Given how high-stakes the college application process can be, it can feel like you’re worrying about college from the moment you set foot in high school! That’s a little extreme, but it’s nevertheless a good idea to start thinking about your application process sooner rather than later. Here’s a look at how you can begin the steps of your college application process, and stay on track without getting ahead of yourself, as you work your way through your high school career:

9th Grade - Freshman Year

Freshman year can be a major adjustment period for students: going from middle to high school, adapting to a new environment, figuring out how your classes work, and getting used to the rhythm of a new routine. Against all this, you shouldn’t be worried too much about college applications — but they shouldn’t be completely out of your mind.

The grades you receive in your freshman year classes are likely the first so far that will show up on your total cumulative GPA — so be sure you’re taking them seriously and working hard on your classes. Meanwhile, freshman year is a great time to try new things when it comes to extracurricular activities. Your high school likely has many more options than middle school did for these, be they in sports, music, the arts, or something else entirely. Give as many as you like a shot, but don’t overextend yourself — you should be figuring out what you like best. That way, you’ll have an interest you can follow throughout high school, and maybe even into college!

10th Grade - Sophomore Year

Sophomore year is time to put the pedal to the metal. You’ll be taking harder classes (maybe even your first AP class) and should be focusing your energy on doing well in them. You should also keep up with your favorite extracurricular activity or two — not only are these useful ways to de-stress and get in some time with your friends, they’ll also look great on your college applications.

You should also start thinking about test prep during sophomore year. While you won’t be taking the test just yet, you should be figuring out whether you’ll be taking the SAT or the ACT, gathering test prep books and other materials, and putting a test prep plan into place. It’s not too early to get started, and you’ll be glad you did once test day draws closer.

11th Grade - Junior Year

Junior year is crunch time! You’ll have a full plate keeping up with your classes and extracurricular activities, focusing your test prep plan to tackle your weak spots and enhance your strengths, and crafting your college list.

That’s right — it’s time to get started on your college list! By the midway point of your junior year, you’ll have enough of a sense of your record to know which schools are matches, likelies, and reaches, and you’ll be able to think about the other intangible qualities of schools you might want to attend — and maybe even plan a college road trip.

Junior year is also time for test day. You’ll most likely take the test in the spring, and hopefully you’ll do great! But if not, you’ll get a sense of what you’ll need to study and improve upon for a retake in the summer, and be able to plan that into your schedule.

12th Grade - Senior Year

Senior year is the final stretch. You’ve likely finished all the classes that will show up on the transcript you send with your applications, so while it’s important to keep your grades up for mid-year reports, you don’t need to stress too hard about them.

During senior year, you’re going to be filling out your college applications, which is a crucial task in and of itself. This will mean drafting and revising your essays, getting your letters of recommendation together, and making sure you’re managing due dates and deadlines. Senior fall may also be time for a test retake, so be certain you’ve got your test date arranged.

By second semester senior year, you’ll have gotten your applications in and will just need to wait to hear back. Hopefully you’ll get several offers of admission — then you’ll only need to choose one, and get ready for your college adventure!

While the application process is long and often complex, don’t worry if you’re a step or two behind— Help is always there, as our expert team at A-List can attest. With a little assistance from the right people, you’ll be back on track on your way to college success in no time!