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Best Advice for Freshmen? Start Exploring Now

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high school freshmen

It’s the year of new beginnings. Wide-eyed freshmen enter high school campuses overwhelmed on the one hand and excited on the other. High school puts them on the path to adulthood and independence. It means added responsibility and academic challenges. And if your teen is headed down the college route, it means organization and preparation. She can’t blow the next three years and expect to attend the college of her dreams. Freshman year is an opportunity to set her on the right path that will assure she is prepared for senior year.

Freshman year is all about exploration. This will help to decide college majors and also provide focus during the final years of high school.

There are five words that your teen should live by in the first year of high school: join, volunteer, search, explore, and build.

Join

Participation is the name of the game. Getting involved in clubs, organizations, sports, music, and even politics will jumpstart your teen’s social skills and provide ideas. It’s the best way to meet new friends and foster new relationships. Encourage your teen to sample a few clubs and get involved. Down the road, these clubs will offer a chance to implement leadership skills.

Volunteer

Freshman year is a great time to start volunteer activities (if your teen hasn’t already). It’s about more than satisfying community service requirements or adding something to a high school resume. Volunteering raises awareness of the world and connects students with all kinds of people who might serve as important references or internship and job contacts. And it’s a good way to shift the focus from self to others.

Why start freshman year? Colleges look for well-rounded, committed students. A student who has volunteered for all four years of high school and establishes a commitment to one activity will fare better in the admissions process than one who floats from one project to the next trying to get community service hours. Encourage your student to find something and stick with it.

[All out of ideas? Here are 50 community service ideas for teens.]

Search

Begin the search for scholarships. Sign up on scholarship websites to receive email notifications. Scholarships aren’t just for seniors, there are scholarships available for all ages. Starting early means your teen will find those scholarships, apply, win, and start a college fund freshman year.

Have your teen study winning scholarship entries for tips. Most scholarship awards post the winning entries on their site. Pay attention to the local news and radio for scholarship award announcements and start a scholarship file, making not of requirements and deadlines. Make it habit to search and apply every day.

Explore

Now is the time for you and your teen to start researching various colleges online. Make some preliminary college visits; walk around campus and make notes of what you like and don’t like. When it comes time to get serious about the college search, your teen will be ready. Creating a list of likes and dislikes early in the process will help with the final list.

It’s also time to start exploring careers. Take a career matching test to determine your student’s strengths, weaknesses and aptitudes. This test will help you plan the academic course and also assist you in researching colleges.

Build

Establish relationships with faculty - both teachers and a high school counselor. These relationships will help later as your student begins the college admissions process. A teacher or counselor who knows a student will write a much better recommendation letter than one who does not. A counselor who knows a student’s interests will be more likely to note when scholarship opportunities become available.

The habits that are formed during freshman year tend to carry into the rest of your teen’s high school career: organization, study skills, volunteering, and forming valuable relationships. Starting early will put your teen at the head of the pack.

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Written by Suzanne Shaffer

Suzanne Shaffer counsels parents and students in the college admissions process and the importance of early college preparation. Her Parents Countdown to College Coach blog offers timely college tips for parents and students, as well as providing parents with the resources necessary to help their college-bound teens navigate the college maze.

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