by Kathie Sutin
Imagine your daughter standing at the door of high school on her first day as a freshman. Then imagine her at the other end—a senior about to soar off to college after four years of hard work.
In between, along the journey, there are many paths your child can take. Even the decisions made as a young, inexperienced freshman can have an impact on her college career, and even help determine which college she will attend.
You wouldn't start a long trip without a plan and a road map. You shouldn't allow your child to embark on high school days without a plan either.
Parenting children during the high school years means constantly keeping an eye on college. So derived from numerous interviews with high school counselors, here is a calendar listing the things your children should be doing each year of their high school career to maximize their chances of getting into the schools of their choice.
This is the time to start constructing your road map. Begin thinking about what career path you want to pursue and the kind of college you might want to attend. Determine the courses you'll be taking each year of high school. If you hope to apply to a competitive school, plan to take the most challenging courses you can.
Also start planning the areas of extracurricular activities at which you'll want to excel. If you're applying to a competitive school, know that most applicants achieve high grades and high test scores. What may set you apart from the rest are your leadership skills and your achievements in extracurricular activities.
Become acquainted with your guidance counselor, who will be an invaluable aid in helping you prepare for college.
Continue taking challenging courses and excelling in extracurricular activities. Do something to sharpen your leadership skills, like run for a class office or form a new club at your school.
Continue thinking about career and college choices.
Explore your options for SAT preparation courses. You may want to sign up for classes during the school year or during the summer. It is wise to take the prep courses as close to your test date as possible.
Take the PSAT in the spring. This test will determine National Merit Scholarship winners and give you some SAT practice for future SAT tests.
You may want to take SAT II subject tests for classes you are taking such as biology and world history.
Continue to think about what kind of college you might like to attend. Visit some colleges if you can just to see what college life is like. Start collecting brochures and other literature on individual schools.
Continue to excel academically and in extracurriculars.
Learn more about your interests and talents and give some more thought to the field you wish to study. Think about whether you want a big school or a small school, a public or private school, and whether you want to stay close to home or select a school far away.
Take the SAT and/or the ACT in the spring.
If you are taking Advanced Placement courses, plan to take the AP tests in May.
Plan to take the SAT II subject tests if the schools you plan to apply to require them. Think about the score choice options on those tests. You may choose to have the scores sent only to you. After you see them, you have the option of giving them to colleges. If you receive a low score on an exam, the colleges will not see the results unless you release it to them.
Start investigating scholarship possibilities. Think about early decision applications, but realize that doing so could hurt your chance for financial aid.
During the summer after your junior year, plan to visit colleges if you can. On-site visits are worth the time and trouble if you are seriously considering a school.
Don't slough off. Many schools look at your first semester grades senior year.
If you can, visit schools you are serious about in the fall, so you can see them when the campus is in full swing.
Write your essays and complete your applications. Remember that earlier applicants have a better crack at financial aid because the pot is bigger at the beginning of the process.
Take the SAT I again in October if you need to, and use the November and December testing dates to improve your scores. If you take the SAT IIs in your senior year, do not use the Score Choice option, as it may delay your acceptance.
In January, file the FAFSA, the federal form that determines financial aid eligibility.
Take the Advanced Placement tests for the AP subjects you've taken.
Kathie Sutin is an award-winning freelance journalist based in St. Louis, Missouri. She specializes in writing about medical issues, travel, parenting, education, business, food and people. She has three children.