School is starting back soon, and some of you may be preparing your young ones for the dreadful, on-going college process ahead. Before you know it, life will become full of college applications, last-minute school visits, and of course, decision time. The college process can be quite stressful, and you may not have the help you really need. Even parents who have already been there and done that realize that it is different for every child because different needs need to be met. There is so much to figure out, like which school is the best fit, seeing if your dream school is really your dream school, and then actually getting ready for that chapter of life once all is said and done. So, how do you prepare for all of this?
Well, I am no expert, just a college student who has been to the rodeo a few times. Here are some tips I wish someone had shared with me when I was applying to school.
1. Start Early
Do not wait until the last minute to start searching and applying to schools. This chapter is important, and if you decide college is for you, take this process seriously. You are about to invest a lot of time and money, so know your worth and what you want, or at least have an idea.
2. Narrow Down Your Choices
A lot of times, we go into this process with dozens of schools, thinking that we are creating options for ourselves. In reality, we are adding more work to an already stressful time. Now, do not mistake this as limiting yourself, but college applications are a lot of work and get expensive after a while. The application fee can range from $30 to even $90. So, take your list and narrow it down to about six to eight colleges: two or three reach colleges, two or three target colleges, and two safety schools.
3. Follow the Money
We all know scholarships are nice and prove to be helpful in the long run. Find scholarships, even if they are small amounts because it all adds up. Nothing is worse than racking up student loans that seem impossible to pay back. There are so many scholarships and grants that cover anything from tuition to supplies. Research what financial help different schools offer as well as school/program specific scholarships. I recommend doing this research before filing for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
4. Reach Out
Life will teach you that half the battle is just being likable, but the administrators reading your applications have little to no time to get to know you. Reaching out will show administrators your sincere interest in the school and will give them a chance to see a glimpse of your personality.
5. Take Advantage of Early Admission
Applying early does not automatically grant you entry into a school, but it lets universities know they are your number one choice, which could improve your chances of getting in. However, you need to understand the different types of early admission:
- Early Decision
Under early decision, the student agrees to attend the school if accepted, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. You are locked in, and while it seems great, many students find themselves stuck with a school they didn’t really want to attend. If taking the early decision route, be advised that you are applying to that school and that school only. Be 100 percent sure that you want to take this route.
- Early Action
Early action is slightly different because it does not bind the student to a school if accepted. You can apply early action to as many schools as you would like, as well as accept your offer as soon as you get it or wait until the spring. This choice definitely gives you more leeway in the decision-making process.
- Early Evaluation
Lastly, early evaluation lets students apply early to find out if their chances for acceptance are good, fair or poor. This allows you to correct any application errors or help you decide if you still want to re-apply come January. No matter which direction you take, talk to your guidance counselor and get his or her opinion. They are the experts and usually know best, which brings me to my next point.
6. Have A Counselor Who Cares and Knows What They Are Doing
No student or family should go through the college application process alone. It gets frustrating and a lot of times families are left in the dark. Your counselor is the key to a lot of information and people. Guidance counselors are usually provided by the school, but it does not hurt to reach out to other professionals in the area. There are a few companies in the Atlanta area whose expertise is in school matchings, but my personal favorite is School Match 4U founded by Mark Stucker. Mark focuses on not only matching you with schools but making sure you understand all aspects of the admission process. He has created educational products for both the student and parents that answer hundreds of questions with great detail.
7. Research Your Major, Not Just the School
Many times applicants overlook the fact that there are schools within the overall college/university. Not every school caters to every degree out there. Do your research and see if the program you are looking for is up to standards.
8. Save Save Save
Not just your money, but your paperwork! We all know the feeling of turning something in only to have it get lost in the transition. It happens to the best of us. So, keep all records of applications, essays, and financial paperwork. You may not need it, but it’ll keep you calm knowing you have proof of everything.
No matter if you are going to a four-year university, a community college or just taking some time off, see your decisions through and know what is best for you. No matter what the next step is, understand that this is a time for investing in yourself and your education. Do not let this process discourage you, instead empower you, because once completed, there is a whole journey ahead.