Starting a new school year

Kicking Off the School Year with a Plan for Our Teens

The start of another school year is full of excitement. Almost everything is new–classes, teachers, friends, experiences, outfits, and school supplies! (We LOVE school supplies—pens, notebooks, etc. Yes, please!) For parents of teens in middle and high school, we need to start the school year with a plan. How best can you use your time in the year ahead?

When it comes to planning for college, are there some things you want to make sure you don’t overlook?


It’s go time! What is your plan for what happens after high school? Many options exist including college (2- or 4-year), directly to career, adult education, apprenticeship, military, gap year, etc. Careful consideration must be given to the option that will match your child the best in terms of fit and goals.

If they’re college-bound, there are a number of specific tasks ahead—creating a college list, completing the application(s), writing an essay, seeking letters of recommendation, requesting transcripts, sitting for ACT/SAT tests, completing financial aid applications, and more.

The Common Application, used by over 1,000 colleges, opens for rising seniors on August 1st. The early deadlines for many colleges can be as soon as October with many in November and December.

If you want personalized assistance to help your family apply to college and understand what you need to do and be aware of, please read more about our Senior Private Consultations and schedule an appointment today.

Since 2012, At The Core has helped teens answer the question, “Why am I going to college?” If a student cannot answer this question, they run the risk of choosing a college which won’t support their ultimate career and educational goals, or they may need extra years to graduate. Our 1-on-1 in-depth self assessment and career exploration service Guided Self Assessment can help.


You have a big year ahead! The college applications you’ll complete next fall will include your grades for 9th, 10th, and 11th. If you struggle in certain academic areas, think about where you can find support and get ready for the rigor of college.

Get involved. Whether it be in activities inside or outside school or experiences like a summer camp or part-time job, these moments are the ones that shape our teens and provide them with life skills. These experiences help them explore who they are and what they are interested in (and not interested in!).

If your teen is college-bound, the senior section above may seem overwhelming. Plan to spread out the tasks across the year ahead—college visits, ACT/SAT testing, career exploration, money talk, etc. Have your teen look at the Common App right now to see what questions they will answer next fall. (A PDF version can be found here.) This blog post includes our suggestions to help you get ready for the year ahead.

Junior year is the ideal time for teens to take advantage of our self assessment and career exploration service called Guided Self Assessment. It’s incredibly valuable to take time now to think about your strengths, interests, and values and learn how to use that knowledge to weigh career fit. Juniors we work with are exposed to careers they never thought of and can use that knowledge to search for a college that will fit their goals.

One last important thing to keep in mind during junior year is balance. Typically, students have a LOT going on this year. Be sure they maintain a balanced schedule with space for rest, relaxation, and fun.


Sophomores are starting to spread their wings. They are more settled in their high school having successfully conquered freshman year. They may be getting their driver’s license and their first job this year. It is a fun year!

Students in sophomore year need to maintain academic consistency. Seek help when they need it. Engage and explore their interests. They will start to think about the future. Will they go to college? What might they like to do in the future?

Start to plan for ACT and SAT testing. Taking each test once for practice with no pressure is a great way to help a teen understand what is included on the exam, find out if they prefer one versus the other, and make a testing plan going forward.

In January, sophomores will be selecting their courses for that all-important junior year. Their choices can help explore an interest and challenge them appropriately (not too much and not too little.) There are many details and options for our students. Plan to attend our workshops to learn what you need to know. Finally, the second half of sophomore year is the earliest that we like to suggest Guided Self Assessment.

Younger Students

College seems far off now. (And it is!) However, time flies, and you can use these early years just to gain knowledge about the process and explore interests (camps, classes, activities, etc.). Making a plan for getting the most out of the high school years is fun and important.

Start with this — help your teen get to know how high school works. Review the full high school course catalog. (Younger teens enjoy thinking about the options they have later in high school.) Start to understand the basics about planning and paying for college.

Parents can introduce younger students to career exploration by opening their eyes to the wide variety of careers that are out there. One of our favorite age-appropriate career exploration books is Careers: The Ultimate Guide to Planning Your Future from DK Publishing. We also offer a fun, career-minded workshop for grades 7, 8, and 9 several times a year called Heads Up! Equipping Students for What’s Next™.

Free and low-cost programming for grades 6 and up

We’re very proud to be a trusted resource for thousands of families nationwide. We invite anyone with teens to connect with us to receive our free and proactive support. In addition, plan to register for and attend one or more of our many free and low-cost college and career planning events. Families are so grateful for the valuable knowledge they gain about all the various aspects of college and career planning for teens. We have programs about creating a college list, making a testing plan, finding extracurriculars, researching careers, paying for college, and much more. Visit our events page to check it out.

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