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Get Organized

  • Start a folder to hold all information related to college.
  • Keep copies of test scores and/or write down the dates you took tests (ACT, SAT, Iowa Assessments, etc.).
  • Save your login name and passwords for online registrations used for any tests or college applications.
  • Create an email account that is not associated with your high school. A Gmail account or something similar will remain yours through transition periods.
  • Use your legal first and last name for all applications.
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  • English, Language Arts: 4 years
  • Math: 3 years
  • Science: 3 years
  • Social Studies, Geography, Social Science: 3 years
  • World Language: 2–3 years
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Earn Credit in High School

These programs are typically offered at no cost (with a few exceptions). Talk to your counselor or AP coordinator.

  • Dual credit: Community college courses often taught at the high school. Students earn both college and high school credit.
  • Advanced Placement: College-level courses taught at the high school. Many colleges grant credit, advanced placement or both to students who earn high AP exam scores. The Iowa Online AP Academy offers AP classes to students whose high schools don’t offer on-site classes.
  • Postsecondary enrollment: Courses taken through a college. Students earn college credit as well as high school credit for courses that meet district graduation requirements.
  • Career academy: Programs in specific technical fields at community colleges. Students prepare for entry and advancement in high-skill career fields. Students may earn both college and high school credit.
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  • Four sections: English, mathematics, reading, science
  • Questions: 215 multiple-choice plus optional writing test
  • Time: 2 hours, 55 minutes (plus 40 minutes for writing test)
  • Maximum score: 36
  • Average score for 2020 high school graduates: 20.6


  • Three sections: Reading, writing and language, mathematics—plus science-based questions throughout
  • Ending optional essay after June 2021
  • Questions: 154, mostly multiple-choice with some open-ended math questions
  • Time: 3 hours
  • Maximum score: 1600
  • Average score for 2020 high school graduates: 1051

Check with your college admissions office to see if the school prefers one test over the other.

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Watch Your Social Media

One in three college admissions officers visit applicants’ social media pages. Keep your accounts clear of negative posts. These might include:

  • Photos of inappropriate behavior
  • Bad-mouthing other people or schools
  • Discriminatory comments
  • Lying about activities or accomplishments
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Steps You Can Take by Year

9th Grade

  • Meet your school counselor and arrange a meeting to talk about your plans.
  • Talk with your parent(s)/guardian(s) about your educational choices and review your course load.
  • Get involved. Many college admissions officers look for well-rounded students who are involved in their schools and communities.
  • Choose the right class schedule. Research college admission requirements.
  • Find out about advanced placement (AP) and other honors courses. If your high school does not offer AP courses, it might provide online access through the Iowa Online AP Academy.
  • Fill your summer with volunteer and work opportunities to get a better idea of the careers you might like to pursue. Visit to find organizations seeking volunteers.

10th Grade

  • Check in with your school counselor. Ask about prerequisites you might need to take now to prepare for advanced courses in your junior and senior years.
  • Talk with your parent(s)/guardian(s) about your educational choices and review your course load.
  • Investigate dual credit for your junior and senior years. Dual credit, also called concurrent enrollment, lets you earn college-credit courses in high school, usually free of charge.
  • Keep your grades up. Stay focused on schoolwork. Colleges will look at the grades from more than just your junior and senior years.
  • Research financial aid options and begin searching for scholarships. Make a list of those you might be eligible for, and take note of deadlines. 
  • Stay involved. Admissions officers like students who keep up with activities throughout high school, instead of starting them at college application time. 
  • Start making campus visits. Call ahead to schedule appointments with financial aid and admissions offices. Also be on the lookout for college fairs in your community.

11th Grade

  • Prep for college entrance exams. Download a free ACT preparation booklet from Find free official test prep for the SAT through the College Board at and Khan Academy at Take practice tests to determine where you might need to improve.
  • Talk with your parent(s)/guardian(s) about your educational choices and review your course load.
  • Focus on career and college research. Assess your skills and interests so you can consider possible areas of study. Determine which colleges offer programs that can prepare you for the career you want.
  • Attend college fairs and college planning sessions with your parent(s)/guardian(s).
  • Take the SAT or ACT in the spring and have the official scores sent to schools that interest you.  You can take these tests in senior year as well to get a better sore.
  • Make a timeline for your college and scholarship applications. Research deadlines now so you won’t be rushed when applications are due.

12th Grade

  • Review coursework with your school counselor to be sure you have taken (or are scheduled to take) all the courses you need for your preferred colleges.
  • Submit college admission applications. Watch for College Application Campaign events at your high school.
  • Complete and submit the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) at as soon after Oct. 1 as possible. Check with your school(s) of interest for their priority deadlines. Watch for FAFSA Completion Initiative events at your high school or in your community. FAFSA tips for foster youth can be found at
  • File the Iowa Financial Aid Application. To take advantage of some state-funded grants and scholarships (including ETV), you must complete the Iowa Financial Aid Application (  The deadline for the All Iowa Opportunity Scholarship is March 1.
  • Ask your high school to send your official transcripts to all the colleges where you are applying. 
  • Compare acceptance letters and financial aid offers. Upon admittance, each college or university listed on your FAFSA will send you a financial aid offer that shows the aid you are eligible to receive.
  • Take AP exams for any AP subjects you studied in high school. Some colleges might award college credit based on your exam score.
  • Decision time! Choose your college and notify them by mailing your commitment deposit check. Watch for College Decision Day celebrations at your high school.
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