Your Guide To Organizing The College Research And Application Process
If you have a high school junior in your house, then you’ve figured out by now that this is the key year for college planning. The process can be a well-orchestrated symphony, or a white-knuckled roller coaster ride, depending on what you and your kids do together to prepare for success.
Getting organized now will position your soon-to-be freshman on the right path to college.
You and your child will be communicating with many different colleges and advisors, so create a dedicated email address that you can both access, and use it for all your college-related correspondence. To choose an address that gives an appropriate impression, think of something straightforward and skip anything funny or suggestive. Also, designate a location to collect all incoming snail mail from or about colleges, and get in the habit of reviewing the contents regularly.
Help your kids design a map to matriculation.
The best first step toward a successful road to college is the creation of a family College Calendar. Sit down with your kids and a laptop, wall computer or a large white board – whatever works best for you all – and create a College Calendar to outline every date or deadline throughout the college research and application process.
Plan weekly and monthly action item lists so it’s easier to stay on top of college-related tasks and conduct regularly scheduled strategy sessions with your student and set and track goals related to the application process. This is going to be a collaborative effort, and with applications, campus visits, interviews and more, you are going to have a lot of moving parts to coordinate. Having a plan in place early on will make things run more smoothly.
Brainstorm with your student on topics such as:
- What are the most important criteria for choosing a college
- Which programs or resources will make the most of the college years
- How many in-person/online college fairs or presentations do you want to attend
- Where are the potential financial aid sources
- Who can be considered as recommendation sources (mentors, advisors, teachers, employers, etc.)
Get ready for the long game.
The key to getting organized is not taking on more than you can handle at any given stage of the process. Below, we’ve covered some key activities you and your high school juniors should be working on over the next year. It is by no means an exhaustive list, so be sure to fill it in with the unique subject matter specific to your kids.
- Schedule upcoming tests and study/prep. Plot important test dates (PSAT, SAT, ACT, AP exams, etc.) on your College Calendar.
- List all colleges of interest. Begin with the main criteria (consider location, cost, available majors and special programs). Rank them in order of importance.
- Research financial aid options. Create a list of all grants, scholarships, and loans that you want to look into. Narrow down the opportunities for which you and your student are eligible and map out deadlines on the family’s College Calendar.
- Meet with their Guidance Counselor. It’s important to get on the same page as your kid’s counselor this year, as they are about to embark on the college application process.
- Begin SAT preparation. Review PSAT results with your child and use the included score report to formulate an SAT study plan. Most juniors take standardized tests in the winter or spring, with an opportunity to retake them in the fall of senior year.
- Assess extracurricular activities and alter as needed. Colleges look for commitment to non-academic pursuits and responsibilities. Make sure your student is sufficiently engaged in varied activities, preferably in a leadership role.
- Set up a filing system for college information. Create a binder with individual folders for each college to which your child plans to apply. Use this binder to collect all correspondence, and as a go-to resource for tracking deadlines and filing fees, recommendations and essays.
- Narrow down your target list of colleges. Determine how many applications your child will send and determine all the requirements for each (tuition, information, entrance exams and other requirements, housing options, financial aid, etc.).
- Search for scholarships. The sooner you start looking for scholarships, the easier it will be to select some to apply to during your senior year. When you’ve identified the available scholarship opportunities, note the associated deadlines on your College Calendar.
- Collect applications. Contact all the colleges on your target list and request applications be sent to your student.
- Request recommendations. Consider the people who would be best positioned to write you a glowing letter of recommendation. Ask early, before they are inundated with other students’ requests.
- Plan campus visits. To further narrow down the colleges your student is considering, plan to visit the top contenders together. Look into campus tours at the top 3-5 choices, and reach out to their admissions offices for advice on making the most of your visit. When visiting colleges, plan ahead so make sure you are able to schedule an interview, a tour, and any other on-campus activities that interest you and your child.
- Start working on application essays. Summer is a great time for your kids to contemplate subjects and substance for their college entrance essays. Have them draft outlines of the possible essays for their applications, to get ahead of schedule and identify trouble spots early on.
- Make early decision preparations. If your child is planning to apply early decision to a top choice school, make sure they begin working on their application as early as possible to meet the accelerated deadlines.
As your students are going through these important steps, make sure you arm them with the other tools they’ll need to stay on track during their freshman year. Plan to talk with them about topics like how to make smart food choices, and creating and managing a household budget. Helping them adjust to the routine of these life-management tasks now will make it easier for these young adults to adhere to them when they’re away from home.
In college, being organized will put your child light years ahead of the kid who can’t even find their class syllabus. If you approach it together, with clear goals and a sensible schedule, you will be laying the groundwork for an organized approach to college itself. Is your family facing this daunting time of essays and ACT scores? What are you finding the most challenging or confusing aspect to be? Share your stories in the comments below and let others learn from your experiences.