Dendritic spines are small membranous structures that protrude from the neuronal dendrite. Each spine contains a synaptic contact site that may connect its parent dendrite to the axons of neighboring neurons. Dendritic spines are markedly distinct in shape and size, and certain types of stimulation prompt spines to evolve, in fairly predictable fashion, from thin nascent morphologies to the mushroom-like shapes associated with mature spines. It is well established that the remodeling of spines is strongly dependent upon the actin cytoskeleton inside the spine. A general framework that details the precise role of actin in directing the transitions between the various spine shapes is lacking. We address this issue, and present a quantitative, model-based scenario for spine plasticity validated using realistic and physiologically relevant parameters. Our model points to a crucial role for the actin cytoskeleton. In the early stages of spine formation, the interplay between the elastic properties of the spine membrane and the protrusive forces generated in the actin cytoskeleton propels the incipient spine. In the maturation stage, actin remodeling in the form of the combined dynamics of branched and bundled actin is required to form mature, mushroom-like spines. Importantly, our model shows that constricting the spine-neck aids in the stabilization of mature spines, thus pointing to a role in stabilization and maintenance for additional factors such as ring-like F-actin structures. Taken together, our model provides unique insights into the fundamental role of actin remodeling and polymerization forces during spine formation and maturation.