This week’s newsletter will provide you and your teen a year by year check list for those mandatory actions steps to get your teen from high school to the ‘right’ college almost stress free!

If your teen is just beginning high school, be aware that freshmen year is often labeled an adjustment year and colleges are well aware of that. However, colleges don’t like to see an overwhelming amount of ‘adjustment’ –  several poor grades.


  1. Take challenging courses – regardless of the year – is always recommended. A ‘B’ in a challenging course vs. an ‘A’ in a regular class is more recognized. Challenging courses also prepare your teen for the typical college workload.
  2. Begin to develop a relationship with your counselor. Not only can this person be a good source for college recommendations, but the counselor will also be able to recommend what courses your teen should take over the next four years.
  3. Find a good tutor if your teen is struggling in a subject. Khan Academy – which is free – is quite good especially in math and sciences. Your teen could also join a study group.
  4. Create good study and reading habits – ideally, no phone or internet for at least an hour a day after school preferably two hours, unless the web is needed for research.

The latest studies have indicated that the young, malleable brain is negatively affected by the constant exposure to online media. It affects clear thought, focus, and concentration making sustained reading is a challenge.

GET YOUR TEEN INTO THE READING HABIT NOW! Students who are ‘readers’ do better in college and on standardized exams! Here’s a reading list to get your teen started. 10 minutes a day is a great start. We also offer a summer Efficient Reading Training Program for 10th and 11th graders. A tutorial option is also available. Schedule a call for more information.

  1. Join a club or volunteer in something indicative of a passion. Colleges appreciate students who show leadership qualities and initiative. Do not join 5 disparate clubs or organizations just to fill up a resume!


Your teen made it out of freshmen year and did pretty well. The following are what needs to be done sophomore year to continue that positive trend:


  1. Begin to research colleges. Some of the more popular books to begin the search are Fiske Guide to Colleges and US News Find the Best Colleges for You. Some excellent college search websites are Cappex and Collegesimply. Unigo, Collegeconfidential and Zinch give the student some insights from current students as well. YOUniversityTV offers virtual tours of colleges.
  2. Visit schools. If you haven’t already, start visiting some colleges. It helps to get your teen more focused and motivated in the process and in school work.
  3. Make sure your teen is registered to take the PSAT on October 11. The sophomore PSAT is often a good indicator of a potential SAT score and future preparation. (We offer a PSAT Prep Workshop which is an excellent overview of our key math and reading/writing strategies. A protracted PSAT prep program is not necessary for sophomores.)
  4. If your teen is taking an AP or IB course and doing well, it’s advisable to take the AP and SAT Subject tests in that course in May and June, respectively. Most colleges do not require SAT Subject Test, but those that do typically want 2-3 scores.
  5. Stay focused on that extracurricular activity your teen has selected because of a committed passion.
  6. Begin to create a system to file the college materials that you’ve begun collecting. Some you have requested, but a great many will come unsolicited.
  7. Keep on reading! (See action step 4 from freshmen year.)


Junior year is the most important year in high school. I call it the ‘pivot’ year as this is the year they must become serious students – freshmen year is for adjusting and sophomore year is for developing. That’s why it’s considered the most ‘complete’ year of a transcript according to Willard Dix of


  1. Make sure your teen is enrolled in challenging classes, though I believe taking 5+ AP courses is ‘over the top’! GPA and the caliber of the classes taken carry the most weight in evaluating a student’s academic profile for college admissions. Admissions officers know that GPA is a greater predictor of college success than high test scores.

Junior grades tend to carry more weight than grades from previous years; however, students should not take a tougher course just to get a weighted grade – getting a ‘C’ in AP chemistry will not impress an admissions officer!

  1. If you didn’t over the summer, take time to visit colleges. The College Board site and College Navigator have excellent college search engines to help in researching schools to visit. Make sure to take advantage of college fairs and the school guidance counselor. REMINDER: Your teen should be cultivating a relationship with his/her counselor.
  2. Start checking out financial aid. A great tool to find out what you will have to pay for a year in college is the Expected Family Income Contribution Calculator. The EFC doesn’t necessarily represent what you can afford to pay, but colleges use these numbers to help put together financial aid packages.
  3. Start using net price calculators. On every school’s website is their net price calculator. This will give you a personalized estimate of what that school will cost.
  4. Take the SAT and/or ACT. Students who are in AP Lang and pre-calc, as well as two other AP classes are good candidates to take the SAT or ACT in October, November or December. If your teen is not such a student, the first ACT or SAT recommended is in February or March. I don’t recommend students retaking more than two times.
  5. Take AP and SAT Subject Tests in AP and IB classes in May and June respectively.
  6. Keep on reading! (See action step 4 from freshmen year.)


Your teen made it to senior year! You’re in the home stretch. A lot more to do, but it can be managed:


  1. Hopefully your teen started writing the college essays over the summer. Here’s a great post that your teen may find helpful: 10 Opening Lines form Stanford Admissions Essays.
  2. Use a calendar. Go online and print out monthly calendars as this will help you keep track of college admissions and financial aid deadlines.
  3. Finalize the college list. The usual recommendation is 9-12, 3-4 of each – match, safety, and reach. Your safety schools could include schools that would enable you to receive merit scholarships. Also decide whether to apply early decision, early action or regular decision.
  4. Start gathering recommendations. Begin asking for recommendations from the counselors or select teachers NOW, don’t wait until Thanksgiving!
  5. If necessary, retake the SAT and/or ACT only if the schools your teen is interested in request higher scores or you have learned that the scores are not at least in the 60% range of those students accepted.
  6. File the FAFSA for federal student aid. This form is available January 1. Financial aid is dependent on this application.
  7. Complete the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE. Almost 250 mostly private schools use this online form to determine financial aid eligibility that does not come from federal or state governments. Register to use PROFILE on the College Board site.
  8. Start going through admissions offers carefully, being mindful of the aid packages offered as well if applicable to your situation. Be sure to also contact the schools to which your teen was accepted, but does not want to attend, so offers can be extended to other students.
  9. Take AP tests. As mentioned for juniors, if your teen is doing well in an AP or IB course, your student can take AP test(s) in May if interested in placing out of the college course(s).
  • Send in the deposit. The deposit deadline is typically May 1.
  • Don’t coast. Make sure your teen is aware that coasting through the second semester senior year is NOT an option. Colleges can rescind an offer!
  • Make the decision about borrowing money for college tuition. Federal loans are the first option; use private loans only if absolutely necessary.
  • Keep on reading! (See action step 4 from freshmen year.)



Lynn O’Shaunessy of the and regular contributor to CBS Money Watch.




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