More than three million students enrolled as first-time freshmen in degree-granting institutions in the 2011-12 school year, and, according to Anna Costaras and Gail Liss, authors of The College Bound Organizer, students apply to five, ten, perhaps as many as twenty schools during the admissions process.
Between standardized test-taking and school visits, essays to write and forms to fill out, it is easy to become overwhelmed.
Applying to college could easily be a full-time job, but there's also the pesky necessity of attending school, doing homework, participating in a sports team, acting in the school play, or volunteering at the local soup kitchen. Many teens also hold down part-time jobs, which doesn't look too shabby here in Fairfield county where over-activitied teens get to the common app and have nothing to transcribe into the employment section!
Here is a list of tips from Costaras and Liss, who have been through the process themselves a combined total of six times and compiled a guidebook for those following in their footsteps:
Understand the process. Anticipate each step along the way so there are no surprises. Read newspapers, magazines, follow television and radio features and talk to other parents. You may also want to become familiar with the many free online college resource guides and follow college admissions blogs. Visit individual school websites to identity admissions requirements, as they differ from school to school. Know what to expect and be informed. The greatest support you can offer your child is to arm yourself with information to effectively guide them.
Plan ahead. Become familiar with the alphabet soup of standardized tests: ACT, SAT, SAT subject tests, AP, IB … Map out a game plan— help your child determine which tests to take and when. The high school guidance counselor is a great resource— take advantage of their expertise. Have your child consult their counselor to make sure this test schedule fits into their curriculum and is feasible. Talk with your child about standardized test prep alternatives: on their own, in a group class or with a tutor. Suggest they also take advantage of the many free tests available online.
Search together. Help your child make a preliminary list of colleges to research. Although challenging, this is also an exciting part of the college process. Buy or borrow a college guidebook and familiarize yourselves with the vast array of choices. Whether visiting online or on campus, attending a college fair or meeting with the school counselor, this is the time to begin a dialogue that will help your child discover what type of college experience they want.
Work together to create a final list. Applying to a balanced mix of safety, target and reach schools, both academically and financially will result in a number of options for your child to choose from at decision time.
Manage Deadlines. A missed deadline is a lost opportunity and there are so many deadlines to keep track of. The Common Application, individual school applications and supplements, financial aid applications and supporting documents, and scholarships all have their own distinct due dates.
Encourage your child to create a master list to keep track of the myriad deadlines. Remember all the responsibilities and commitments your child is juggling. Help them to keep pace with their school and applications workloads in order to successfully complete their work on time and avoid becoming overwhelmed.
Provide tools. First, suggest your child list all their user names and passwords in one easy-to-find place. Standardized test websites, the Common App, individual school and financial aid sites all require user names and passwords that your child will refer to over and over. You can’t imagine how many times they will be asked to provide this information. Next, buy your child a back-up device. Avoid a meltdown by encouraging your child to get into the habit of saving all their work throughout the process. Finally, avoid the clutter and devise a filing system (think: a big box and folders) to organize the massive quantities of paper that will be collected and created throughout the process.
Stay positive and keep calm. With a well-managed system, you too can survive the process — and your child will come out with an acceptance letter in hand.