Back to School!

Uncategorized Sep 21, 2013

You’ve done it again! New school clothes, school supplies, reviewed and readjusted the schedule for the year, sorted out the afterschool activities, figured out the bus schedule, found that old backpack which languished away in closet for the summer and seventeen other things that were required to be ready to go back to school. Students look at going back to school with a sort of bitter sweet perspective. The bitter is that summer vacation is really over and consistent homework will become the norm for the next several months of their lives. The sweet is a mixture of excitement to spend time with friends, school athletics, a fresh new start on their grades, and limitless potential as to the things they will learn and discover. So now that the students are back to school, it’s time to get organized to ensure all things are ready to continue their preparation for their Eliminating College Costs! I’ve broken some of these reminders into groups by where they are in school, so you can more readily get the refresher. These are some quick points to add to the list of things students should be doing to be better prepared for success in college both academically and fiscally.

Pre-High School

Here are some of the activities and classes you might want to consider getting involved in before you get into high school.

• Taking a Foreign Language: not only is this great for developmental reasons, it will help your student be better prepared for this likely requirement in high school. Find additional ways to reemphasize their learning through videos, cultural food, and games specific to that country.
• Hobbies: find time to pursue various hobbies and extracurricular activities. Finish scouting awards, continue to develop talents like piano or dance, try out for sports offered in middle school like track or football (just about everyone can make it at the middle school level), and get involved in other music, drama, or club activities.

High School Freshman

If this is your first year in high school, the world is a plethora of opportunities. Before you go crazy trying to do everything, build on some fundamentals.

• Build an Academic foundation. This is where grades begin to count toward your college applications. Makes sure you put in extra effort to ensure this first year is solid. Do whatever you can to keep that ‘A’ average. For some ideas about rescuing grades, see my blog “Five Grade Recovery Strategies.”
• Select a few clubs or extracurricular activities to make sure you are well rounded. If you have a musical talent, make sure you get involved in the choir or the band. Selecting one or two areas to focus on will also prime you to be ready for leadership positions in later years.

High School Sophomore

If this is your second year of high school, you have a lot more experience about what works for you and what doesn’t from your first year. Here are a few suggestions for you sophomores out there.

• Keep your Grades strong. Hopefully your first year went well. Whether it did or not, you have the opportunity this year to really push to solidify that GPA. Spend some time with your teachers regularly during their office hours to ensure you are prepared for all exams, quizzes, and homework assignments. Key hint: homework in most schools are ‘gimme’ grades, so make sure you turn it all in and turn those assignments in on time!
• Stay involved and try branching out. Continue with the activities you feel the most passion for that you have already started, but try something new as well. How about Science Club, or a writing group? Essays are critical to many scholarships and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) awards abound in the US.
• Create something new. If you have a passion for something, find out from the office what it takes to start your own club. Find two or three others who will join you and just like that you are now a leader of a new group!
• Don’t forget to fill out your Scholarship Resume! Keeping track of your activities will set you up for success in applying for scholarships in your junior and senior years.

High School Junior

You are now a pro at the high school scene. Time to get ready for the college scene. There are some very important milestone events that you need to take care of this year.

• ACT/SAT preparation and exams. Just about every school requires at least one of these standardized exams. There are a couple of reasons for doing well on them. First, the better your score, the more collegiate doors that are open to you. Second, as I found out, you can literally get paid for doing well. Some universities will have quarter, half, or full tuition awards depending on the strength of your score. You gotta love getting paid for results!
• FAFSA preparation. The FAFSA (Financial Aid F S A) is required for nearly all financial aid at universities in the US. Take a look at your family’s portfolio and its impact on the FAFSA with a strong financial advisor. Putting things in the right buckets financially speaking can save you $1,000s!
• Scholarship Essay writing. Work with your English teachers to craft what I like to term the über-Essay. This is a long essay that answers many of the most frequently asked college / scholarship essay questions and gives you a forum for telling your best stories to answer those questions.
• Scholarship Applications. There are several scholarships that are available as of your junior year. Get into the habit of applying for these…there is no time like the present.

High School Senior

You’ve made it! You are top of the high school heap and getting ready to move on. This is the year to turn your solid work into specific rewards.

• Apply. Apply. APPLY! As I have shared in many other blogs, there are over 2.5 million scholarships awarded each year worth over $15 billion dollars. The better you are at applying the more likely your chances of winning. Most high school students apply for somewhere between two and six scholarships. Using the Scholarship Resume, you can be doing two a day!
• Hints for rapid application to scholarships. When working with a wonderful student named Libby, she shared with me one thing she did to optimize her scholarship application process. When applying to a particular type of scholarship, she found that those that were similar in nature (service focused for instance) all seemed to ask very similar questions. By grouping her applications to these types together, she was able to rapidly apply to many of them. Similarly, scholarships that ask the same essay question (or nearly the same) are ripe for grouping.
• Finish strong! Many students get senioritis. (For those of you who don’t know what that is, it is a term used to refer to high school seniors who have been accepted to a college and then get so excited about the future, they neglect the present and their grades and attendance fall off the mark.) This can be catastrophic! Many schools will review your final grades just prior to starting the Fall term, so senioritis can mean the loss of a scholarship or even no longer qualifying for the school you wanted to go to.


I hope the quick suggestions above provide some triggers to get you and your student moving in the right direction for the year. There are many other things you can do improve your success chances both academically and fiscally, for more ideas check out the free videos that are available here. Or if you like, try the guaranteed Full Ride Scholarship Program for a simple and complete system to ensure you are able to eliminate large chucks of you college costs!

John Mitchell

Dr. John W. Mitchell
President, Scholarship Keys


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