Skip to Content Bruce Rauner, Governor, State of Illinois

College Planning Guide

Pre-K – 8th Grade

  • Start saving early – and keep saving!  The cost of tuition rises each year.  In fact, in the last 10 years tuition at Illinois colleges has increased nearly 75 percent.  And tuition is only part of the cost of going to college.  Other costs include fees, room and board or commuter expenses, books, supplies, etc.
  • Support your child’s academic development, interests and talents.  Encourage good study habits and be involved in his/her study time, school projects and extra-curricular activities.  Keep your child motivated and stress the importance of being active and involved as important pieces of preparing for high school and college.  
  • Talk about college early to make the idea of attending very natural for your child.  Spend family time discussing college.
  • Help your child develop his/her interests and encourage activities and reading books related to those interests.  Talk about possible careers.  Discussing the future will help your child develop strong dreams.  Keep your child motivated and interested in academic and personal growth.
  • Be open to your child’ interests and dreams.  Encourage the exploration of ideas and offer alternatives.  It may help to research certain areas of interest with your child.
  • Speak with your child’s counselor to make sure your son/daughter is enrolled in the correct classes to prepare for high school, and eventually college.  According to the U.S. Department of Education, junior high students should take English, science and history or geography every year, plus algebra in the 8th grade.  Junior high students are also encouraged to take foreign language, computer, and visual or performing arts classes.  
  • Ask what your child plans to do after junior high, after high school, and after college.  Discuss college as the way to accomplish possible career goals and attain future dreams.

Return to top

High School Freshman

  • Keep saving for college.  Review your current college savings plan (529 prepaid tuition and/or college savings accounts) to make sure they’re keeping up with the annual inflation of college tuition.
  • Work with your child to develop a high school curriculum plan that includes college-prep courses and any potential Advanced Placement credit opportunities.  The Illinois Board of Higher Education recommends that college-bound students take at least these high school courses:  four years of English; three years of mathematics, including algebra and geometry; three years of laboratory science, including biology and chemistry; three years of social studies, including history and government; two years of electives, chosen from foreign language, music, visual arts, theater, dance and vocational education.

    Advanced Placement (AP) courses are college-level courses taken in high school.  Each course finishes with a test that determines if your child will receive college credit, allowing the equivalent course to be waived once in college.  So, in addition to testing out of a college class, doing well in an AP course may increase your child’s chances of getting into college.  You’ll also get your money’s worth with an AP course, because it’s probably cheaper for your child to take the course in high school rather than taking the same one in college.  AP courses can help your child get ahead of the game in college and may help to win Scholar Awards, which are awarded to children who have demonstrated academic excellence in their AP course(s).  Before your child signs up for an AP course, be sure to speak with your son or daughter and the high school counselor to determine if it’s a subject in which your child can succeed.
  • Talk with your child about getting a summer job or internship to earn money for college.

Return to top

High School Sophomore

Return to top

High School Junior

  • Keep saving for college to make sure you’re keeping up with the annual inflation of college tuition.
  • Research different career options with your child.  Attend career fairs and speak with a high school counselor about career opportunities.
  • Begin researching colleges and collecting admission information.
  • Your child should take the ACT and/or SAT assessment test(s).

Return to top

High School Senior

  • Use The 4 Steps to College Checklist from ISAC to help in choosing a college and applying for financial aid.
  • Review your current college savings program to make sure you’re keeping up with the annual inflation of college tuition.
  • Encourage your child to attend a financial aid workshop with you.
  • Help your child research and apply for scholarships, grants, work-study programs and loans.
  • Tour campuses and investigate admissions and costs. Encourage your student to use College Greenlight (which may be accessed via the ISAC Student Portal) to identify colleges that may be a good fit. 
  • After January 1, and when your taxes are prepared, help your child file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®).
  • By this time, your child should choose three to five potential colleges that he or she would like to attend and submit applications to them.
  • Take your child to meet with a financial aid officer at each college to research financial aid options.
  • Help your child review the financial aid options offered, including scholarships, grants and loans, and determine the financial aid to accept.  Use the Financial Aid Comparison Worksheet to help compare financial aid packages and decide which is best.  While cost shouldn’t be the only factor when deciding on a college, you will still need to take it into consideration when helping your child make his or her final selection.
  • Retrieve the money from your 529 prepaid tuition and/or college savings programs.
  • Develop a long-range budget to help your child pay for college.

Return to top

College

Return to top

College Transfer

Return to top