent income. Completing the FAFSA is a requirement to receive a Say Yes Cleveland scholarship.

Additional Things to Keep in Mind
  • College Now advisors and school counselors help students and their parents/guardians complete the FAFSA.
  • DON’T WAIT – The earlier you complete the FAFSA the more likely you will be to receive financial aid from federal and state government sources and from the colleges, universities, and trade schools who use the FAFSA to determine scholarship and grant awards.
  • If you are a dependent (most students are considered dependent all through college), you and a parent/guardian will need:
  • Social security number (or alien registration number if not a U.S. citizen) for the student and parents/guardians.
  • Proof of registration for Selective Service System (male students only).
  • Federal income tax returns, W-2s, and other records of money earned for the student and parents/guardians.
  • Bank statements and records of investments (if applicable) for the student and parents/guardians.
  • Records of untaxed income (if applicable) for the student and parents/guardians.
  • An FSA ID to sign electronically.

5. Receive and review your Student Aid Report (SAR) | October – June

After you submit your FAFSA, you will receive your Student Aid Report (SAR) — a very important document that will tell you whether you are eligible for federal grants, college loans, or work-study programs, as well as for other federal grants, college loans or work-study programs.

Additional Things to Keep in Mind
  • If you see an error in your SAR, you can correct it on the Federal Student Aid website or call 1-800-4-FED-AID. If your FAFSA is listed as “selected for verification,” you may have to provide colleges with additional documentation. Contact your counselor or College Now advisor if this happens.
  • If no further information is needed from you, your SAR will include your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and the amount of money you or your family may be expected to contribute toward your college education. The EFC may be zero, or it may be a number that you know is unrealistic. Don’t panic. Contact your school counselor and College Now advisor to discuss your SAR and what it means.

6. Submit your college or career training application | November to February is typical for 4-year college admissions, community college or career training admissions generally have rolling admissions.

Students who are prepared can benefit from using the early application, typically November 1-15. This allows students to access more scholarships and aid from the school of your choice before the money runs out and get college applications out of the way early.

Regular admission deadlines are typically January to February.

Additional Things to Keep in Mind
  • Be sure to research the specific deadlines for each college or program to which you are applying.
  • You can submit multiple early applications to the schools of your choice.
  • Your school counselor can provide you with an application fee waiver.

7. Choose a school or program | January through Spring/Summer

Schools will begin letting students know if they are admitted around January/February (early admissions) and March/April or later (regular admissions). Notify your school counselor and College Now advisor about all acceptances — in fact, tell everyone, you should be proud! Then schedule a meeting with your school counselor and College Now advisor to discuss options and to go over award letters so you can make your final choice.

Additional Things to Keep in Mind
  • Before you decide on what college to attend, you should develop a budget of anticipated expenses and how you will meet those expenses. Meet with your College Now advisor or attend one of their workshops on this topic.
  • This is a really important decision and before it’s made, students and parents/guardians should consider:
  • Can I afford tuition, room, and board without going into significant debt?
  • Can I get home when/if I want for a reasonable cost?
  • Do I have another college choice that I like that’s more affordable?
  • Is the school culture/climate one in which I can see myself?

8. Sign up for Mentoring

All Say Yes Cleveland scholarship recipients are required to participate in the mentoring program conducted by College Now. You’ll be matched with a Cleveland-area resident who has earned a college degree and is available to answer questions, offer support, and help you reach graduation.

Complete these steps to register for the mentoring program:
Current 11th Graders

There’s a lot to do in your junior year to make sure you’re on-track and ready for college or career-training after high school graduation.

1. Meet with a school counselor and College Now advisor | August – May

Review junior year courses to make sure they are preparing you for college and make sure any College Credit Plus courses you enrolled in fit within your high school schedule.

2. Create (or update) your college resume | June

Create a document that lists your extracurriculars, athletics, clubs and volunteer engagement, as well as work experience. Include any awards or recognitions or special training. Provide dates for every entry. You’ll need this information for college applications, and it will be helpful to have it all in one place.

