Doing This One Thing NOW Will Help Your Teen When They Apply to College Later

The school year is winding down and everyone is ready for a break. But, if you think your teen will be applying to colleges their senior year of high school, don’t take that break yet. Before you close out the school year, take some time to write down everything your high school student did this past school year.

As a former teacher and current independent college counselor, I promise you that 30 minutes now will make life so much easier later when your teen is beginning their college applications.

If you are the parent of a 9th – 11th grader, you might not know that the Common App, the most widely used college application platform, has a section for high school activities. This is where you can share your interests and who you are outside of the classroom in the activities section.

Keeping track on your teen’s high school activities at the end of each year in high school will help your teen when they apply to colleges during their senior year. (Shutterstock Rawpixel.com)

Your teen can share information about work, hobbies, clubs and community in the Common App

You can share information about things like work, hobbies, clubs, and community engagement. And don’t forget, family responsibilities can be important to share as well. This is the place to show colleges what makes you unique!”

It is tempting to think you will remember everything your child has accomplished in high school, but my years of experience helping students to remember and recreate their high school activities, jobs, and awards for their college applications tells me otherwise. A few minutes at the end of the school year now can save you tons of time and angst later when the pressure is on and it’s time to complete college applications as a senior.

I advise my younger students to complete a simple chart that is broken into the types of sections they will eventually see on the Common App. To help them be ready for college applications, include not only a brief description of the activity, but also how much time they spent on the activity.

You can do this at home by following the categories below or use your own categories. The main point now is to get everything written down, don’t get overly concerned about whether something is a club or community service, for example.

Five types of your teen’s activities to keep track of each school year

1. Clubs

Include any and all clubs your child participated in this school year even if they tried something new and decided against doing it next year. This is a good place to record any activities that take place outside of school such as religious activities or Scouts.

2. Sports

List any sports they did this year- not only school sports. Travel team sports, club sports, recreation league sports all fit here.

3. Employment

One area that I find students often under value is caregiving for family members. If you have a child who spends their summer watching siblings while you are at work, or did the grocery shopping for an elderly relative, that matters and it can be accounted for here. If they did have formal employment, keep track of any promotions or pay raises your child might have earned.

4. Volunteer Activities

Think back to if your child’s club or team participated in volunteer work. Also, don’t discount the contributions your child is making because you think they aren’t grand enough. Yes, there are teens founding charities and solving big problems, but that doesn’t mean small acts of volunteerism don’t count. As one college admissions counselor said to me, “it’s more than okay to be normal.”

5. Honors and Awards

This is not the place to be modest. List any and every honor your child has received this school year. Maybe they won a math award or had a poem published in the school newspaper or maybe it was something bigger. Whatever the size, or the prestige, go ahead and list it.

While this exercise will be helpful when it’s time to complete college applications, it is also useful for younger students to use as a tool to evaluate how they spent their time. If, for example, you both aren’t comfortable with how much service your child has completed, or you realize they haven’t yet joined a single club at school, you can remedy that for next year. Colleges like to see growth over a high school career not necessarily perfection over the four years of high school.

Recently, I met with a rising senior student to complete her activity worksheet. While we were working through it, she realized that her happiest memories of high school happened when she was planning events – both the big schoolwide ones and the smaller ones for friends only.

This realization is leading her to look for colleges where she cannot only continue these types of activities for fun, but also possibly major in marketing and event planning. The time we spent recreating her activities was useful for her college applications, but also it turned out to be an excellent tool for self reflection.

More Great Reading:

More Extracurriculars, Less Screen Time Better for Teens’ Mental Health

About Maureen Paschal

Maureen Paschal, Independent Educational Consultant, served as a student advisor, ​student ​success coach, history teacher and librarian at ​Charlotte Latin ​School for 13 years. Her ​favorite part of the job has always been ​working with students and watching them ​blossom into confident young adults. She is an independent educational ​consultant ​and a member of the Southern Association ​for ​College Admission Counseling. She is the founder of   Paschal College Counseling 

Read more posts by Maureen

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