No matter where you are in the process of planning for college, there are things you should be doing. Based on your high school graduation time frame, follows are some suggestions of where you should be in your college planning.

2014 and above: It is never too early to start searching for scholarships. Knowing what scholarships are available will help you in several ways. (1) You may find scholarships that allow you to apply now and get a head start in earning money for college. (2) You can start a list of scholarships you plan to apply to, which will save time later when you may want to focus on standardized test preparations or filling out college applications. (3) You will learn requirements for scholarships and can focus your high school courses, extracurricular activities and community service to ensure you qualify for scholarships later.

2013: Start applying for scholarships. There are thousands of scholarships available for college; most allow you to apply as early as your junior year. Set a goal for yourself to apply for one or two scholarships a month. Having a few scholarships under your belt before your senior year will allow you to focus on college applications next fall instead of scrambling to find additional aid money. Also, preparing scholarship applications will be a huge pay off when you sit down to apply to college next year. You may be able to use information from scholarship applications on your college applications and save a ton of time. If nothing else, you will already know how to sell yourself on the application. To find scholarships check with your high school guidance office weekly and try an Internet search at

2012: As you start filling out your college applications, make sure you keep track of everything. You may find it helpful to create a spreadsheet detailing each college's requirements and related deadlines, then check each off as it is completed to ensure you complete each requirement on time. When applying to multiple colleges it can be very easy to forget which college you've completed each requirement for; having a spreadsheet will help you to stay organized and reduce confusion along the way. Also, if you have not yet registered for the September ACT and want to take this test, the registration deadline is Aug. 12.

2011: Be prepared to feel overwhelmed. There's a lot going in your life right now. Expect to have moments where it seems a bit too much. As one student says, be prepared to feel completely unprepared. The trick is knowing that you're not the only one feeling that way.

2010 and 2009: Take risks. College isn't just about getting good grades. It is a time to learn more about the world and yourself. Branch out and take risks. Try something new. You may learn something about yourself or meet new friends.

2008 and below: Dress for success. Most people form their opinion of you based on first impressions and this impression is heavily based on your appearance. Invest in a suit. Wear it to any job interviews. The job market is competitive and looking your best may give you the needed advantage over your competition.

• Bob McDonnell is executive director of Arizona College Planners, L.L.C., a member of the College Planning Network, the National Association of College Funding Advisors and the National Association of College Acceptance Counselors. For questions, email

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