How to get School Records Organized in 2 easy steps

parents of middle schoolers school records

For parents of middle-schoolers, midway through the academic year is a good time to set up your organization system for school records.

All of my new client meetings begin with a review of school records, like their transcripts, teacher comments and achievement tests. I realize that it’s no small task to keep track of numerous odd-sized bits of paper, sometimes carbon-copied with faded dates and scores. And what do you do with those colorful guides with rows of achievement scores and percentile rankings?

As a mom of 3, I understand how overwhelming it can be to keep track of all the information that comes home from school. When you combine the physical documents with email notifications, it gets even messier . . .

1. Set up filing system first

Using the term “filing system” may sound a bit intimidating. However, once you set it up, it will be easy to maintain. You can begin your child’s academic file with a manila folder labeled with their name.

What to Keep in Manila Folder

Your child’s academic folder at home should hold:

  • all classroom-based assessment reports for each testing year
  • standardized test reports, such as EXPLORE, PSAT, SAT
  • letters on district scoring
  • copies of individual education plans (IEPs)
  • records on gifted and talent qualifications
  • copy of most recent forms submitted at the beginning of the school year
  • grade reports with teacher comments
  • any other email communications related to assessments
  • profiles/inventories conducted at school

In short this folder should, at a minimum, include a copy of any records/reports that your school has on file about your child. Keeping track of these documents will facilitate parent-teacher conferences and help you with understanding how you can best support their academic success.

2. Organize personal projects in a Binder

Separately, you can prepare a thick, 3-ring binder labeled with their name, school year, and grade level.

This binder can be used to hold assignments and writings that your child produced during the school year. I’m not suggesting that you have to keep every scrap of paper that they colored. I do recommend that you keep any journal entries and assignments that demonstrate their creative thinking/problem solving skills development.

These are helpful for reviewing your child’s progress over the academic year and again being able to support them in areas where they may need more assistance. Likewise, these organized assignments can be used to encourage and congratulate your child on all their efforts during that grade year. You will also be surprised how much children enjoy looking through these past assignments and marveling at their development.

Your child may accumulate a lot of paper during the year. I collect their assignments regularly in a hanging file folder then put in the binder as I make time. (There’s no such thing as “having” time for this, so you’ll have to “make” the time.) Be careful not to wait too long before placing in the binder, because otherwise it will seem too overwhelming to even bother.

Why these steps will pay off in high school

I strongly encourage middle school parents to get these school records in order because in the high school years you should transfer these files to your teen!

Yes . . . I said it . . . Your teen owns their high school experience.

Throughout high school, the key attribute that your teen should develop is self-advocacy. If the parent holds all of their documents, then whenever a teen needs to answer for him/herself or request help, it will be filtered through their parents. Likewise, if your teen is college-bound, they own the college admissions process. Do you really want your teen to ask you for their PSAT score?

If you relocate, keeping these school records organized will save you a lot of time and stress with transitioning to a new school. When you’re considering any enrichment opportunities for your child, having these records on hand can save you time in knowing whether your child qualifies for consideration. The same is true for college planning, which always comes sooner than you think. In each of these cases, you will be asked to show academic records and it’s too easy to miss deadlines if you have to gather too much background information.

How are you organizing your child’s school records? Do you have an attic full of loose papers or a file cabinet of labeled folders and binders for each child? Please share any tips you have for staying organized with academic records.

College Scholarships for Middle School Students

scholarship money for middle school students

Did you know that your child can start getting scholarships for college before they even get to high school?

It’s true. There are more scholarships available to middle school students than ever before!

I didn’t know this until recently either—I was working with an 11th grade student to find outside scholarships for college, and we were doing some independent research.

We had a meeting set up to review our findings together, which revealed some very surprising results.

Can middle schoolers get college scholarships?

I was amazed at the opportunities available to younger students, long before they even started applying to college.

I realized that (as someone who is fully immersed in the college application and admission processes) if even I didn’t know there were so many excellent scholarships available for middle school students, how could the students and their families know?

I began sharing several of the scholarship opportunities I found with families who had younger children.

While we’re on the topic, you won’t want to miss this post, with tips for preparing your ninth-grader for college. 

What I’ve found is while most people wanted to know about these scholarships as soon as their child was eligible to apply, only a small percentage actually followed through with the applications.

Can you guess what happened when other middle schoolers did take advantage of these scholarship opportunities?

Their road to college was a much smoother ride!

Of course, obtaining scholarships isn’t the only important part of the journey to getting into college.

Although it’s still a few years away, here are some tips for supporting your middle school-aged child during the college admissions process.

Scholarship opportunities for middle school students.

