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Preparing for college

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It may seem like it was only yesterday when the beginning of the school year meant dropping your first-born off to kindergarten.

You got the school supplies ready, you secretly (or maybe not so secretly) shed a few tears about your child growing up so fast, and you let go of her hand as she walked into a brave new world on her own.

For many parents, the beginning of the school year now means the end of your child’s high school education as she simultaneously completes her senior year and prepares for college.

It’s a busy year, with proms, senior pictures, caps and gowns, and parties. It’s also the time to focus on filling out college applications.It’s about endings and beginnings — helping your child get the best out of her senior high school year, while being well-prepared for the first college year.

I’ve asked parents who have already experienced this transition for advice and tips. Here’s what they had to say:

Applications

• Have your child start pulling together a resume and start an account on the Common Application. This online and print application enables students to apply to multiple member higher education institutions through one application. Member colleges and universities evaluate students using a holistic selection process that includes subjective, as well as objective, criteria, including at least one recommendation form, at least one not-timed essay, and broader campus diversity considerations.

• Students are encouraged to consider applying to three types of colleges: reach, match, and safety. A reach college is one that the student is interested in attending, although she may not meet the admission requirements. A match college is one where a student’s grades, test scores and achievements fall within the range the college seeks, although the student may not place at the top of the list. A safety college is one in which admissions requirements are met or exceeded, offering a strong chance of acceptance — possibly coupled with offers of financial incentives.

• There also is the consideration of early action and early decision. In early decision, the student can only apply to one college and agrees to attend the college if accepted, and the college offers an adequate financial aid package. Students may apply to other colleges through the regular admission process, but must withdraw applications if accepted by the first-choice college early. Early action, on the other hand, is not binding. A student can commit to the college immediately, or wait until the spring. The student can apply early action to other colleges and have until late spring to inform the college of her decision.

• Some colleges offer single-choice early action, which operates like other early action plans, but may not apply early action or early decision to any other college. The student can apply to other colleges under regular decision plans, and does not have to give a final answer to the early-application college until the regular decision deadline.

Finances

• Affording college is just as major a consideration as qualifying for college. The first two stops for scholarships, grants and loans are Free Application for Federal Student Aid and CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE of the College Board, which determines eligibility for non-federal student aid funds at more than 500 colleges, universities, graduate and professional schools.

• The Federal Pell Grant Program provides need-based grants to low-income undergraduate and certain post-baccalaureate students. Students are able to use the grants at one of more than 5,400 participating postsecondary institutions.

• Also, each state may have a scholarship incentive program, as well as the student’s high school, employers and local nonprofit groups. Your student’s school counselor and school district are also a resource for information.

• There are many scholarships, loans, and research grants available for those who do the work to find them. Check out the Foundation Center which, among its many other missions, helps students find financial assistance. The Foundation Center’s Youth in Philanthropy and Scholarship program’s website lists a host of sources for scholarships for those studying both domestically and abroad.

Fastweb.com is a massive scholarship database. Finaid.org partners with fastweb.com to help students find scholarships at no cost.

• Students who have financial concerns shouldn’t rule out private colleges, many of which can offer generous financial aid packages funded by local donors.

Other considerations

• The College Board recommends that students complete applications in September and October, get teachers to write letters of recommendation, file early decision or early applications according to college deadlines and procedures, take the SAT if necessary, and, if necessary, register to the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE. In November, students should file early applications by the college deadline (some are due before that), work on regular-based applications as a backup, and file the PROFILE and other college-based financial aid forms that may be required of early decision candidates.

• Shopping for a college dorm room early may be tempting, but you might end up buying items not needed. It’s best to find out what a particular college allows. Also, roommates may want to consider sharing items.

• Some families conduct campus visits, so students can get a feel for whether or not they would enjoy attending the school.

• The student should be working on her college essay. According to the College Board, the essay reveals information about a student’s values, preferences, and thought processes.

• Since there is so much free and useful information on the Internet, it’s not necessary to pay someone or a company to tell students and parents what they can find out on their own. One such helpful website is collegeconfidential.com.

To find the Common Application, visit www.commonapp.org.

To find scholarships, grants and loans, visit fafsa.ed.gov.

The Foundation Center’s Youth in Philanthropy and Scholarship program can be found at foundationcenter.org/yip/youth_scholarships.html.

Updated 4:30 pm, July 9, 2018
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