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Freshman Year Checklist

freshman year checklist

As your child enters high school, you may be wondering about their transition from middle school. Questions may be swirling in your head:

  • Will they ease into their new schedule?
  • Will they make friends? 

But how much should your budding high schooler think about college in freshman year? Is it too early to start planning? In a word, no but this “no” comes with some additional nos.

Should you pepper your freshman with deep questions about their plans after high school on every car ride? No

Should you pressure them to choose a college list in freshman year? No

However, goal planning and self-discovery are huge parts of lifelong happiness and freshman year is a fabulous place to start. Approaching this year with intentionality and support can set your freshman up for success later in their high school career.

Here are the top 5 focus areas for college and career planning in freshman year. These areas can also help your freshmen acclimate to high school life, get involved, and get connected.

Freshman Year Checklist

1 – Grades

 Academic achievement and mastery is the crux of high school. Freshman year forms the foundation of a grade point average as each year’s grades build upon each other AND most freshmen really don’t realize this. Setting semester goal GPAs with your student in conjunction with a discussion about their personal goals can assist them in conceptualizing how their transcript could look by the end of the year.

As your child gets used to the flow of high school, keep an eye out for dips in grades throughout each quarter. Freshman year is a perfect time to teach study advocacy skills as well. If your student is showing a need for organization, tutoring or counseling, help them problem solve on who they could ask and how to ask for help. Being adept at asking for support is beneficial throughout high school AND in college. 

2 – Get involved!

The pursuit of extracurricular involvement is twofold: to pursue interests and to make connections. Give your freshman some space to try out multiple activities that interest them and to shift course if the choice they picked doesn’t seem to be the right fit. This could be in school clubs or sports, outside organizations, jobs, internships, or volunteering.

One of my most successful students commented on how she made a wish list of extracurriculars in her freshman year and how different her real list ended up. However, having a draft plan and reflecting on that plan helped her focus on being involved in clubs, internships, and summer programs that fit her passion for becoming a medical professional.

The summer between freshman and sophomore year is also a superb time for your student to explore pre-college programs and major/career exploratory programs.

3 – Delve into the course sequence

Sit down and look through the course catalog of your child’s high school with your child. Collaboratively write down which courses interest them and then look back to help them see what they’d need to take to get to those engaging higher-level classes.

Does the senior-level creative writing course intrigue them or are they more interested in accounting? This skill will transfer to college life as well as they’ll be able to monitor their progress toward graduation.

4 – Engage with teachers

Research shows students who are connected with adults in their school are more successful and more likely to graduate. After the first quarter of school, evaluate with your student which teachers could be possible mentors for them.

Who do they gravitate to naturally? If they aren’t connected, assess who else could be a support.

Teachers are a gateway to more opportunities like recommendations for scholarships, internships, and higher-level classes. The more comfortable your student is with interacting with their teachers, the more likely they are to reach out for assistance or recommendations.

5 – Get to know the professional school counselor

Your child’s professional school counselor is the conduit for an intense amount of knowledge about enrichment programs, scholarships, college visits, and open houses. The more familiar your child’s counselor is with them, the more likely your child will get personalized recommendations for classes and programs and be first in mind for special opportunities that often pop up in the high school environment. 


If your freshman is going to blast past these 5 tips with their excellence, stay connected to My College Planning Team for our next post: 4 Tips for High Performing Freshmen.

Kate Kaushal has been a professional high school counselor in the Chicago Public School system since 2011 and has played many roles including: senior academic and social emotional counselor, post secondary counselor, head of counseling, ACT test coordinator, CPS selective enrollment test proctor and master counselor for the district.

She received her Bachelor’s degree in Music Education from Saint Xavier University and a Master’s in School Counseling from Roosevelt University. Prior to 2011, she worked in various positions in social service, including a partner organization to DCFS, a group home for young men, and an experiential outdoor education camp for at-risk youth in North Carolina.

At Phillips Academy in Bronzeville, she started as the Junior counselor and then moved into the post-secondary arena where she found her passion. She believes in holistically working with students and prides herself in her ability to match students with resources, especially scholarship opportunities and enrichment programs. In her years as a postsecondary counselor, she drastically increased the amount of scholarships (from 500,000 in 2015 to over 15 million in 2019) earned by the graduating classes and received a Data Impact award from Chicago Public Schools. She was also a final nominee for College and Career Counselor of the year in 2018 and has presented at multiple CPS School Counselor professional development events.

Kate is a lifelong learner and is excited to join the My College Planning Team to help families find the best holistic college fit for their child and the most scholarship money possible to offset their educational costs. Kate also has a knack for matching families to the resources they need, including alternate options like trade or gap year programs. Outside of work, she enjoys running, yoga, event planning and spending time with her 2 young children.

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