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The College Prep Checklist: September

Does your high schooler have a “checklist” for his or her college prep goals? Here’s one for the month of September.

Want to keep your college-bound kid on track? We’ll regularly post new College Prep Checklists so you can coach your child today.

You’ll find September’s checklist below – along with reasons you and your student should absolutely have a checklist as you aim for college.

A Checklist is Vital

Does your high schooler have a “checklist” for his or her college prep goals?

College prep checklists vary by grade. The stuff suggested for the younger grades will often seem general in nature – but that also means it’s easier to put off or ignore. The tasks listed for juniors and seniors pack a bigger punch, because it is getting down to “crunch time” – but a lot of the conversations I have with seniors involve them wishing that they had paid more attention to those college prep chores from earlier in high school.

Motivating Your College-Bound Kid

And now, for the sake of full disclosure… Sometimes when I am given a to-do list, if I am not fully convinced of the importance of the tasks, I can be the king of excuses. “I’m too busy.” “Maybe later.” “I have different priorities.” Those are just the basics – time doesn’t permit me to share the more creative excuses from my past!

Because I am not alone in that tendency to make excuses, I have found it useful to sit down with young college hopefuls and have them come up with their own checklists after studying my suggestions. I would encourage you to do the same. Regardless of a student’s age, the more they buy in to the process and have a hand in the planning, the more progress they will make.

A student becomes convinced of the usefulness of a checklist when they start “checking off” important tasks. They may have gotten used to deadlines that are set by teachers’ assignments – but it is different when students take steps toward their own “assignment” that they have helped plan, and when they are personally invested in the outcome.

What’s more, I have also seen students take ownership once a supportive parent encourages them to implement their own personal college prep strategy. A wise student will enlist an encouraging parent or someone else to hold them accountable to finish the items that they have decided are important. For some high school students, this may be the first time they have enlisted this kind of help. When a true College Prep Parent is recruited by the student to help hold them accountable, that’s a strong team!

Finally, when a student is making plans for their future, I encourage one step before making any suggestions on a checklist: committing the process to prayer. I have known many students and parents who have felt the satisfaction and joy that comes with trusting in God throughout the process.

September’s College Prep Checklist

So with those things in mind, here are some items you should encourage your student to do right now, as school gets going:

Freshmen and Sophomores

  • Do schoolwork as it is assigned from day one – then you won’t get behind.
  • Don’t use a club or a sport as an excuse to lose focus on academics.
  • Participate in college fairs and college rep visits – these are for you, too. Start opening your eyes to what’s out there, and develop the important Interview Habit.
  • Make the best grades you can. These grades form the foundation of your academic record and count just as much as later grades – do your best; don’t “settle.”
  • Set a “time budget” and stick to it – learn to manage your time now.
  • If you join an activity that needs a leader… why not you? This will help develop your leadership and provide a valuable entry on your high school resume.
  • Cultivate relationships with teachers.
  • Get to know your guidance counselor, if you haven’t already. (This one’s for you too, parents!)


  • Start keeping a list/journal/diary on colleges that catch your interest.
  • If you can visit with a college rep one-on-one, do it. You will always learn something helpful.
  • Plan for the 2018 PSAT, which you will take Oct. 10, 13, or 24. Take advantage of test prep materials, or at least the free online material.
  • Check the calendars and plan a strategy for taking the ACT and the SAT.
  • Let teachers know you from the start of the semester. The teachers you have now will very likely be your recommenders on college applications.
  • When you hear something interesting about a school, look it up – and get in the habit of taking virtual tours online.
  • Low grades from your freshman and sophomore years won’t go away, but showing improvement is the next best thing you can do.


  • Just about everything in the checklists above goes for you, too.
  • Meet the college reps that visit your high school. Even if they don’t come from “your college,” you can learn something that will help you get ready for next year.
  • Immediately look up deadlines at your schools of interest. Applications, financial aid, housing requests, recommendations, required testing, and other elements all have (often inflexible) timelines. Whether your high school is large or small, don’t assume your counselor, teachers, or parents will tell you when your stuff is due: You are the one going to college!
  • Plan your strategy if you still need to take the SAT or the ACT. Schedule your test dates so your scores can be reported to the colleges before deadlines.
  • Wherever you are in the process – a long list of prospective colleges, a short list of choices, or clueless – make sure you seek wise counsel from people who know you and care about you.

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