As the college admissions season ramps up for high school seniors and their families, it’s easy for students and parents to feel overwhelmed. Three of us here at MEFA, Jennifer Bento-Pinyoun, Lori Seuch, and Julie Shields-Rutyna, talk frequently about understanding this process first hand. We all helped our children walk through college application season, and sympathize greatly with parents and students during this time of year. We put our heads together to come up with our advice for families to survive the chaos and tackle the many tasks that need to be accomplished over the next several months.

Looking at Schools

  • To the extent you can visit a college, you should, and if possible, do so during a time when the campus is active. You want to get a feel for school spirit, vibe, and infrastructure.
  • Easier said than done, but don’t get hung up on rankings or image. Find the school that’s right for you.

Staying Organized

  • Students: Check in with your counselor intermittently to make sure you’re on track with deadlines.
  • Parents: Let your child work with his or her school counselor to fine tune the process. I found that it was good to remove myself from the nagging piece and let the counselor be the “bad cop” instead of me.
  • Keep track of admissions and financial aid deadlines. Since these vary from school to school, they are easy to miss, and colleges do not offer extensions.

Keeping Calm & Staying Balanced

  • Parents: Stay in tune with any worries, questions, or anxieties your student feels about post-secondary plans. Make certain the student is directing the path, not the parent.
  • Spend quality time as a family doing something that doesn’t include all of the pressures of post-secondary planning. It’s a lot for everyone, so take a break when you can.
  • Parents: talk to your student about other things besides this college process. If you only talk about this topic, it puts extra pressure on the student about where these decisions fall in the scheme of life.
  • Pick a set time each week to discuss together how the admissions process is going. It does no one any good for the parent to be asking the student about it daily. The student will just shut down.

Applying

  • Students: Apply to at least one school where you KNOW you will get accepted AND where you are excited to attend.
  • Keep an open mind. Students: apply to a number of colleges where you can see yourself being happy. If you fall in love with one college but don’t receive enough financial aid to attend, you want to have other great options and choices so you don’t make an unwise financial choice.
  • Students: Get started on the Common App by completing the demographic information so you can feel like a piece has been accomplished and at the same time, get a sense for what else will be needed.
  • Students: Start the essay by doing a brief outline: the topic, one sentence of an intro, one sentence on the meat of the topic, and one sentence for the conclusion. Come up with an opening sentence that will draw in the admissions officer and differentiate you from the herd.
  • Students: Read your finished essay backwards. It will always point out spelling issues, repeat words, or ways to improve a sentence.
  • Parents: don’t write your student’s essay. It will be very obvious to the admissions office that it’s not the student’s own voice.
  • Students: Your high school transcript is a key piece of your applications, and senior year grades are as important as any other. This is not a time to take a break and nose dive.
  • Students: Make sure your teacher recommender is one that you’re very confident with. My son used to ask a lot of questions in a certain class; this should be seen as good. His teacher may have described his question-asking as a form of challenging the teacher. This could have been misinterpreted by an admissions officer.

Paying

  • It’s never too early to start looking (and applying) for scholarships. Students: Use MEFA Pathway to search for scholarships and make a list of those of interest. Parents: Check to see if any scholarships are offered for students at your workplace.
  • Complete your financial aid forms: the FAFSA and (if applicable) the CSS Profile as soon after October 1st as you can. This will just take away the stress of rushing to meet any college financial aid deadlines. If you don’t know all the colleges you are applying to in October, that’s okay. You can add colleges to the FAFSA and CSS Profile when you decide to apply.
  • If finances are an issue (and they are for most families), be sure to have a college or two that is a financial safety school on your list. This could mean a community college or a college where it would be feasible for the student to commute.

Need some additional guidance on applying to college? Watch our College Admissions webinar. It covers the entire process from beginning to end, and provides a lot of helpful resources.