The process of preparing for college, visiting schools, narrowing down possibilities, and applying can be stressful for students and parents. Below are the 16 smartest things parents can do during the college process. Take suggestions from parents who have successfully completed this process and you can manage the college process without added anxiety.
16. Plan for Admissions Testing as Early as 9th Grade
Discuss the SAT, ACT, SAT Subject Tests, and Advanced Placement exams with your child. Encourage them to take tests such as the PLAN or PSAT to determine areas of strength or weakness in time to prepare. Understand the role of SAT Subject Tests and AP exams, which students can take as early as their freshmen year in high school.
15. Create an Email Account Specifically for College Information
Create an email address specifically for all college application information. The account should have a professional sound such as first and last name. Use this address for all college communication including test registration, college visits, and applications. It helps to keep all college information in one place!
14. Talk to Everyone About Colleges and Scholarships
Good information can come from unexpected sources. You might hear about a great school from the receptionist at your child’s orthodontist’s office or learn of a scholarship while visiting with families at a high school football game.
13. Use Actual Colleges’ Websites for Research
The Internet has lots of information on colleges, but some is too general and some is out of date or inaccurate. Instead of wasting time and potentially eliminating good schools based on incorrect data, research programs and majors on the college’s website.
12. Speak to Coaches About College Athletics
High school and club team coaches are responsible for fielding teams, training students, and participating in athletic contests. These coaches may or may not be knowledgeable in or familiar with the college recruiting process. Find out what your child’s coaches are able to do in the college process and make your plans clear to them. It may help to discuss a list of test dates and college visits junior year to avoid conflicts with major athletic events.
11. Complete All College Visits Junior Year
Families can begin college visits as early as a student’s freshman year in high school. In order to finalize a college list and begin work on college applications, it helps to complete all visits junior year. This doesn’t mean you won’t make additional trips once admissions decisions are made.
10. Don’t Be Afraid to Visit Schools that Aren’t a Good Fit
Sometimes the best way to find the right schools is to visit colleges that aren’t right. Seeing and taking note of what you don’t like helps further the process. Sometimes teens need to see for themselves rather than take mom or dad’s advice.
9. Treat Current Students to Lunch During Campus Visits
Typical campus visits include an information session at the admissions office plus a student led tour of campus. Both of these activities give families a good idea about a school and its programs, but sitting down for coffee or lunch with a current student is a great way to gain another perspective. Try to find out more about the strengths and weaknesses of the college and its programs.
8. Have the Money Talk Junior Year
The reality is most families have to factor cost into all college decisions. This doesn’t mean eliminating colleges prior to seeing what scholarships and aid may be offered, but it does mean all parties need to understand the financial picture. To avoid arguments or disappointment once acceptance letters arrive, parents should discuss exactly how much they are able to pay each year for college. Families can use online calculators to determine their Expected Family Contribution (EFC) or the amount a college will expect a family to pay before financial aid is offered. By understanding the full financial situation, students can plan to look for schools with lower costs or generous scholarship programs.
7. Have a Strategy for Selecting Schools
Too many students (and parents) approach the process as if they are searching for “the one” perfect school. If families look at creating a list of schools as a strategic decision it is easier to create a good balance of schools that are a good fit financially, academically, and socially. Strategically, families will want a balance of schools with at least one or two where a student is guaranteed to be admitted. A well-constructed list takes the focus of the concept of a dream school and supports the concept of a variety of colleges where a student can be happy and successful.
6. Create a File Folder for Each College
Applying to college generates a lot of paperwork. In order to stay organized an on top of everything, set up a file folder for each college. Take the folder on each college trip, keep notes from your visit, include all brochures or college literature, and notes on application information. Once an application is started, use the file folder to keep track of user names, passwords, deadlines, and dates scores, applications, and financial documents are sent.
5. Start College Applications Early
Most college applications open on August 1st of a student’s senior year. Parents should encourage students to begin applications before the activities and academic demands of school begin. Personally, I think it is difficult to submit applications prior to the start of school because counselors, teachers, and school officials may not be available to send transcripts and letters of recommendation. However, students can complete essays and complete their part of all online applications in August. Ideally all applications should be sent by October or November. Once the pressure of submitting college applications is over, students can focus on their senior year of high schools.
4. Include Safety Schools with Early Notification Dates
Senior year can be stressful when students are waiting to hear back from colleges. Part of that stress is lifted when the first acceptance letter arrives. As a part of your school selection strategy, include at least one safety school with either rolling or early decision. Doing so assures that your child will receive one letter of acceptance early in the year. As rejection letters may arrive later there will be at least one backup to help lessen the disappointment.
3. Be Realistic About Acceptance Rates
It can be difficult as a parent to balance honest evaluation of the statistics with the desire to be encouraging and hopeful. However, holding out false hope or ignoring acceptance rates can keep a family from developing a realistic list of colleges. Parents should help their children understand acceptance rates, particularly at highly selective universities. An acceptance rate of 10% means 10% for everyone, including your child, with no exception. I have worked with families who have ignored all advice on selecting a balance of schools because they were sure their child was the one who could defy all odds. You don’t want to spend the month of April scrambling to find colleges with space available because all the other schools on your list sent rejection letters.
2. Speak Positively About Every School
Take care to speak positively about every school on your child’s college list. Ideally, your family will share a philosophy that any school on the list is a good choice. By avoiding concepts of “first choice” and “last choice” you support the idea that every school on the list has something to offer. You never know what options will be available once acceptance letters are in and you want to avoid the idea that your child “had to settle” for a lesser school.
1. Listen to Your Child
Listen to your child’s opinion on schools, majors, and applications. Encourage him or her to put full effort into school, SAT or ACT testing, and college applications, but once a child believes he’s done; he’s done. Assure financial and academic backups are in place, but allow your child to take the lead in the admission process.
Parents can play an influential roll in the college selection and admission process. Ideally parents will be able to guide their teen to make independent and responsible decisions about their future.