The college application process is long and hard. It is something your college-bound child will go through most of his or her high school career—yes, most of the four years. Although it is a process for the student, it is inevitably also a process for the parent(s). A parent cannot help but be involved, and his or her involvement is a great asset to the student’s success.
Here are some pieces of advice for parents who are starting to navigate the whole college application process.
- The college admission process starts the freshman year: Each college requires certain course work from its applicants as well as so many credits and so many years of study. For example, some colleges want at least two years of a language under the student’s belt; others want three years. How many years of math and science are required? Also what level of coursework and what minimum grade achievement is needed? The choices in the high school class schedule are very important from the beginning, and if there is academic trouble, perhaps tutoring or retaking a course or transferring to the appropriate course should be considered to avoid damaging college admission chances. Parents should educate themselves about what is involved and must stay on top of it. They must also do the appropriate encouraging and directing to make sure their child is not short when he or she reaches the senior year. By then it’s too late.
- Get to know your child’s high school guidance counselor: Your child’s guidance counselor can inform both of you what course work is needed for a college-bound student and help plan that four-year schedule, as discussed above. The guidance counselor can also fill you both in on the whole college application process. When the time comes to actually start the application process, it will be your guidance counselor who can give you the details about applications, the high school resume, the parent brag sheet, and teacher recommendations. She or he can also explain about applications fees and waivers, admission test dates and deadlines, types of colleges that offer what your child has interest in, and information about Early Decision options.
- Learn about admission tests: Both the SAT and the ACT are important tests that do weigh heavily on the success of college admission. Parents should know what dates tests are offered and when the best time is to take the tests. They should know when the admission tests should be retaken if necessary and which subject area tests are best for your child to take. In addition, parents should be involved in encouraging a student to take a test prep course or do online practice or learn test-taking strategies.
- Parents should encourage and accompany their college-bound child on campus tours: There is no better way to get a feel for a college than to visit its campus. A college tour can help your child know if this is the right place, and it can also help you see for yourself what the campus offers and what environment it provides. Going on a campus tour with your child helps you be involved with their final decision of where to go and allows you to ask questions of the college representatives and to talk with other parents involved in the same process.
- Be a financial educator: As a parent you should want to help your child understand the financial responsibility of a college education. Parents should know about financial aid, and they should be definite about what they can afford and let their child know that. Parents should also talk with their child about what expenses the child will be responsible for.
- Sit and discuss a back-up plan with your college-bound child: College rejection is possible. It is good to discuss that possibility with your child and help him or her form a backup plan: second college choices, gap years, or waitlists. You and your child should look at the grades and test scores of students who have gained admission to know what the chances are of getting into a college both before applying and after rejection as you consider other college choices.
- Guide your college-bound child in choosing a college: Sit down with your child and talk about your child’s personality, his future plans, her likes and dislikes, all to help him or her understand what would be a good college fit. Discuss how a college close to home might help with a transitioning to college life and discuss the possibility of a later transfer to reduce costs or to mitigate an initial bad college choice.
- Help your college-bound child with financial aid: Very few can go to college without financial aid. Parents should help their child navigate the financial aid application process. Preview the FAFSA application and know the deadlines for the different colleges your child is applying to. Get your tax documents and other financial information in order early. Also talk to your child about free monies in the form of scholarships and help him or her search them out. You can also talk with your employers and other professionals in your region to discover local scholarships.
- Encourage independence: Your child is going off, and he or she should be equipped to solo well. Let them go as they get nearer to college. Let them make their own mistakes and then help talk them through how to cope and respond to them. More and more allow them to set times for their homework and give them access to money they will have to budget for.
The high school years are fraught with new experiences, growing up, and lots of changes. Going off to college and putting together a future is one of the big changes. Naturally it is an emotional time, and parents will see behaviors and emotions they may not anticipate. But, as long as parents are informed about what is involved with the college application process and get help from the guidance personnel at their high school, they will be able to hover just enough to provide guidance and avoid the major pit falls. Rest assured, you will get through it, and it will be a learning experience for you all!