College Admission Information: How to get through the the few months before applications are due!
You’ve been harping on them since summer, maybe even before that:
“Practice for the ACT or SAT.”
“Look at colleges you want to apply to, let’s plan a visit.”
“Go talk to your high school counselor.”
“Stop rolling your eyes!”
Sometimes the first semester of senior year can feel a bit like being a mama bird in a nest that’s too small. Your child is ruffling his feathers, flitting about, trying to fly out of the nest but not quite ready. Meanwhile, clashing with you and the rest of the members of the family left and right. Think about it, as stressed as you are, so is your senior. Here are some things you can do to help reduce the feather ruffling in your own nest.
Plan a meeting: Before you hire another tutor to bring that ACT or SAT score up a couple more points, or schedule that college visit, plan a meeting with your high school student. Your child spends all day, every day discussing, listening to others, or thinking about college. Every time you bring it up, no matter what the circumstances, you add to the anxiety. Plan a day and time for you and your child and any other important stakeholders to meet and have a mature discussion about where you are in the admissions process. We recommend this meeting be monthly and planned as early in the process as possible, as early as junior year, but now it should be weekly, and perhaps several times a week as deadlines draw near. Like any business meeting have an agenda and make sure everyone knows what his or her part in the meeting will be. You are working together on this project. Review deadlines, discuss college visits, plan what needs to be done that week and before the next meeting. They know they have to study for the test, pick the college, talk to the counselor, write the essays, and think about what they want to major in–no stress there! The carpool discussions on the way home won’t suffice for this situation. Your child is going to graduate from high school in a couple of months. It is time you treated him like an adult.
Let them lead, but educate yourself: If you don’t know what Naviance is, ask your senior how to log in (if they don’t know either, they need to talk to their counselor NOW!) Naviance is a program used by most high schools for all college related information. You have access as a parent (contact your school counselor if you don’t know how to log in). Educate yourself on how it works. Students will submit requests for recommendations letters, apply through the Common Application, review deadlines, and even search for scholarships through this portal. It is necessary in most American high schools to have a working knowledge of it in order to apply to college as seamlessly as possible. There are also many free websites that can help with the college selection process. Two we like are:
https://www.collegedata.com, straight data, no fuss, no muss. Your senior can create an account and search for colleges based on preferences and affordability.
https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org, yep, that College Board, the same one that administers the SAT and AP tests. They have a great site that allows students to explore, compare, and save lists of potential colleges. There is a huge amount of information out there. We recommend you steer clear of websites that are subjective and rank colleges. Ultimately finding the right fit college is the goal, not being at a school deemed the best by an arbitrary set of criteria.
Talk about finances: We really hope by the time your child is a senior and up to her eyeballs in the admissions process that you have spoken with her about how to pay for that dream college. We believe very strongly that a “dream” college isn’t really a dream college if there isn’t a plan to pay for it. At those regular meetings mentioned above discuss your expectations about paying for college. This should happen before the college search begins, but if it hasn’t already, it needs to begin now.
FILE THE FAFSA! If you don’t know what this is, go here now: https://fafsa.ed.gov
You can’t receive Federal Student Aid (grants and loans) without it, and in some cases you won’t receive merit aid from a college until they see it. Even if you think your EFC (estimated family contribution, what the government thinks you can afford to put toward tuition based on your FAFSA) will be too high to receive financial aid based on need, you should file it unless you want to guarantee you will be writing a check each semester for the full retail price of cost of attendance.
Keep expectations realistic: High school students, particularly seniors, are expertly hyperbolic, meaning they love to exaggerate. If your child gets a 22 on his ACT it doesn’t mean he won’t get into college, no matter how dramatically he exclaims, “I’ll never get into college!” One of the wonderful things about this country is that there is a path to college out there for everyone who wishes it, but they don’t all look the same. Really listen to what your child is saying in those meetings. Often there is as much said in the silences than in the discussions. Pay attention to what they are doing outside of the classroom; college is much more than just sitting in class for four years. Make sure that your child is on a path that will lead him or her to grow as a whole person, not just as a pigeonholed academic/athlete/musician, etc.
You are going to get through these next few months. This is a difficult transition for you and your child. Try not to take their behavior and words personally, give them some freedom, expect them to take responsibility for the process, and be a collaborative partner, not a benevolent (or depending on the day not so much benevolent,) dictator. After all, ultimately they have to fly out of that nest themselves, you can help by giving them a gentle push and let them soar!
Annamarie Brachfeld, BA, MAEd, IEC
Co-Owner, Monumental Beginnings
Specializing in test prep, school success, and college essay