This is the year when everything heats up for college-bound high school students. In addition to facing even more challenging classes, you also will take important college-entrance exams, assume greater leadership roles in your extracurricular activities, and possibly finalize your college plans.

Iowa's admission counselors offer these suggestions:

Choose your classes carefully. Make sure your course selections are in line with the core classes needed for college admission. Work with your high school guidance counselor and review the recommendations in an online guide created by the Board of Regents, State of Iowa, for college-bound students.

Keep your grades up. If necessary, expand the amount of time you devote to studying. Remember that the grades you earn this year will be the ones college admission officials will see when you apply.

Earn college credit by exam. Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) testing may help you earn college credit before you arrive on campus. Iowa accepts a variety of Credit by Exam options.

Consider an early start. Many schools, including Iowa, accept applications from students who wish to take college courses while still in high school (see Nondegree Students). These courses can be used to reduce the number of classes you need to take once you get to college or to satisfy a college's high school course requirements. Visit our Transfer tips for College Credit Earned While in High School.

Take the PSAT, even if you do not plan to take the SAT. The PSAT, a practice test for the SAT college entrance exam, can qualify you for the National Merit Scholarship, National Achievement Scholarship, and National Hispanic Scholarship.

Take the ACT or SAT in the spring. Taking the test during the spring of your junior year allows you to take the test again in the summer before or the fall of your senior year if you're not happy with your score. These standardized test scores are heavily considered by most college admission officials, so prepare well. Your high school counselor can recommend books, websites, and classes to help you prepare.

Narrow your list. Attempt to narrow your list of prospective schools to between three and five by the end of the year. If your list is longer, it becomes difficult to keep track of admission procedures and deadlines.

Establish an e-mail account just for your college admission correspondence, and check it often. Make sure your user name is appropriate for correspondence with college admission professionals.

Assemble your application materials. Start compiling your application materials in the fall, especially if the application requires a recommendation from a teacher.

Study financial aid terms and procedures. Attend a financial aid information session at your high school, if possible, and develop a strategy for finding scholarships. Be wary of scholarship search services that charge a fee. Instead, use various web search engines and discuss opportunities with your high school guidance counselor.

Arrange campus visits. Visits to prospective colleges are critical at this point. Review your priorities, attend college fairs, and find time to research your options. Iowa's Admission Visitors Center welcomes students for large group or individual Campus Visits.