If you are the parent or Learning Coach of a high school senior who plans to start college next fall, now is the time to prompt him or her to get serious about college applications. Downtime during the winter break can be an excellent opportunity to tackle the paperwork involved, including:
- Completing applications for selected colleges
- Applying for scholarships
- Collecting information and/or filling out the FAFSA (financial aid form)
- Gathering resume information
- Contacting possible references
Here are a few details, hints, and reminders to help you guide the process:
- Direct Your Senior to Our Twitter Chat: Plan now to attend our live Twitter chat, Virtual High School and Beyond, on Wednesday, December 5, from 8:00 to 9:00 p.m. EST. Katy Brennan, manager of counseling services at Ohio Connections Academy, will be there in real time to answer your questions about the college and financial aid application process and other aspects of planning for your student’s future. Follow us @connectionsacad and Tweet your questions using the hashtag #askconnections.
- Drill Down on Deadlines: Encourage your student to search college websites and write down the required steps of the application process and deadlines that must be met. Most four-year colleges and universities begin accepting applications in the fall; community colleges and vocational schools typically start early in January. If your teen will be applying to many schools, suggest that he or she consider making a spreadsheet to keep track of deadlines for admissions, including applications, testing, essays, recommendations, and transcripts.
- Pursue Scholarships: Ask your teen to investigate scholarship opportunities at the schools where he or she will be applying for admission. Many school-based scholarship applications are due in February or March. Add these deadlines to the spreadsheet so your student is sure to submit scholarship paperwork in time.
- Get Familiar with the FAFSA: Use free time during winter breaks to start working together on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. It may be helpful to work on the FAFSA as your family prepares to file income tax returns—both forms include a lot of the same information. To get a list of deadlines by state and what’s needed to complete the form, download a PDF. FAFSA forms will be accepted starting January 1, and yours can be sent to several different schools if you are not yet sure which one your child will be attending. The earlier you get the application in, the more likely your student is to be eligible for scholarships and grants—instead of loans that have to be paid back once he or she graduates from college.
- Build a Resume: Students probably won’t be asked to submit a resume with their admissions applications, but drafting one can be extremely valuable. Compiling information in a chronological format, all in one place, will put details such as dates, names, addresses, and phone numbers at their fingertips as they complete online or “hard copy” applications. Encourage your teen to include jobs, honors and awards, extracurricular activities, and volunteer work. Bonus points: Having a resume ready can give students a jump-start in looking for summer or on-campus jobs.
- Talk to References: Chat with your teen about which adults would be good to use as references for college applications. The list could include teachers, employers, coaches, scout leaders, clergy, or other adults who are familiar with your teen’s accomplishments. Remind your student that it’s a good idea—and good manners—to call potential references first to ask if they’d be willing to participate by writing a letter of recommendation. It’s advisable to make your request at least a few weeks before recommendations are due and to provide a copy of the student’s resume for reference. It’s also important to let people know what they may be asked about if an admissions representative or scholarship committee member calls them.
Taking these actions during breaks in the school calendar will help you and your student make significant progress in what can be a somewhat mind-boggling process. Just take it one step at a time and remember that the effort is for a great cause: helping your teen get the education that will help him or her achieve success in life!
If your family has previously survived the college application frenzy, can you offer any ideas to help other teens and parents make the process go more smoothly? Post your brightest and best suggestions in the comments below.