19 Oct

5 Ways to Get a Head Start on College Applications

Fall is here, and with it comes another round of college applications. While your student may be excited at the prospect of heading off to college next year, he or she is probably beginning to feel the pressure of looming application deadlines.

In fact, you as a parent may be feeling overwhelmed by it as well. If this rings true for you, take a deep breath, pull out a calendar and a pad of paper, and jot down these 5 to-dos that will help your student better navigate the college application season.

1. Take a Trip

If you and your student didn’t have the chance to visit his or her top college choices over the summer, take some time now to visit the local or regional schools that are on your student’s list or similar to his or her picks. Visit schools that have a similar location, size, and learning/teaching style to the colleges your child thinks he or she wants to attend. Make sure you visit when school is in session.  Take a campus tour, sit in on a couple classes, and talk to some of the students on campus–and don’t forget to jot down thoughts, impressions, and details.

2. Compare Notes

Once you’ve made your college visits, sit down with your student and discuss what you liked and disliked about each school. Choose what key components are most important to your student; these can be anything from choice of majors to tuition price or location of campus to class size. When your student has a good idea of what he or she wants, review your student’s dream college list and whittle it down to the 6 -12 colleges that your student will apply to.  Your student can also begin ranking them; but keep in mind that the ranking is likely to change over the next few months as your student gathers more in depth information about each school.  (My son began his senior year in high school adamant about not leaving California and then when the time came to make a college choice, he chose a university in Pennsylvania!)

3. Chart a Course

With your child’s college list finalized, create a calendar of to-do’s to help him or her get everything done well before each college’s deadline. This may include items such as sending SAT or ACT scores and transcripts, asking for letters of recommendation, and filling out the admissions application.  A large wall calendar, electronic calendar or monthly and weekly file system can all work.  Ask your student which system he or she prefers.

4. Refine a Resume

If your student has yet to create a resume–or has not updated it in a while–now is a great time to start. A professional, organized resume can be a very helpful tool when filling out college applications, and can also be a great addition to scholarship applications. Be sure you list items such as:

  • Education (class rank, SAT/ACT scores, GPA, etc.)
  • Employment experience,
  • Volunteer work,
  • Leadership roles (club presidency, ASB, etc.)
  • Club involvement,
  • Scholarship awards, and
  • Non-monetary awards.

5. Brainstorm and Write the Essay

Most colleges and universities require an essay or “personal statement” in addition to the traditional application questions. In many cases, your student should be able to write one essay and make only minor edits to be able to use it for any of the colleges he or she will be applying to.  Have your student read all the essay prompts from all of the college applications he or she will be submitting to find common themes that will make it possible to recycle written material.

A personal statement should not be repetition of the accomplishments listed on your child’s resume, but instead it should be an illustration of his or her character and core values. It should show a side of your student the admissions committee would not be able to discern from the application alone.  The key is for your student to write so the readers feel they are truly getting to know your student and that your student has left a positive impression and will be remembered long after his or her application has been put down.

Start by brainstorming some topics and experiences that your child has found to be meaningful in his or her life.  It can be helpful for a student to “get in the groove” by telling their story out loud to you or another family member.  Don’t be tempted to do any of your student’s writing – this is a task your student needs to handle. It is important your student take on this responsibility alone and can thereafter fully experience the gratification of knowing that through his or her effort, a number of colleges offer an invitation to be part of their freshman class.  Being responsible for filling out their own college applications is a very important piece of a high school student’s maturation process.  CollegeBoard, by the way, has a helpful page of Do’s and Don’t for the College Essay.

All the best,
Deborah Fox


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2 Responses to “5 Ways to Get a Head Start on College Applications”

  1. 1
    Pay for College Blog - Tips on reducing the cost of college Says:

    […] One of the best ways to save while making college visits is to stay close to home. Last month I suggested visiting nearby schools similar to those to which your student has applied. This is a tip I give to clients all the time, […]

  2. 2
    Pay for College Blog » Blog Archive » Making College Visits in a Tough Economy Says:

    […] One of the best ways to save while making college visits is to stay close to home. Last month I suggested visiting nearby schools similar to those to which your student has applied. This is a tip I give to clients all the time, […]

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