This edition of Participation Station is all about college prep. Whether you’re in sixth grade or a high school senior, planning for college should always be top of mind—and can be an overwhelming prospect. Use these tips and tools from students just like you to make sure you’re as prepared as you can be for this exciting next chapter in your academic career!

She’s the First

She’s the First is a nonprofit organization on campuses all over the country—and the world—dedicated to providing scholarships to girls in low-income countries. After attending the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards one summer, student Gavin Arneson learned that for $400 a year, he could be sending a girl in a low-income country to school. This knowledge inspired him and fellow students Samantha McGlothin, Abigail Mellon, Annaliese Gould, and Sophia Pettitt-Kenney, to found the first high school chapter in Colorado—with the help of their adviser, Maria Indrehus.

After securing an adviser, the next step was cultivating a very clear mission, image, goal, and presence on campus. The founding members worked out what they wanted the team dynamic to look like. Roles such as public relations director and head of fundraising were created to clearly delineate each member’s responsibilities. To promote the school’s newest club, the founders worked to get merchandise into the hands of the student body, such as ordering buttons, temporary tattoos, T-shirts, etc. They also created a Twitter account. The founders then visited homeroom classes and spoke about who they were, what the work was, and why it was important. To engage the community, students enlisted the help of some adults for high-profile fundraisers, including a silent auction at a local restaurant.

If you want to start a similar project in your school, the She’s the First team recommends finding a project that is relevant and that your membership can get excited about. Show videos, share stories, and really exemplify why that cause is important. Decide how you want to help: Awareness? Fundraising? Relief? Volunteerism? And work out how this will look within your club. For example, if you choose to focus on refugees, you may decide to divide your chapter into separate committees, such as a fundraising committee, a groundwork committee, and a communication committee to coordinate projects. The possibilities are endless, but to really make it happen with your entire group’s involvement (and to increase productivity), create separate committees that can focus on separate aspects of the same project while working toward a common goal.

“You really have the power to do anything,” Arneson says. “Your ability to make change has always existed within you—it isn’t a job for the adults. Rather, you can begin taking part at any time, on any day, in any way, for any cause. Sometimes it is as simple as donating to a charity, but, start with something, and do it now! The hardest part of doing something is actually doing it. Just do it. Stop talking about it, stop thinking about it, stop waiting for the right moment. Just do it!”

Show of Hands

How prepared do you feel when it comes to being ready for college? #Prep4College

  • I’m ready to graduate! 29%
  • I could use more info 39%
  • I’m lost! 32%

What tools have you used the most in your college search? #Prep4College

  • Info from school 18%
  • Info from family and friends 20%
  • Online tools and websites 62%

What do you want the most information about when it comes to preparing for college? #Prep4College

  • Tuition, bills, etc. 22%
  • Rooming, campus life, etc. 7%
  • Classes, schedule, etc. 4%
  • All the above! 67%

Your Future Is Bright

Preparing Your College Applications and Essays

Take heed of this advice from freshly minted high school graduates, now college freshmen, about preparing your college applications and writing essays.

“Do not put stuff on your application unless it is something you’re passionate about. Colleges will be able to tell if you put stuff on your application, like community service projects you did one time for 30 minutes and never thought about doing again, and it easily could hurt more than help.”

“Try to finish the common app before school starts and think about which schools (you) want to apply to early. A lot of merit and honors college deadlines are earlier than the applications to the school, and being able to have the option of applying is better than waiting.”

“Tailor your college essays to the colleges you are applying to. If you really care about a certain college, take the time to mention specific things about that college in your essay.”

“Find someone to edit your essays. Even if you are a good writer, it is difficult to edit your own papers. Find someone who knows you well, and ask them to edit your essays. This is not just for grammatical errors. Have them ensure that you are answering the question fully.”

“Ensure that you don’t rush to finish writing your essay, but instead spend time going over each sentence and making sure your entire essay aligns with your thoughts and personality. I suggest you read some essays from admitted students online (; however, please don’t read too many. Soon, their ideas and writing style may overpower yours and you may try to fake your essay’s genuineness by modeling it off another student’s work. If you decide that your essay is like a narration of your journey from childhood to adulthood, try to watch films … and analyze how a script progresses. I rewatched Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, and after analyzing themes, scenes, and powerful moments throughout the film, I tried outlining my own essay with those ideas in mind. For example, my own essay showed the ups and downs of my life, which led me to the climactic moment of realizing that adversity was part of my adventure (like a Batman movie). My point is that you can read other essays for inspiration, but try to find inspiration from movies or anything else you enjoy!”

Senior Success

Top 10 Tips for a Successful Senior Year

Before you know it, you will be walking down the aisle in your cap and gown on graduation day. How can you successfully navigate senior year, balancing academic responsibilities with the college application process? We asked the recent winners of the NHS Scholarship what they would recommend. Consider their top 10 tips:

1. Prioritize. Make sure you keep your priorities in order amid academics, work, sports, other commitments, and—yes—sleep! Remember, sandwiched in with this you will be managing the college search and application process.

2. Don’t procrastinate. Senior year requires good time-management skills. It’s easy to put things off until the last minute, but don’t become a victim of “senioritis” and let grades slip.

3. Communicate. Talk with your counselor and teachers—they can become your allies, your mentors, and your support network. This communication will prepare your counselor and teachers to write recommendation letters.

4. Prepare. Whether you will be heading directly into the workforce, taking a gap year, or moving on to college, you will need a résumé. Remember to keep track of all your volunteer and work experience, school activities, and achievements. You want to stand out among those competing for a job or space at your college of choice.

5. Be organized. Use a planner, whether it’s on your phone or something you carry around. This will help you stay on top of class due dates, school and community activities, and those all-important college and scholarship application deadlines.

And speaking of college and scholarship applications …

6. Apply for college AND scholarships early. Start the application process as soon as you can. Don’t wait until the last minute to submit your application, as it might not stand out when piled in with dozens—or even thousands—of others who have waited until the deadline.

7. Ask for recommendations early. Most college applications require a recommendation from a teacher and counselor. Ask your teacher and counselor for yours well ahead of your classmates. Remember, they have their job to do, too, so respect their time.

8. Remember the “you” in university. College is about you and your future. Be sure to look for colleges that genuinely interest YOU—not your family, relatives, or friends.

Finding the right fit often means visiting campuses, so be sure to budget time to do so. Consider the cost that might be involved with such trips. Visit schools during open houses or, even better, spend the night to determine how the experience feels. Social media might be a good resource for your search process, too.

9. Be informed about financial aid and scholarships. Do your homework and find out what’s available. Apply for as many scholarships as you can. Who knows? You might wind up being awarded some much-needed financial assistance just for asking!

10. Find time to relax. You need time to recharge your batteries. Plan your time so you can connect with friends, participate in social activities, and savor those once-in-a-lifetime senior year experiences.