3. Research available scholarships | September – December

In addition to the Say Yes Cleveland scholarship (which you’ll apply for in October of your senior year), there are many other scholarships available for CMSD students, and some can help with non-tuition expenses.

Additional Things to Keep in Mind

4. Take the PSAT | October

All CMSD juniors are registered for and expected to take the PSAT to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship program and to prepare for the spring SAT. There is no fee to the student.

Additional Things to Keep in Mind

5. Attend the College Now/CMSD College Fair | October

This fair is open to all CMSD juniors and seniors. Attend as a junior to get information from various colleges located in Greater Cleveland and around the country. Make special note of the ones with Say Yes signs. For students attending Ohio public colleges and universities or one of the 100+ private Say Yes compact schools, the Say Yes Cleveland scholarship is a guaranteed tuition scholarship for students who meet residency and CMSD high school enrollment criteria.

6. Take the SAT and/or ACT for the first time | February – April

CMSD administers an all-district SAT exam to every junior between February and April. For many students, this is the first time they take the exam. Then you should study for a second exam at the end of your junior year, in May or June, and after studying some more, you should take your third exam in early fall of your senior year (October, ideally, up through December). You should consider taking both the SAT and ACT—colleges will take your best score.

Additional Things to Keep in Mind
  • Your school counselor or College Now Advisor can help you register for tests and get your fees waived. CMSD students are eligible for at least two test fee waivers in addition to the district-administered exam—make sure you use them!
  • Khan Academy provides free personalized SAT, and College Now offers free test prep programs such as impact! to help prepare you for the PSAT, SAT, and ACT. Your score will almost certainly improve with practice.

7. Request teacher recommendations | April – May

Identify two teachers or a teacher and your school counselor to write you recommendations for your college applications. Try to select someone with whom you’ve built a relationship and who has seen you grow and mature over your high school years.

8. Register for the SAT and/or ACT #2 | April – May

You should take the SAT/ACT for the second time in May or June of your junior year. Your score will very likely increase, especially if you’ve studied on Khan Academy or another study site.

While you’re at it, consider registering now for your third exam in early fall of your senior year (October, ideally, up through December). You should consider taking both the SAT and ACT—colleges will take your best score.

Additional Things to Keep in Mind
  • Your school counselor or College Now Advisor can help you register for tests and get your fees waived. CMSD students are eligible for at least two test fee waivers in addition to the district-administered exam—make sure you use them!
Current 10th Graders

During sophomore year, you’ll start to take more advanced classes, and you may start thinking ahead to what is available to you after high school.

1. Meet with your school counselor and your College Now advisor | August – May

Review your sophomore year courses to make sure they are preparing you for college. Make sure any College Credit Plus courses you enrolled in fit within your high school schedule. Ask your College Now advisor about programs such as impact!, that can help prepare you for standardized tests and begin to introduce you to potential postsecondary institutions.

2. Continue focusing on your grades | August – May

Keep studying and turning in your work. If you didn’t do as well as you hoped last year, colleges will be impressed if you raise your grades during sophomore year. Remember: your GPA is critical to college admissions officers. Let people know if you are struggling – ask for extra support from a teacher or a friend.

3. Take the PSAT | October

The PSAT is offered in October of each year. CMSD registers all 10th graders and pays the fee for this exam. Sophomore students take the PSAT to practice for the junior year PSAT to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship program and to prepare for the SAT. Khan Academy provides free personalized PSAT practice, and College Now offers free test prep programs such as impact! to help prepare you for the PSAT, SAT, and ACT.

4. Continue thinking about jobs and careers that interest you | November

Start looking into job shadowing and internships. Talk to friends and family, as well as your counselor and College Now advisor. Look at Naviance’s career key, career interest profiler, and career clusters.

5. Update your college resume | June

Update your document that lists your extracurriculars, athletics, clubs and volunteer engagement, as well as your work experience. Include any awards or recognitions or special training. Provide dates for every entry. You’ll need this information for college applications, and it will be helpful to have it all in one place.

