January To-Do List for High School Seniors

Seniors are on the down-hill stretch of the marathon that is preparing for college or trade school after graduation…even though Senior year is just approaching the half-way mark.  January is the hardest month for this process in many ways, because all of the parts we have been talking about are coming to a close…the end is in sight, so it is time to pick up the baton (so to speak) and run to the end of the race.

  1. FAFSA:  If you have not finished the FAFSA yet, DO IT TODAY.  Many awards are on a first come/first served basis, and those awards, scholarships and other monies are based on when you submit your FAFSA.  Log in to your account and verify that it is good to go.  If your FAFSA has been selected for “verification”, you will need to contact your college/ trade school Financial Aid Office to find out what additional paperwork they will need.  It isn’t difficult, just another bit of paperwork to keep things on track. Get it done.
  2. College and Trade School Application Deadlines:  these are either already passed or approaching rapidly.  Know the dates for the schools/programs you are considering and get that application IN!
  3. Scholarships:  You will find scholarships with deadlines sprinkled throughout the year, but most of those designed specifically for high school Seniors are also designed with January-March deadlines.  Find out which scholarships in your area you are eligible for, and APPLY.  Ask in the school Counseling office if you do not know what is available in your area at both the county and state level.  Be sure to include all of the requested parts…be it transcripts, essays, academic resume’s, activity charts, letters of recommendation or work samples.  Read the directions carefully and follow them as exactly as possible.
  4. Grades: As you finish your applications for both schools and scholarships, there is a tendency to take a deep breath and relax…and let things slide.  Even worse is a very common malady we lovingly refer to as “Senior-itis”…where dealing with school becomes overwhelming in the excitement of graduation, so kids simply stop making any effort at finishing strong.  DO NOT LET YOUR GRADES FALL.  Both scholarship awards and college admissions have been LOST FOREVER because of letting your grades slide during the spring.  If that college or scholarship made GPA a part of their selection criteria, they will TAKE IT BACK if your GPA drops below their acceptable level.  You WILL be sending both your chosen school and your scholarship selection committees a copy of your last report card, so keep those grades high.
  5. Consider all of your options.  If you are looking at your chosen schools and wondering how you are possibly going to pay for it, ask yourself:  Are there cheaper programs at other schools?  Can I live at home or off campus to save money?  Can I get work-study to help finance my education?  Can I get a summer job to help cover costs?  Would ROTC or any of the National Guard programs be an option for me?
  6. “You must choose…but choose wisely.”  The Indiana Jones movie quote is more true of education after High School than most students realize.  Massive student debt is a huge problem in our country, and it exists in large part due to students studying majors which are not leading to actual JOBS.  If you don’t know what you want to study, then maybe you shouldn’t GO TO COLLEGE.  At least, not until you know.  A great experience at college, no matter how fun, is not worth years of crushing debt.  I don’t recommend a “gap year” because most who take one end up never going to school…but going with no direction is not a good decision either.
  7. Lets re-define a “good job”.  I know lots of students who are passionate about art, horses or video games.  I myself am quite passionate about my chickens.  I don’t ask kids to choose a career based on their passions… I ask them to imagine a day they need to go to work when they really just want to go to the beach.  Then imagine the end of that day, looking back on the work they did with both pride and a sense of accomplishment for doing a great job even on a day when they didn’t have their heart in it.  THAT is a good job.  It is doing a job that fits your skills and talents.  A job where you can both get hired and get paid enough to handle the student loan payments that came with the necessary education to do it.

As January is upon us, it is time for the big decisions to get made, and for the big chores of college preparation to get finished.  It is a glimpse into the world of being an adult to answer the hard questions and make the hard choices.  I hope each student out there has a family behind them cheering, as well as folks in their school and community cheering as well.   Young adults are wonderful, with their energy, vision and enthusiasm. I  CERTAINLY am cheering for you:  GO GO GO!!! You can do this.  You are awesome.





Photo by Braden Collum on Unsplash

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