How to Help Your Teen With College Applications Without Being Annoying
by Jodi Meltzer
Itâ€™s hard to believe I have a 17-year-old going into her senior year of high school. Like any parent, I worry about how she will manage the college application process ... but I have to resist the urge to meddle. Guide, yes. Be a buttinsky stepmom with a scarlet letter on my chest? Nope.
According to Jeannie Borin, president and founder of College Connections, LLC, my instincts to keep my distance are right. â€śParents should have a healthy but not overbearing involvement in the college application process,â€ť said Borin. â€śThey can help with time management and organization by obtaining supplemental recommendations, collecting transcripts, reviewing applications, and being open to discussion.â€ť
Adds Susan Antonelli, assistant dean for student life at Simmons College in Boston, â€śYou may dream of your kid going to your alma mater, but let them have their own college experience. Encourage your student to look at a lot of different types of schools: Big, small, mid-size, single-sex, and religiously affiliated if that works for your family. Without stepping on the campus, it's not a great idea to rule out a category of schools.â€ť
There are more than 4,000 colleges to choose from in the US. Talk about overwhelming! Thatâ€™s why itâ€™s important to (gently) encourage your child to do her homework early. Students need to thoroughly research schools and thoughtfully compile their own criteria to narrow their lists. â€śVariables like cost, location, programs, and campus life at each college could determine where students choose to apply,â€ť said Borin. â€śSince there are no guarantees in admissions, it's vital to have a balanced college list and be protected.â€ť
Antonelli urges parents to let kids stretch. Drafting a solid list of reach, match, and safety schools is crucial. â€śI know that it's really tempting to try to protect your student from any disappointment and tell them not to apply to reach schools,â€ť said Antonelli. â€śBut you never know what the school might be looking for as they build their class.â€ť
To help parents with this overwhelming but exciting process, we have a month-by-month college application checklist courtesy of our experts and About.com to position your child for success.
August Before Senior Year
â€˘ Register for the September ACT if appropriate (check ACT dates).
â€˘ Come up with a preliminary list of colleges that includes reach, match, and safety schools.
â€˘ Explore the websites of the colleges that interest your child to learn about admissions requirements.
â€˘ Urge your child to review The Common Application and begin thinking about potential topics for her personal essay.
â€˘ Think about incorporating social media into the mix. Many students create blogs, websites, or LinkedIn profiles to get noticed as a lot of admissions officers are active on the site. â€śStudents should distinguish themselves authentically by actions they take that involve their interests,â€ť said Borin. â€śIt's not enough to tell what they would like to do. It is essential to show what they have done and are doing.â€ť
â€˘ Register for October or November SAT and SAT subject exams (check SAT dates).
â€˘ Remind your student to meet with her guidance counselor to discuss the colleges to which sheâ€™s thinking of applying.
â€˘ Request letters of recommendation, especially if sheâ€™s applying early.
â€˘ Visit colleges and meet with admissions representatives.
â€˘ Request applications from all the schools to which she might apply. Create an account with The Common Application, if the colleges selected use it.
â€˘ Create a chart of deadlines. Pay particular attention to early decision, early action, and preferred application deadlines.
â€˘ If appropriate, register for the October ACT exam.
â€˘ Work on college essays.
â€˘ Encourage her to strengthen her academic record and assume a leadership position in an extracurricular activity.
â€˘ Take the SAT, SAT subject exams, and/or ACT as appropriate.
â€˘ Continue to research schools to narrow the list to roughly six to eight schools.
â€˘ Check the Facebook and Twitter pages of her preferred schools. Many provide timely updates and information.
â€˘ Take advantage of college fairs and virtual tours.
â€˘ Complete applications if sheâ€™s applying for early admission or early action.
â€˘ Research financial aid and scholarships. "I do think it's important to have an honest conversation about the types of colleges that will work for the family," said Antonelli. "Is a private college financially feasible or will your child need to go to a state school? Obviously, financial aid is available at private schools, but it's a good idea to get a sense of what is possible before she falls in love with a college."
â€˘ Does your employer offer college scholarships for employee children? Make sure you ask. You may be surprised.
â€˘ Give her a nudge to get her college essay in shape and get feedback on her writing from a guidance counselor and a teacher.
â€˘ Request her high school transcript and check it for accuracy.
â€˘ Keep track of all application components and deadlines: Applications, test scores, letters of recommendation, and financial aid materials. An incomplete application will ruin her chances for admission.
â€˘ Register for the December SAT or ACT, if appropriate.
â€˘ Take the November SAT, if appropriate.
â€˘ Don't let her grades slide. It's easy to be distracted from schoolwork when working on applications. Senior slump can be disastrous for her admissions chances.
â€˘ Make sure she submits all components of her applications if applying to colleges with November deadlines for early decision or preferred application.
â€˘ Put the final touches on application essays, and get feedback on essays from counselors and/or teachers.
â€˘ Continue to research scholarships.
December - January
â€˘ Complete applications for regular admissions.
â€˘ Make sure all test scores are sent to colleges that require them.
â€˘ Confirm that letters of recommendation have been sent.
â€˘ Submit the FAFSA (Free Application for Financial Aid).
â€˘ If your child is accepted to a school through early decision, be sure to follow directions carefully. Submit required forms, and notify the other schools to which she applied of her decision.
â€˘ Continue to focus on grades and extracurricular involvement.
â€˘ Have midyear grades sent to colleges.
â€˘ Continue to keep track of all deadlines and application components.
â€˘ Continue to research scholarships. Apply for scholarships well in advance of deadlines.
February - March
â€˘ If your child submitted the FAFSA, she should receive the Student Aid Report (SAR). Carefully look it over for accuracy. Errors can cost you thousands of dollars.
â€˘ Contact colleges that didn't send a confirmation receipt for her application.
â€˘ Don't put off applying to schools with rolling admissions or late deadlines -- the available spaces can fill up.
â€˘ Talk to your school about registering for AP exams.
â€˘ Remind her to keep her grades high. Colleges can revoke offers of admission if her grades fall senior year.
â€˘ Some acceptance letters may arrive. Compare financial aid offers and visit each campus before making a decision.
â€˘ Don't panic; many, many decisions are not mailed out until April.
â€˘ Continue applying for appropriate scholarships.
â€˘ Keep track of all acceptances, rejections, and waitlists.
â€˘ If waitlisted, learn more about waitlists and move ahead with other plans.
â€˘ Keep grades up.
â€˘ If she has ruled out any colleges that accepted her, notify them. This is a courtesy to other applicants, and it will help the colleges manage their waitlists and extend the correct number of acceptance letters.
â€˘ Go to accepted student open houses, if offered.
â€˘ A couple circumstances may warrant an appeal of a college rejection.
May - June
â€˘ Avoid senioritis! An acceptance letter doesn't mean she can stop working (my brother almost lost his early admission decision by slacking for a semester of his senior year!).
â€˘ Most schools have a deposit deadline of May 1. Don't be late! If needed, you may be able to request an extension.
â€˘ Prepare for and take any appropriate AP exams. Most colleges offer course credit for high AP scores; this gives her more academic options when she gets to college.
â€˘ Have her final transcripts sent to colleges.
â€˘ Send thank-you letters to everyone who helped her in the application process. Encourage her to let her mentors and recommenders know the results of her college search.
â€˘ Keep on top of procuring student loans. Notify her college if she receives any scholarships.
What are you doing to help your child gear up for the college application process?