The Top 10 Resources for Parents of High School Students
The nature of college admissions is constantly changing, and helping your high school student keep track of everything could be its own part-time job. As your student prepares for a major step towards adulthood and independence, how can you ease their transition, while also encouraging them to make the most of the present moment?
Here are some of our top resources to help you set your student up for success for every step of the high school to college process!
Setting the Foundation for Your High Schooler’s Success
1. Developing the Right Skills
The first year of high school is one of the most important years in high school. Students often make friendships that will last throughout high school and define who they are through the interests they pursue.
It’s also the time where students develop many of their study habits, time management, and organization skills that they’ll carry with them into college. Couple that with their increasing level of independence, and you’ll want to make sure that they develop strong personal skills that will help them handle whatever life throws at them. These skills fall under what’s called executive functioning, or the skills needed to manage our lives.
Learn more in our post What is Executive Functioning and How Can Teens Develop It?
2. Staying Organized
No doubt an important skill for doing well in school, staying organized means your student won’t ever lose their homework or forget a deadline. For most students entering high school, they’ve been given an organizational structure to follow in the past, either from yourself or even your teachers.
However, helping your student develop their own system for staying organized will help tremendously when they transition to college and it’s up to them to keep track of everything. You can find ideas to help your student find a solution that works for them in our post How to Be More Organized in High School.
3. Choosing Extracurriculars
Some parents are surprised to find out that good grades and high test scores aren’t enough for students to get into college. Colleges are looking for students who will get involved on campus, contribute to the community, and bring their unique perspective, strengths, and experiences to their student body. Translation: they want to see that high school students did more than study, and that they got involved in something that personally mattered to them.
Extracurricular activities help your student enjoy their high school experience by pursuing their interests, and they often develop important soft skills they may not learn in a traditional class setting, like teamwork. Luckily, what matters most is that your student truly enjoys what they do outside of school, whether it’s a club, a sport, community service, or internships and research.
For a headstart on some unique extracurriculars your student can take advantage of, check out our post 6 Pre-College Programs You Can Join in High School.
4. Choosing the Right Classes
Of course, just because grades and test scores aren’t everything doesn’t mean they aren’t still important. In addition to doing well in classes, colleges are looking beyond your student’s GPA at the rigor of their schedule. Encourage your student to sign up for a variety of challenging courses, such as Honors, AP, IB, or dual enrollment, but make sure that the course load won’t overwhelm them.
Not every school offers the same types of classes, and colleges know that. That’s why they often ask for a report from a school counselor that includes the course offerings, so they can see if your student took advantage of what was available to them.
For more information about developing a balanced but challenging schedule, check out What Does a Rigorous High School Schedule Look Like?
5. The PSAT
Most high school students will take the PSAT at least once during their junior year, if not during their freshman and sophomore years as well. The PSAT is similar to the SAT, since they are both administered by College Board, but the PSAT isn’t something your student should take lightly.
Preparing for the PSAT can reduce the amount of studying that your student needs to do before they take the SAT. Most importantly, the PSAT that juniors take is the qualifying test for the National Merit Scholarship, as well as other merit scholarships, which can make college that much more affordable.
Learn why you and your student should take the PSAT seriously in our post The PSAT: Way More Than a Practice Test.
Your Go-To Resources for College Prep and Admissions
6. Creating a College List
As your student gets closer to their senior year, you may want to encourage them to develop a college list. This list should include their top choices or dream schools and some “safety” schools, or schools that your student is very likely to be accepted at. It’s a good idea to start big and then narrow down the list, based on things that matter to your student such as the size of the school, the majors and undergraduate programs offered, location, and student life.
If you are able, it’s a good idea to visit colleges that your student is interested in or colleges that are easily accessible to where you live. Seeing a college firsthand is way more exciting than reading about it online. If you can’t make it to a college in-person, many schools have outreach events across the country you can attend, or you can contact them to get in touch with a representative or even a current student, so your student can make an informed decision about where to apply.
Learn more about developing a college list in our post 10 Considerations for Making Your College List.
7. The SAT (or ACT)
The SAT and ACT are the major college entrance exams used by virtually every school in the country. Colleges use these scores (along with your student’s GPA) to determine if your student is academically prepared for the rigor of college level classes, to place them in appropriate level of coursework, and sometimes to award additional scholarships.
Most colleges don’t have a preference for the SAT or ACT, so it really boils down to which test format your student prefers. Whichever test your student takes, they should aim to score as highly as possible and spend time preparing before they take the test. The process outlined in our post How to Get a Perfect 1600 SAT Score on the SAT applies similarly to the ACT as well.
8. College Applications
Throughout this post, we’ve talked about what college admissions officers tend to look for in applications. We hope you’ve noticed that your student can make the most of their high school experience and develop a strong application at the same time, which makes the college application process go a little more smoothly during senior year.
Of course, your student will need to keep track of the college’s different deadlines, application requirements, and so on, but many students and parents don’t understand what a college actually looks at. If you’re wondering how GPA, test scores, and extracurriculars work together, check out our post How College Applications are Evaluated.
9. College Essays
Most colleges requires at least one essay from the student, which is often the only place that they really get to hear from the student directly. Many of your student’s important skills, strengths, and perspective aren’t obvious based on a laundry list of test scores, GPA, and extracurriculars.
The college essay (or essays) give your student the opportunity to show who they are to admissions counselor, and a strong essay can push a borderline applicant into admitted territory. Your student might be blind to their own strengths, so helping them identify what they are or working with a counselor can help your student bring those out in their essay.
For more suggestions about what makes a strong essay, check out our post How to Showcase Your Strengths in Your College Application Essay.
It’s a good idea to get your applications in on the early side, as some schools offer additional scholarship opportunities if applications are submitted by an early or priority deadline. But once all of the college applications have been submitted, it’s time to make sure that your student follows up with financial aid and senior year activities.
Depending on the school, there are several steps your student needs to take after they’ve completed an application. They might need to supply additional information at the school’s request such as a mid-year transcript, and they’ll definitely want to complete any financial aid or scholarship applications they haven’t completed yet.
For a breakdown of what to do next, we’ve written a guide: You’ve Applied to College, Now What Should You Do?
Wrapping it Up
With so much to keep track of during high school, we want to help students (and parents!) succeed. Even though this post goes over many of the general milestones that high school students face, you and your student’s situation is unique, and there might be specific resources you need that we didn’t get to cover.
That’s why CollegeVine strives to work with both parents and students to provide a personalized approach to academic success. We offer near-peer mentorship, SAT prep, essay and application review to make sure you and your student feel prepared for the next step in their journey. Schedule a free consultation to find out what services makes the most sense for your student.
Here are a few other resources for parents:
Want more tips on improving your academic profile?
We'll send valuable information to help you strengthen your profile and get ready for college admissions.