Fall Checklists for College-Bound Teens

Our Teen Programs team in BGCA Youth Development has grown, and we are THRILLED! Today I’m excited to introduce you to Erica Warren, Director of Programs & Innovation, with some key steps your Teen Services staff should be using with high school youth.

Click here for the Spring checklist!

August kicks off college application season and is an important time for your teen members who are juniors or seniors. Researchers have found that youth who make a plan for college early with the guidance of a knowledgeable adult are more likely to take the steps necessary to get into college. Additionally, teens are even more likely to reach college if they review that plan at least annually. For 13–15-year-olds, this means engaging them in college and career explorations, but for 16–18-year-old teens, there are more specific steps they need to take. In this post, I share things you can focus on with 16–18-year-olds to help them make their college and career dreams a reality.

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Early Fall – Get a Plan Together

For rising sophomores, start drafting a college and/or career plan. August is a good time for them to identify schools and majors they are interested in and to look up course requirements. Knowing if their dream college or program requires them to take Calculus 1 early will allow them to talk to their school counselor to make sure they are on track to take courses required for admission by the time they graduate. Remind teens schedule a meeting with their school counselor each year to discuss their goals and check that they are on track. For the rest of the year, sophomores can start college tours and take a practice SAT (PSAT), start volunteering on community service projects, and build relationships with teachers and mentors who can write letters of recommendation for colleges and scholarships down the road.

For rising juniors, things get a little more concrete. Juniors need to start narrowing their list of colleges and programs. Have them create and submit a list of 3-6 colleges so you can plan in-person and virtual visits throughout the year. These visits will help members determine whether the college really makes sense for them. Early in the year, juniors also need to review the college applications for the schools they are interested in to understand the types of information they will need to submit and the types of essay questions they will be expected to answer. College applications change annually, so there is no reason for them to complete an application, but these essay questions can be useful Power Hour filler activities.

August and September are critical for high school seniors. First, if they have not taken their SAT and/or ACT and the schools they want to attend require those tests, they need to get registered now. Seniors also need to identify the 3-5 schools they will be applying to, download the applications, and start writing the essays. They also need to request letters of recommendation for any colleges that require those.  The Common App, now used by over 1,000 colleges and universities, opened on August 1. Early decision deadlines begin in October and applying early maximizes the opportunities for scholarships, so if they are certain they want to go to one or two schools, they should try to apply early. However, there are still plenty of scholarship opportunities for youth who apply using regular deadlines, so there is no need to stress about applying to 5 schools early.

For both juniors and seniors, the goal is to put together a plan in August and September.

TLDR – Early fall checklist

  • All Teens – Make a list of colleges and programs they are interested in
  • Sophomores – Determine the classes they need to take to get into their desired schools
  • All Teens – Schedule a meeting with School Counselor to make sure they are on track and registered for the right classes
  • Juniors & Seniors – Download the applications for the colleges they are interested in
  • Juniors – Review the application and essay requirements, practice writing essays
  • Seniors – Start completing applications; aim to work on college apps a 2-5 hours a week
  • Seniors – Register and take SAT/ACT if they are required by their top schools
  • Seniors – ask for letters of recommendation from teachers and mentors
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Late Fall

Seniors have the most work to do in late fall. For youth trying to meet early application deadlines these begin as early as mid October. They will need to know the deadlines. I suggest putting them on a calendar in the Teen Space at the Club to serve as a visible reminder. They also need to continue working on essays through early fall to make sure they are completed and proofread by the application deadlines. Regular application deadlines begin in January, so even if they are applying using a regular deadline, it is best to get the essays out of the way during the fall semester. The FAFSA opens October 1, and certain grants are linked to the FAFSA—like the Pell Grant. searching for scholarships—many places that employ teens offer scholarships or tuition reimbursement, making that a good place to start. Beyond that, look at local chambers of commerce, VFWs, and online. Keep in mind scholarships that they find online will probably have more applicants, so while that shouldn’t discourage them from applying, but looking for local opportunities increases their chances.

The major task for juniors and sophomores during the fall is to start studying for SAT and ACT exams. Juniors will need to register for a spring administration and sophomores may want to register for the PSAT. Having a recent PSAT score will help sophomores and juniors figure out the material they need to study most to maximize their score.

TLDR- Late Fall Checklist

  • Sophomores & Juniors – Start studying for the PSAT and practice writing college application essays
  • Juniors – Register to take the SAT/ACT in the spring of their junior year
  • Seniors –
    • Check application deadlines & put them on a calendar
    • Complete & have someone proofread application essays
    • Collect letters of recommendation
    • Apply early to most desired schools
    • Complete the FAFSA
    • Start a weekly scholarship search

Taking these steps in fall will ensure that youth are on track to meet their college. Check back here later this fall for steps to take during the winter and early spring months and keep deadlines in mind with the printable poster below. Teens can also access activities to support their college goals in the Diplomas to Degrees badge on MyFuture, and Boys & Girls Club staff can find all of our Academic Success programming on BGCA.net.

Download as a PDF here or as an image file here for printing

How do you support teens as they make decisions about their next steps? What are your favorite College prep or Workforce programs? We want to know! Comment below, on the BGCA Youth Development Facebook page, or email ClubXBlog@bgca.org.

About Erica Warren

Erica is Director of Youth Programs and Innovation. Before coming to BGCA, she worked as a middle school instructional coach and math teacher. In her free time, she hangs with her two children, reads, and watches TV dramas. 

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