The who, what, when, where and why of preparing for college can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be! Parents often struggle to support and challenge their student, but this is the first step to set them up for success. Successfully transitioning into college and the workplace will be much easier if you don’t take the easiest road during high school.

WHEN should I begin?

The WHEN is simple…between 8th and 9th grade is when you should seriously begin tracking information. You will be less overwhelmed with college preparation if tracking begins the summer after 8th grade rather than done over a few months or weeks your senior year.

Tips for getting started:

  • Monthly commitments to tracking and planning between the student and a committed adult will ease the stress of maintaining accurate records. Make sure to save certificates, pictures or other documentation as they are received.
  • If you’re a little late to the game, just remember it’s better late than never! Ask teachers, parents, employers, community leaders and even friends to help you recall past information.

Bonus Tip: Set reminders to discuss each section of the college readiness organizer (see below). Discuss what’s been completed as well as goals to add for each section.

HOW should I begin?

Proper preparation and planning is the only way to make sure you will be able to create impressive applications and avoid regret. By the time you are applying, it is too late to prepare.

Create (and maintain) an organization system:

  • Create your own structured system or use the ScholarPrep Organizer to record all documentation needed for college and scholarship applications.
  • Utilize a calendar system, paper or electronic, to ensure all deadlines are met.

Bonus Tip: Save all documents, medals, trophies, and pictures that demonstrate your success and achievements. Store these in the ScholarPrep Organizer, folders, a small tub or box, and electronically on the computer so they are not damaged.

WHAT should I track?

When you start prepping for college, it’s important to know what information you should be tracking for applications. Here are some sections you will encounter on a college or scholarship application and some tips for planning.


Academics carry a heavy weight in determining college acceptance and scholarship awards.

  • Sign up for challenging courses including pre-AP, AP, and dual credit when possible. Challenging courses not only prepare you for college-level courses and workplace rigor, but often give you a higher GPA and lead to a better class rank.
  • Time management and study habits play a vital role in success with academics.
  • Keep track of your GPA and class rank. Maintain a good GPA and continuously work to improve it as college entrance relies heavily on GPA and class rank.
  • Standardized tests (ACT & SAT) carry a significant amount of weight in determining college acceptance & scholarship awards.

Bonus Tip: The ACT/SAT should be taken each year of high school. Set a score goal and have your testing completed by December of your senior year.

Extracurricular Activities:

Find extracurricular activities at school and/or within the community that align with your interests or that can lead to job skills.

  • Quality over quantity. Don’t join and then not be an active, engaged member. Be dedicated to your passions.
  • Volunteer work is as important as a job and extracurricular activities if you’re engaged and gaining skills, leadership opportunities, and possible networking connections.
  • Try to find three organizations to volunteer with to show you’re committed to your community and the act of volunteering, not just an organization or group of individuals.
  • You do not need a prestigious job to demonstrate your work ethic and dedication. All work experience can be beneficial.
  • Scholarship committees are NOT merely looking for the applicant with the best grades and highest test scores; they are looking for well-rounded individuals.

Bonus Tip: Keep track of the activities, position held, dates of participation, hours per week, and projects initiated, planned, or managed as they occur. It’s difficult when trying to remember details months or years after you participate.

Leadership Experience:

Seek out and/or create leadership opportunities in your areas of interest. Take on roles even if they don’t come with a fancy title.

  • Participation in sports and clubs at school can lead to many leadership opportunities.
  • Sample leadership positions include captain of a team, student government positions, committee chairs, club officers, and shift leader.
  • The samples are not the limit. There are many opportunities and some are not defined. Do not limit yourself to defined leadership roles; find situations that require someone to step up and be that person.
  • Get creative and be the solution to a problem by taking the leadership role.

Bonus Tip: College scholarship review boards often look for individuals with leadership qualities. Students who can lead are considered motivated, confident, and problem-solvers. Record and save any documentation that recognizes your leadership roles.

WHEN should I talk about finances?

Begin planning EARLY for the financial cost of a college education because the costs should not deter anyone from attending college.

Tips for starting the conversation:

  • Use the financial aid forecaster to determine possible financial needs.
  • Learn about the different forms of financial aid a student can receive from the government and the college you want to attend.
  • Add financial aid deadlines to your calendar to ensure you have the opportunity to gain all funds possible.

Bonus Tip: Financial aid is like a big pot of money, and it’s first come first serve. The earlier you fill out the FAFSA the better.

Ready to get started?

College preparation should start between 8th-9th grade. Maintaining a structured, organized system for tracking and planning is key to avoiding a stressful senior year trying to recall information needed for college and scholarship applications.

What have you done to start prepping for your post-secondary education? Are you maintaining a college readiness organizer? Let us know in the comments below where you are on your journey to a successful future!

Want a printable checklist of tasks for each year of high school?

Where to Begin Prepping for College