~ Calm in the midst of the college-selection storm ~

college propertyIf you have a high school student, it is never too early to start thinking about the college selection process. There is no need to feel pressured and anxious come September of your teen’s senior year if you take a few simple steps at key time periods along the way.

Here is my best advice on how to remain underwhelmed when planning out the steps that need to be taken for your student to be on track in the college selection game.

It really is easy! The hardest part is choosing the actual school from all the options, (and there really is no shortcut for making the final decision), but here are suggestions to help you plan out your timetable.

1. Take the SAT or ACT for the *first* time before the sophomore year is over. Also, have your sophomore take the PSAT for fun/practice. It “counts” in the junior year, and it is a great first exam to take for the 10th grader to take for practice. Get those baseline scores in!

I have had a couple of my kids take the SAT after 8th grade literally for fun just to see where they fit in. There is absolutely NO PRESSURE on an 8th grader, and if he/she has had Algebra 1, he or she should do just fine on the math section. If they are good readers and do a lot of independent reading, they should do surprisingly well on the reading section.

The point is to take the tests early in order to remove the fear factor and to give the student a good bit of confidence. Anything over 1000 after 8th grade is an excellent start! And if for some reason the student scores below a 1000, you always can say, “What do you expect? You are in 8th grade!!” That is why I say there is no pressure on an 8th grader when taking this test.

If your student really doesn’t *want* to take the test after describing the advantages of taking it early, then I wouldn’t push it. There will be time down the road, but I really, really like my students to take it if I feel they are ready to dip their toe into the pool to test the waters


If you are coming up on your student’s senior year and the ACT or SAT has not yet been taken, schedule him/her for it early in the fall which will allow another try before the deadlines for scholarship applications roll around.

2. Have your students take the most difficult and challenging classes every year of high school. Actually, every year…period. I will qualify this statement by saying that studying a diversified list of subjects is not better than putting the spotlight on fewer subjects but with greater intensity. In other words, allow students to fully concentrate on the basic areas, and don’t throw a bunch of junk in there that will divert their attention.

3. Start making a list of potential colleges to visit. It is rare for a sophomore in high school to know exactly what he wants to study in college, but have him make a list of areas he *may* be interested in, and look for schools that have strong departments that correlate to the student’s best guesses.

Make the college visitation list by the beginning of the junior year, and start visiting those colleges in the junior year. In-state colleges and universities offer the best choice of aid packages, but many colleges out of state will match the funds that the student would get if he attended in-state in order to attend the out-of-state school. (Did that make sense?)

4. By the end of the junior year, the student should have a good idea of where he would like to attend. You should have a clear picture of the requirements each school has for acceptance by now.  You have physically visited several schools of interest, and I recommend having at least three schools on the short list if your student’s grades are definitely good enough to meet those three schools’ entry guidelines.

If your student does not have a GPA that reflects an overall A average, you should have a longer list of potential schools from which to choose in order to have two of three “fall back” schools on the list in the event that he is not accepted into any of his top three choices.

5. Know preferred colleges’ deadlines for scholarship applications/enrollment applications. Generally early December is the cut-off for scholarship apps, and you definitely don’t want to miss these deadlines! I highly recommend putting these dates on the calendar at the beginning of the student’s senior year. Submit apps as soon as possible!

What I do is block out the fall of a student’s senior year on my calendar, filling it with test dates, enrollment application deadlines, and scholarship application deadlines. I try to get the student to complete everything that is necessary for college decision-making by Christmas.

If kids have a short list of schools going into the student year, most of your work is done. No scrambling is necessary as you will be mapping out the important dates on the calendar, and making sure your student has them on his calendar as well. This is a rare case when I recommend looking over a high school student’s shoulder and making sure that these deadlines are met.

Hopefully the student will have a sense of responsibility and will be self-motivated to get everything in on time; however, a second set of eyes is always helpful when there is so much riding on the process, playing the game, so to speak.

Now if your student won’t be applying for merit scholarships, you have a bit more time to work with since there are not these particular deadlines to consider, but I highly recommend getting applications for admission in as early as you possibly can.

6. File the FAFSA as soon as possible in January/February of the senior year. College and Universities use this info for scholarship purposes and basic financial aid packages.

7. Once the FAFSA has been filed, look for what other scholarships are available through sources not related to the schools themselves.

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Once the applications have been sent in and any scholarships have been applied for, you can relax and wait for notification that your student has been accepted! Wrap up as much as you can by December, and the spring is yours to enjoy without last-minute stress.


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