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The College Prep Checklist: October

Is your student owning their college prep goals? Build October’s strategy using this checklist.

Want to keep your college-bound kid on track? We regularly post new College Prep Checklists to help! (Find September’s checklist here.)

Here you’ll find a little encouragement about motivating your college-bound kid, followed by this month’s checklist!

The work of a College Prep Parent matters at least as much in October as any month of the year! When the school year’s “new” has worn off and the classes are either getting harder or falling into a too familiar routine, coaching your kid is vital. If your student is like many whom I work with, they tend to swing between being too complacent and being too stressed out.

As an answer to this dilemma, I suggest urging your student to understand and implement three steps:

1. Own Your Goal

I have a great job. I get to talk to students who are prepping for college. The goal is arriving at college, and most kids attend our school with that goal in mind. But somewhere along the way, that goal has to shift from being A goal to becoming THEIR goal.

2. Make Your Plan

Once a student owns this goal, we work together on a plan to achieve it. That includes things like planning to take rigorous courses, planning to make good grades, planning to prepare for college admission tests, and planning to pursue areas of special interest outside of the classroom. These plans are incredibly important… but without step #3, they are not much help in reaching their goal.

3. Work Your Plan

It’s not enough to plan. That plan has to be turned into action steps. And this is where the college prep kid needs the encouragement of the College Prep Parent! Often the temptation for the busy high school student is to relax and coast a little once a supposed “plan” is in place. We need to help them understand that the goal and the plan are necessary, but meaningless without working that plan.

October’s College Prep Checklist

The October checklist is meant to build on the key practices encouraged in September’s checklist and adds a few new tasks. Here’s how you can encourage your son or daughter to “work their plan” this month:

Freshmen & Sophomores

  • Take the tests! If your school offers the PSAT, or something like it, be sure to take those type of tests whenever you can. Whether they are used as achievement tests or practice for the college admission tests coming later, it is important to stay in the habit of testing regularly. Free practice tests can be found on the College Board website (SAT practice) as well as the ACT site.
  • Find ways to volunteer. As fall activities get started, volunteer service opportunities abound. Community programs and church fall festivals often can use unpaid help. Creative students can find a worthy project, grab a friend, and get involved in making a difference.
  • Parents: Assess academic progress with your kid. When the first round of grades comes out, it’s a good time to visit with your student about how their plan is working. Maybe they need to adjust their plan, or maybe they just need to maintain it!


  • Take the PSAT. PSAT testing is this month! High scorers can be considered for National Merit Scholarship honors. And all students who take the test are involved in one of the best ways to prepare for the SAT: taking a real test, in real testing conditions.
  • Check your progress. When juniors’ grades come out in October, it is time for a serious progress check. October is “no excuse month.” If the grades are not at the level you hoped, there is no reason to wait to get organized, get motivated, or get started. Now is the time.
  • Shop your options. Continue to take advantage of meeting with visiting college reps and attending college fairs. Juniors are a prime target for colleges’ enrollment services teams – you should take them up on it!


  • Fill out FAFSA. The FAFSA can now be filed, so it’s time to take that step. (Parents: You’ll find more of my thoughts on FAFSA here.)
  • Get applications in. There are many formulas in circulation attempting to answer the question, “How many colleges should a student apply to?” Whether these guides suggest “2 safety schools, 2 reach schools, and 2 dream schools,” or some other recipe, here’s the important thing: If you know places you want to apply, October is the time to set that plan in motion. Know schools’ application deadlines… but more importantly, know that when your application arrives before the crowd, it has a better chance of standing out.
  • Invest in your application essays. If a college application essay is asked for, then it is important. Be sure to have it proofread by someone who will tell you the truth about your writing.
  • If you are undecided, get exposure to your options. College rep visits to your school, college fairs in your area, and even online virtual college fairs each provide this opportunity.
  • Note ACT and SAT deadlines. Be aware of the ACT and SAT testing dates and their registration deadlines. Test early enough so your scores can arrive at the colleges to which you are applying before their application deadlines. Also note that some colleges will consider test scores for scholarships even after the deadline for admission. Be sure to find out ALL due dates from each college’s website.

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