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The College Prep Checklist: November-December

You can help your college-bound kid move forward – even in the midst of a busy, busy fall.

Fall is a busy time for high school kids!

For some students, fall is filled with football games and friends (with a little schoolwork on the side). Athletes might dribble basketballs in the gym until they get locked out, start the day tired from a sunrise cross-country workout, or rush to dry their hair after pre-class swim practice. Fall musical tryouts, scouting trips, church youth group, and other activities are just as likely to be running at full-speed now.

Great College Prep Parents play a big role in encouraging their kids to “stay the course” during each fall semester of their high school career. When you hear complaints – “I’m too busy” or “I’m stressed by such a heavy load” or even “I should have taken easier classes” – what your child might really be communicating is “I don’t know how to manage my time.” This can be a golden opportunity to come alongside your student with concrete suggestions on how to get it all done. When a student really has their back against the wall, they may be open to considering your tips on how you handle your own overloaded seasons of life.

The rush of activities outside of the classroom and ever-growing schoolwork inside leave little time to waste. That’s why getting in the College Prep Checklist habit is important. Below, you’ll find important ways to coach you college-bound kid in these last months before 2019. (And be sure to see our past checklists if you haven’t kept up!)

Freshmen & Sophomores

  • Talk with those ahead of you: Do you know anyone from school or church who’s now in college? Try to grab some time with them at Homecoming, Thanksgiving break, or Christmas holidays. Learn about what to expect after high school, and get their ideas on colleges to think about.
  • Focus on grades: Keep in mind that the grades you make in every class, from ninth grade on, show up on your transcript. Most of these grades (if not all) figure into your final Grade Point Average. School is important right now!
  • Use the tools: If you take a practice ACT or SAT product like Aspire or the PSAT, be sure to learn what they show you. When you get results, go over them carefully to improve your performance on the big tests. Don’t just settle for asking “Did I do good?,” but rather ask, “What does it show about me?” and “How can I improve?”
  • Start your list: It is not too early to start compiling a general list of colleges that may interest you. When you hear favorable things that are important to you, make note of the school and what you hear.
  • Go shopping: Be on the lookout for any college fairs in your area, or college reps visiting your school. Interested ninth- and tenth-grade students are welcomed by college reps!


  • Build a stellar academic resume: The grades made during your junior year are often the ones that shine the brightest on the transcript you’ll start sending to colleges next fall. Good grades in solid classes (during any year) are always attractive, but it looks especially great if your junior-year grades are the best ones yet.
  • Meet with those who’ve gone before you: Are any of your friends, your friends’ older siblings, or “friends of friends” already attending colleges you’re considering? Try to chat with them – online, on the phone, or when they’re home for Homecoming, Thanksgiving, or Christmas. Learn why they made their choice, and what tips they would offer you.
  • Consider leading: Look for leadership opportunities that have arisen in your clubs and activities. Not only does it look good on a resume, taking the lead in volunteer projects is something that can jump-start a lifetime of service to others. And remember that sometimes you can ask the group or sponsor/teacher about creating a new leadership position, to lead with your own particular strengths.
  • Keep scouring for scholarships: Start routinely surfing the web, looking for scholarships for college. Many are awarded yearly, and a wise junior will get started if there are requirements to meet by the time they apply as seniors.
  • Answer the call to connect: Check the websites of your colleges of interest for announcements about junior preview days, receptions scheduled for your region, or campus tours during the holiday break. When you contact an admissions counselor to inquire about these types of opportunities, you take an important step. In a very real sense, you’re having your first college admissions interview.


  • Don’t wait till Turkey: My experience has been that many students put things off until Thanksgiving break. If you have your stuff ready for college applications, don’t wait to send it. Several of my veteran college admissions buddies agree that you want your application – and especially your essays – read by a person who only has a few to read at a sitting, rather than thirty.
  • Plan to get together: Take advantage of opportunities to find out what the recent alums from your high school are experiencing at their colleges. Homecoming, Thanksgiving break, and Christmas holidays are all good chances to learn a little about what to expect after high school.
  • Rule out what you can: Narrowing down college choices now is important if any of those colleges have early deadlines. Certain fall deadlines are set aside for senior students who have decided on their choice. If a student knows where they want to apply, it is a good idea to do it well before the deadline to ensure everything receives full consideration.
  • Leave room for recommendations: Anticipate the recommendations that will be needed for admission and scholarship applications. Students should give a recommender at least two weeks to complete the request – and three weeks is better. Recommenders should be given any form they need, along with the address/email/website for submitting their recommendation. (When it’s online, you should receive notification when complete.)
  • File your FAFSA: The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) opened for filing on October 1. There is no need to put off filing, and some college funding is available only while supplies last. See the FAFSA site for more details about who should file.
  • Know your deadlines: Some schools have certain application deadlines in November, others in December. Deadlines should be researched and written down (or better, put into a calendar that will remind you to act). The following are a few of the deadlines to watch out for:
    • Application deadlines
    • Priority scholarship deadlines
    • Priority housing deadlines

College Prep Parent, I hope your student is well on his or her way with these checklists. As always, if you have a specific question about preparing your college-bound kid, we’d love to hear it!

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