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Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Herriman High students leave school Friday, May 31, 2013.

A bit of freshness hovers in the morning air, the leaves in our front yard seem to be turning colors, and the aisles of all of the stores are lined with backpacks, schools supplies and specials on school clothes.

A new school year is here.

Both excitement and anticipation clamor throughout our entire beings and we think, “What kind of year is this one going to bring?” And perhaps more importantly, "Will it prepare me for better days ahead?"

So, what kind of year will this one be? Here are a few tips to help you enjoy an excellent, and perhaps even a spectacular, year — one that will bring you closer to your college and career dreams than ever before.

Do better than you did last year

The old adage of “You can do better” never dies. So, do better this year. If it takes tutors, extra time after school, time with the teacher, do it. Doing better clearly demonstrates progress and growth. Perhaps, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s verse captures the essence of doing better: “To reach a port we must set sail/Sail, not tie at anchor/Sail, not drift.” So, your job is to sail.

Focus on your grades

You have probably heard about grades your entire life. Good grades are important — actually, imperative — in doing well in college and in your life, and they begin to count as freshmen. Good grades demonstrate to a potential employer, admissions representative or scholarship committee that you know how to work hard. Most importantly, good grades should show that you can accomplish anything.

If you haven’t been involved, get involved

Being involved is important, especially on scholarship and admissions applications. Plus, being involved helps you become more well-rounded, meaning you add balance to your life, which will allow you to see things in a different light. One caution here: Don’t become so involved that your grades slip, your relationships with family and friends wane, and your ability to enjoy school screeches to a halt.

Take advantage of the field trips to colleges and universities

Most schools now take field trips to colleges and universities. Plus, many colleges and universities do college fairs. Take advantage of those. Talk to as many as you can. If your school doesn’t participate in college fairs, ask your principal or counselor why. It may be a good service project to organize one for the entire school. If all else fails, during breaks or even after school, take a trip to your local college, including community college or university.

Build yourself a table

And I don’t mean a regular table for your kitchen. Rather, build a table that has the following information down the left side: employment, service organizations, leadership positions, accomplishments, awards and any other thing you are involved in. Across the top, place the following: freshman, sophomore, junior and senior. That way you can track what you have done each year over the past four years. If there are freshmen reading this — and I hope you are — be sure to start one of these tables when you begin your freshman year. What you will discover is this: Every scholarship application and almost every college admissions form will request a portion or all of the information you insert into this table, and sometimes even more. Once you have it all on one page, you won’t have to go look for it.

Participate in service

Service is important. Scholarship and admissions people look at the service you render. Don’t minimize this component. Your school, community, church organizations and others are full of service opportunities. You may even find a service project that deals with what you want to be when you grow up. Take advantage of the opportunities available to you.

Apply for scholarships

Perhaps you don’t need scholarships. Say your parents are filthy rich, and they told you they would be funding you. Or perhaps your grandparents set up a trust fund in your name when you were born, and it is overflowing with cash. In reality, that doesn’t happen very often. So, the key is to look for and sign up for as many scholarships as you can. Don’t put off filling out applications. Watch the due dates and do not miss the deadlines. Also, check scholarship boards. Many local community organizations like banks and Kiwanis and Rotary clubs offer scholarships, some large, some small, to their local high school students — but there isn’t a scholarship too small. Also, check out scholarship websites like www.fastweb.com. Sign up, create your profile and then review all scholarships that fit your profile.

Go to the counselor’s office often

Don’t get into trouble doing this; rather, go often to see what scholarships are available. Make an initial appointment and visit with the counselor about scholarships. Counselors usually know what scholarships are available and will help you fill them out.

Keep employment in check

Some of you may have to work in order to pay for your schooling, clothes, cars, college, etc. If you are in high school, think about what employment may do to your grades and service opportunities. Many parents say to their children, “Getting good grades is your job.” I know many students who obtain scholarships worth $5,000, $10,000 or more. Very few part-time jobs will net you that kind of money. If you do have to work, be sure to visit with your employer about the importance of school. Most good employers understand that and want you to do well in school.

Remember, it’s all about attitude

I know you have heard this before, particularly from your parents, but it's true: Your attitude truly determines how you are going to do in life. Try to maintain a positive attitude. Walt Whitman once said, “Keep your face always toward the sunshine — and shadows will fall behind you.”

Overall, whether you are going to high school or college, it’s time to take a deep breath and jump in. School and college will come, whether you want them to or not. So, take advantage and do well.

You may not be happy right now doing all of the work, but in a few years you will look back and say (sighing), “I’m so glad I worked hard in school.”

An Idahoan, Darrel Hammon likes being outdoors, growing things, and seeing things the way they could be. You can read more of his musings at www.darrelhammon.blogspot.com. He and his wife recently served a mission in the Caribbean Area Welfare Office