If you want to start garnering college scholarships early, check out these opportunities for middle schoolers:

  1. Doodle 4 Google—Contestants can apply for this scholarship as early as kindergarten through high school.
  2. Gloria Barron Prize for Young HeroesThis scholarship goes to young people aged 8 – 18 who have made a positive difference on people and the environment.
  3. Kohl’s Cares—Students are recognized for their volunteer service from 6 years and up to high school graduation with this scholarship that awards up to $10,000.
  4. MathMovesUThese scholarships go to 6th, 7th, and 8th graders and can be used for a summer camp or college.
  5. Scholastic Arts and Writing AwardsThis scholarship is the nation’s longest-running and most prestigious recognition program for creative teens in grades 7 – 12. Students can submit art or writing across 28 categories.
  6. The Angela Award—The Angela Award is a scholarship awarded by the National Science Teachers Association to a girl in grade 5 – 8, who is involved in or connected to science.

This is just a short list of opportunities to help you get started.

I encourage you to do a very specific search on Google to find additional scholarships for your middle schooler. It takes time and diligence to find scholarships and apply for them, so don’t give up!

These efforts can pay off in more ways than one.

What other scholarships would you add to this list?

Need a little more guidance with finding scholarships, college applications, and admissions?

For one-on-one support and other resources to help you or your child get into (or pay) for college, click here.

If you’d like to learn more about preparing for college and the college application process, you’ll want to have a look at these articles too:

7 Ways to Support Your Child During the College Application Process
Get In and Get Money: 5 Tips for College-Bound Juniors
Where’s the Money for College? Case Studies of How Students Earned Big Scholarships

This article was originally published on June 29, 2015, and has been updated.

5 tips for college-bound 9th graders: What parents must know

college-bound tips for 9th graders

School is back in session!

The transition from middle school to high school is a critical point in your teen’s educational journey. 9th graders are part of a new community, and their teachers, school counselor, and administrators are there to help them explore this new journey!

As a parent, you may notice some of the emotional ups and downs that come with navigating a new school, making new friends, learning from new teachers, balancing new time and academic demands. I have been there with my own teens and go through it each year with my students . . . in other words, “I feel you”.

Freshmen may not understand the importance of 9th grade in the overall college admissions process yet, but it doesn’t hurt for parents to be informed. Parents can be helpful to their college-bound freshman without “taking over” or being accused of helicoptering. Here are my top 5 tips that parents can follow and still look good.

  1. Start a file of important papers such as test scores, report cards, articles, scholarship opportunities, etc. Although you are starting the file, please remember to give it to your teen well before junior year so that they can be accountable for tracking their progress.cornell campus


  1. Set aside time to meet with your 9th grader to develop their 4-year course plan. Mapping their courses for each year of high school will challenge them to set realistic goals and balance academic rigor with interests. Sign up for our monthly freshman roadmap and you will receive our Compass ReadiGuide for Course Planning.


  1. Emphasize the importance of building positive relationships with ALL of their teachers. Your teen will need teacher recommendations for summer programs, scholarships, and college applications. A challenging goal for your 9th grader may be to meet with 1-2 teachers each month. Taking these consistent small steps can lead to a positive relationship where your teen gets to know the teacher and the teacher gets to know your teen.


  1. Encourage your 9th grader to schedule a meeting with their school counselor. School counselors may have interest/career inventories, ACT/SAT practice tests, as well as information about summer programs or scholarships.


  1. Assist your 9th grader in finding fun and interesting ways to volunteer. Volunteering in the community provides an opportunity to develop a sense of care for others, learn your capabilities, broaden experiences, and grow interpersonal skills.


This brief checklist highlights what parents can do this school year. However, if you’re a busy parent like me, you may not remember these tips in winter. Perhaps a regular “check-in” reminder would help you stay on top. . .

What other tips for 9th-grade success would you suggest? Please post in comments below.

7 quick tips for busy middle school parents

Middle school

The middle school years can be confusing for teens, as well as for parents! Middle schoolers want more independence from parents, yet they need even more support to navigate all the physical, cognitive, and social changes of adolescence. How do parents balance giving them autonomy and support (without embarrassing them)? Parents with middle-schoolers often feel “left in the balance” as their role and relationship with their teen is evolving.

There’s plenty of parent involvement in elementary years but a lot less in middle and high school years. However, research has shown that when the parents are engaged, kids are more likely to achieve in school, even when they’re older! What I’ve seen with many parents is that they continue to “manage” their kids live at home, but lessen their involvement at school once their teen is in middle school.

Here are my 7 tips for busy parents of middle schoolers to stay involved in the school and learning experience:

1. Get to know teachers

In the first weeks of school, meet the teacher and find out their expectations for success, exchange email addresses, and stay in touch regularly.

2. Meet other parents

Getting to know other parents can be especially helpful if you’re unable to attend all school events regularly. I suggest meeting other parents through any opportunity other than chaperoning a school dance! (Been there, done that and won’t do it again.)

