EAST HANOVER, NJ- The Office of Federal Student Aid, a part of the United States Department of Education, has a checklist for students going into their first year of high school and beyond.

According to Federal Student Aid’s website, the check list is an attempt to help students be well rounded and to inform parents on how best to help their child. The list offers advice on course selection and extracurricular activities and suggests conversations that students and parents should have moving forward through their high school career.

When it comes to courses, colleges want to see challenging courses in core subjects and a lot of them. The checklist emphasizes the importance of Advanced Placement courses and to enroll in them early. It also stresses the importance of keeping focused on the core academic courses.

Sign Up for E-News

“Take challenging classes in core academic subjects,” the Office of Federal Student Aid says on their website checklist. “Most colleges require four years of English, at least three years of social studies (history, civics, geography, economics, etc.), three years of mathematics, and three years of science, and many require two years of a foreign language. Round out your course load with classes in computer science and the arts.”

The list also points out how important it is to get involved with activities early on and to continue to do so over the course of a student’s high school career. They do say it is largely about the quality of these activities though and not just the sheer amount of them.

“Get involved in school- or community-based activities that interest you or let you explore career interests,” the Office of Federal Student Aid went on to say in their checklist. “Consider working, volunteering, and/or participating in academic enrichment programs, summer workshops, and camps with specialty focuses such as music, arts, or science.”

It is important that colleges can see not only a large quantity of activities, but that they relate to future careers or academic pursuits. The checklist urges students to keep a running list of their activities that they should continue to update over their years in high school. This list should include honors, awards and volunteer work in addition to activities.

For parents, the list lays out some very important topics to start conversations with your student. From the beginning, it is important to have an honest conversation with your student about college and if college is what they truly want to pursue. It is important to create a financial aid plan with your student and work to find colleges that fit their needs and your wallet.

Most importantly, the checklist calls on parents to stay involved in their student’s academic life. Parents are called on to watch their student’s study habits and to steer them towards the advanced placement or other advanced courses that could make the difference on college applications.

With colleges more competitive than ever before, keep some of these tips and tricks in mind as the new school year gets underway.