6. Start a college list | January

Start exploring the schools you may be interested in attending after high school. Naviance is a good source of postsecondary institutions, where students can do comparisons of schools. Start building a list of your personal college interests, and include college names, location, selectivity, website, Say Yes status, etc.

Current 9th Graders

College success starts early – even in 9th grade. Make sure you start your high school career strong so you’re ready to take advantage of the Say Yes Cleveland scholarship after graduation.

1. Meet with your school counselor and your College Now Advisor | August – May

Be sure you are taking college-prep courses all four years of high school. This may include honors, Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), or College Credit Plus courses. Colleges look most closely at your core academics: English, math, science, history, and world languages.

2. Focus on your grades | August – May

Your high school transcript (a record of your courses and the grades you earn) is considered one of the most important parts of your college application. Getting good grades in your courses really matters, as that informs your grade point average (GPA).

Additional Things to Keep in Mind
  • Your high school GPA, which is an average of your letter grades, is typically calculated like this: A=4.0; B=3.0; C=2.0; D=1.0; F = 0.0.
  • A GPA of 2.0 is typically considered a minimum college-ready measurement, though some colleges (like community colleges) admit students with GPAs below 2.0. However, just as many colleges and scholarships look for a GPA of 3.0 or higher. Since college admissions officers often consider GPA a better indicator of a student’s readiness for college than SAT/ACT scores, it’s important to get your best grades. So make sure you complete your assignments and turn in your work on time. Many teachers allow you to re-submit work if you are not happy with your first grade. Take every advantage so you can build that GPA.

3. Expand your high school experience | August – May

Identify and explore extracurriculars, athletics, clubs and volunteer opportunities that interest you now, so you can identify what interests you and then deepen your focus in later high school years. Try to do something for more than a year, whether it be athletics, clubs, and/or volunteering. Colleges often prefer a student who is deeply involved in fewer activities over a student who is an inactive member of many.

Additional Things to Keep in Mind
  • Think about the following to guide you:
  • What student activities are available at your high school?
  • What are your non-academic interests?
  • Can you maintain a long-term commitment?
  • Can you manage your time and priorities?
  • Have you had paid or non-paid work experience?
  • Have you made a meaningful contribution to something outside of school?

4. Create (and link together) a College Board account and a Khan Academy account | September

Creating a College Board account will let you schedule and track your PSAT and SAT exams. Khan Academy is a great website for course review, particularly in math, science, and government. It also offers a free PSAT and SAT prep class that will help prepare you for college entrance exams. If you link your College Board account to it, your PSAT scores will guide your individualized practice plan.

5. Take the PSAT | October

The PSAT is offered in October of each year. CMSD registers all 9th graders and pays the fee for this exam. Freshmen students take the PSAT to practice for the junior year PSAT to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship program and to prepare for the SAT.

6. Create your college resume | June

Now that you’ve begun to expand your high school experience, document it. Create a document that lists your extracurriculars, athletics, clubs and volunteer engagement, as well as your work experience. Include any awards or recognitions or special training. You’ll need this information for college applications, and it will be helpful to have it all in one place. Update your college resume regularly.

7. Consider enrolling in College Credit Plus | March

By the spring of your freshman year, check into applying to Tri-C or CSU to enroll in College Credit Plus. College Credit Plus (CCP) allows you to take college courses for free that count for your high school diploma and college credit. Students may have to take an entry exam or SAT/ACT to be admitted to colleges for CCP, so check with your counselor.

8. Join a college prep program | April

Ask your counselor or College Now advisor about joining TRiO, Minds Matter, OSU Young Scholars, or other programs that can help you better prepare for college and offer great experiences over the summer and school year.

Psst!

We’ve created a downloadable Guidebook with even more details than the checklist above for a deeper dive.
Check it out!

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VOICES FROM THE COMMUNITY

“Getting ready for college hasn’t really been too difficult because I had a lot of teachers, resources, and advisors helping to put everything together and setting up somewhat of a plan so you know where you’re going. You just have to get there. Say Yes Cleveland provides the advisors and the scholarship on top of that so that you don’t have to worry so much about money. So you can really put your mind on other things.”

Tyshawn Hines

First-Year College Student