Thinking ahead for kids in the new year |

Thinking ahead for kids in the new year

by Rose Rennekamp
Vice president of communications for ACT

Let’s face it, our lives didn’t really change much with the New Year.

In reality, there’s not much difference between Dec. 31 and Jan. 1. But psychologically, a new year is an important time to reflect on the past and make plans for the future. For most high school students, it’s a time to begin choosing courses for the next school year.

For seniors, it’s time for the race to the finish line that they’ll cross in a few months when they receive their diplomas. There are specific things that students can do now to make life easier during the coming year. And parents can help them stay on course for success.

Seniors? Now that the end of high school is in sight, it isn’t the time to ease up on difficult coursework. Students should take challenging courses through the spring to prepare for the next step, even if they’ve already been accepted by a college. Colleges notice if students slack off during their senior year and can even withdraw admissions and scholarship offers.

A high school diploma doesn’t necessarily mean students are ready for college courses or job training. Both are more difficult than many students realize. Help your student analyze grades and test scores. Talk with teachers, and find out how he can still shore up academic weaknesses, particularly in the areas that are important to career interests.

Keep track of important dates and deadlines. If you haven’t already done so, complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Pick up a copy at the guidance office or online at And remember that your student needs to formally accept any offers of acceptance and financial aid. Plus, there are usually deposits that need to be paid for tuition, housing, etc.

Juniors need to begin scheduling visits to colleges and should plan to take the ACT in April or June. They should take practice tests and use the results to improve specific skills. Taking a college entrance exam in the spring gives students plenty of time to take it again during their senior year and work on academic weaknesses through summer.

Your son or daughter may have brought home a list of courses available for the fall. Help guide them to take challenging courses that will help them later with their college major or career plans. If they’re ready, students should take higher-level math and science courses such as Algebra II, trigonometry, chemistry, and physics. Students who take the easy route through high school end up paying for it later.

Sophomores and freshmen? High school students should plan to complete high-level courses before graduation in order to be ready for the next step. Parents can help by guiding students toward these goals: four years of English (grammar, composition, literature), three years of math (Algebra 1 and higher), three years of social sciences (history, government, economics) and three years of science (with lab experience).

It almost always helps for students to take other courses as well, such as two or more years of a foreign language, and classes such as speech, art, music and computer courses.

Most of us have made New Year’s resolutions in the past because we’ve made a wrong decision somewhere along the line – we’ve stopped exercising or haven’t spent our money wisely. Now is the time of year to help students make good decisions so that next New Year’s Eve, they can look back and see that it was a year well spent.

— Rose Rennekamp is the vice president of communications for ACT. She is a mom and has a master’s degree of education in guidance and counseling. She can be e-mailed at