3. Bookmark school website

Checking the school website regularly can keep you abreast of homework assignments, test schedules, and school-wide events.

4. Help with homework but do NOT do it

Checking a math problem, proofreading a paper, asking questions to help your teen figure out the answer are forms of helping. Once the parent puts pen to paper or gives the answer . . . they’re doing.

5. Monitor screen time

Even when it’s hard to say “no”, it’s so important for teens to have boundaries when it comes to social media/phone/internet/video game time. Consider setting a family policy on-screen time at the beginning of the school year and stick with it!

6. Post a family calendar

Help your middle-schooler develop time-management skills by writing important school dates, family travel, project deadlines, parent night outs, etc. for all family members in one place.

7. Make family time/meals at home a priority

Did you know that regular mealtime at home is the greatest predictor of high achievement? What happens at home greatly impacts what happens in the classroom!

These tips have worked for me to stay engaged with three teenagers while working and staying active in my community. I’d love to know what tips have worked for you as a busy middle school parent. Please tell me in the comments below.

“Help! My teen texts way too much”: What parents can do

compass college advisory

Most parents are not pleased with their teen’s overuse of the cell phone. It can be hard to have a decent conversation with a teen when they’re staring at their phone. Just recently, I was meeting with a family for the first time and the son started texting in the middle of the conversation. I paused for a moment and said, “Please put your phone away. . .this meeting is really for YOU.”

If teens don’t have any boundaries when it comes to texting or other screen time, they will use it with little regard to anyone else around them. I didn’t take it personally, although I found his using the phone during our conversation quite disrespectful.teens text alot

What is Screen time?

When I speak with parents about “screen time” use, they often think of cell phones only. However, I include television, computers/internet and game consoles, as well. How students use or misuse the internet is particularly important for college-bound teens as more colleges gain access to an applicant’s social media footprint.

There’s nothing inherently bad with technology. When the use of technology disrupts normal everyday activities, however, that’s when it becomes overuse/abuse. A “normal everyday activity” may be having a conversation with family members, driving safely and responsibly, or socializing with friends.

If your teen’s screen time use interferes with family time, I would suggest that parents immediately set boundaries for use. (Of course, it’s much easier to set those boundaries before high school.) One way to set these boundaries may be in the form of family policy on screen time use.

Your family policy for screen time use can be as restrictive or flexible as needed. It can even extend to screen time use outside the home if that’s a problem area for your teen. For example, during a recent business trip, I went to dinner with a family that I’ve known for many years. Their teen daughter was on her phone throughout the meal, except to eat quickly. I wanted her to feel included but it felt like we were disturbing her.

I talk with hundreds of parents each year and only a small fraction are actually OK with their teen’s screen time use. Are you OK with your teen’s screen time use? If yes, please share what works for your family. If your teen’s screen time use is not OK, what are you doing about it?

4 Tips to Help your Teen Study Better

It is best to start building study habits in the middle school years because poor study habits will quickly come to light during high school when the demands of high school academics and homework load are much greater. Even if your teen is on the 12th, it’s too late for them to learn how to study better. The study skills they build in high school will greatly serve them in college.

Here are 3 time-tested tips that will make a difference in developing your teen’s study habits: (I’ve used them myself and know that they work!)

  • Help your teen set a daily study routine. This daily routine can be 4 to 6 pm for afterschool activities, 6-7 dinner time, then study from 7 to 10 pm. Part of setting this routine is making it realistic for how your teen is involved outside of school and in the community. To really stick with this routine, stay flexible. You can make adjustments when necessary on a week-by-week basis until your teen feels comfortable with knowing that if it’s Wednesday evening at 7:30, they should be studying and not watching a movie on net flicks.
  • Remind them to review their class notes each day. You may be thinking . . . I don’t have time to hover over them while they’re studying. I don’t mean to imply that at all. This means that from time to time, perhaps when they discuss a grade that was lower than expected, you suggest that they should consider reviewing their class notes each day. Another thing they can do if they have a study period is look ahead to what will be covered in class later that day.
  • Designate a quiet space at home (or library) to avoid distractions, i.e. texts, music, and friends who socialize. Designated space at home can be a desk in any room, a dining table, a comfy chair or couch as long as it’s free of obvious distractions. If studying at home isn’t an option, then perhaps suggest that your teen studies at the local library for a few hours.
  • Have dinner together. In all the research that’s been done on what makes the most difference with doing well academically, it’s having dinner together. This can be tough to schedule especially if you have more than one child, nevertheless, it’s been shown to have the greatest impact, even more so than doing homework.

Please let me know what you’ve tried that works.

Check out What Parents Need to Know about Testing for College-bound Teens!