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College Preparation Tips


National Center for Education Statistics - collegenavigator/   (common data set information)

College Confidential -

Following information is copied from College Confidential and modified a little to better fit PCSD

How to Get Your Kid From Freshman Year to College

Middle School: 

1.     8th grade is the time to enforce study habits. Everything counts after that. 

Freshman year: 

1.     Meet with a guidance counselor to map out high school classes. Rigorous course loads should be encouraged all the way through, especially through junior year. The GPA at the end of junior year is what is turned into most colleges!

2.     Start a notebook of extra curriculars. Keeping it all in one place will make it easier for putting in the apps over and over again later. Boy scouts, choir, honors, volunteer work, clubs, plays, mentoring…everything matters!

3.     Talk about how much you are planning to pay for college NOW. State institutions run $15,000-20,000 a year now. 

4.     Get involved with something you’re passionate about and stick with it. College admissions officers look for interest and leadership, not 20 different clubs.

5.     Know your child's GPA at the end of freshman year and every year afterwards.  This will help you target colleges realistically.

Sophomore year:

1.     Start talking about the kind of college they might want to go to…do an unofficial visit of a large state school, small state school, and a liberal arts college (LAC).

2.     Let your kids know how much money you have to spend early on. That way they understand what colleges are options to them. 

3.     Research financial aid. Don’t assume a college is out of reach because of their price tag. Some meet 100% of your financial need (Vanderbilt, Princeton, Brown, etc). Some have great merit aid for ACT scores or National Merit Scholars. Other colleges have great departmental scholarships, like Rhodes, you can minor in music, get a great scholarship, and have academic as will. This is called “stacking” scholarships. Schools will often give money for non-majors to sing in choirs, play in band, etc.

4.     This is a great time to make a “college only” email account to be utilized for applications and contact with colleges and shared by parents and students.  You don't want your child corresponding with schools via an e-mail account of:   This is the e-mail that you use for ACT/SAT tests, the Common Application, and any contact with colleges.  Check this regularly once you've taken the tests and started contacting schools.

5.     SAT subject tests. Take them after the supporting course in high school during sophomore and junior year. 800’s on these can get extra money!

Junior year:

1.     Start visiting colleges, preferably in the summer before. Plan budgets accordingly. Visiting can be very expensive if you have to drive, fly and book a hotel overnight. Doing this in groups (with friends) to save money on gas, and hotels. Sharing hotel rooms is fun for the kids! 

2.     Visit at least one large state flagship, one small state school, a larger LAC and a smaller LAC to get the “feel” of what those campuses are like. VERY important to visit when class is in session. Schools look very different in the summer compared to the bustle of fall. Also visit schools in urban, suburban, and rural areas.

3.     If sports are important, visit on a game weekend if possible. 

4.     Junior year is very important. Be nice to your teachers. They will be the ones who are writing your college recommendation letters. Give them something to write about. Be a leader in class. Be creative and do excellent work.

5.     Take the ACT and SAT tests.  Repeat as needed!  Remember, SAT subject tests are only offered at certain times and cannot be taken the same day as a normal SAT.  SAT subject tests (1 or 2) are required by certain colleges (not all).  Make sure you know what is required for the colleges you plan to apply.

6.     Visit, Visit, Visit.

7.     Find some kind of community service to be involved in. 

8.     Put all your tax information in an easy to access place. You will need it to fill out the FAFSA and CSS profile before you do next year’s taxes. VERY IMPORTANT!

9.     Some schools are first come, first serve when it comes to merit scholarships. Know this, because you may want to apply before your senior year starts. Some kids do not get money, even with better scores because they waited to apply.


Senior year:

1.     Summer before, start writing personal essays. The Common App prompts are already out for 2013-2014. The Common App is a central website that lets you do one application and send it to as many colleges as you want. You can start this early and then change it as you go, however once you submit, you cannot change it! Colleges often have FEES to submit (ranging from $20-$75) so know that if you hit that submit button, you may have to pay LOTS of fees, so only apply to schools you are REALLY considering. There is a fee waiver if you qualify, so look into that if needed.  Also many colleges will waive the application fee if you previously attended an information session/tour.

2.     Narrow down what kind of college you want to apply to and be realistic about financial aid. Nothings worse than your kid getting into their dream school and then not getting to go because you find out you can’t afford it.

3.     Use the Net Price Calculator for every school you apply to. This is usually on the school’s website. It has you enter in information (from that handy tax file you will have ready) and give you a pretty good estimate of what it will cost you to attend school there. It will give you an idea if you can afford it.

4.     Decide on a safety school. This is a school you KNOW you can afford, and you KNOW you can get into, and you would be happy to go there, maybe not thrilled, but happy. Even our state flagship, UT, is no longer a guaranteed admit. It is becoming competitive and they are being more selective in order to funnel more kids to the other state schools (UTC, UT Martin, UT Memphis). 

5.     Sometimes it makes sense to look out-of-state. RESEARCH.

6.     Make a spreadsheet with colleges and their deadlines. Many have application deadline, financial aid deadlines, and scholarships deadlines. DEADLINES are NON-NEGOTIABLE. Don’t wait till the last minute. Storms, server overload don’t get a re-do most of the time (Hurricane Sandy victims did get 2 extra weeks). After you submit the applications, many colleges will give you a password/login to their portal.  Add this information to your spreadsheet!

7.     Decide and ASK teachers, mentors, bosses, guidance counselors to do letters of recommendations. They need time and are going to be inundated with requests. Follow up with polite emails to see if they have been sent.

8.     Have a resume ready to give your guidance counselor to write your letter. Most may have no idea who you are other than your grades, and grade level. Teachers and counselors asked for these when my daughters needed letters of recommendation.

9.     By OCTOBER, you really need to know where you want to go, have your applications mostly completed, and ready to apply. Many schools have a NOVEMBER 1st deadline, and almost all have early December deadlines to be considered for scholarships. This means you have to have visited, researched and decided before then NOVEMBER. I cannot stress how important this is because senior year is very busy, lots of “lasts”…. football games, dances, etc….nothing you want to miss out on. Applications and essays take TIME. 

10.  Give your essays to an impartial adult to critique. (This may or may not be your parents! I would recommend an English teacher)

11.  KNOW the differences, and reasons, to apply Early decision, Early Action or Regular Decision.

12.  ED is a binding agreement that means if you’re accepted, you are agreeing to withdraw applications to other schools and commit to that school. Reasons to do this? Increase in odds of getting into top choice (you must do the research to see if you can afford to go if you’re accepted). You find out early December and you’re DONE! These are usually due in early to mid November.

13.  EA is a non-binding agreement, however you apply early and find out early. Reasons to do this? You know early and can decide early! Some get financial aid and scholarships offers early as well. Helps you start comparing offers and make the best decision. 

14.  RD applications have various deadlines, most in January or February. You will find out in April if you’ve been accepted. Reasons to do this? You can compare lots of school offers, you have time to bring up test scores, add rank, etc.

15.  Rolling admissions: many schools have this, and you find out very soon after you’ve applied. It’s nice to have a few of these in pocket (safety schools) in the fall!

16.  Music Auditions: some will happen as early as the Fall, but most have January/February dates. If Music/Theater performance is your dream consider doing National Unified Auditions. This allows a student to go to a central location, such as Chicago, and numerous schools come to one location so a student can audition to many schools in one weekend. This can save a lot of money and time! 

17.  Complete the FAFSA. The student and the parent both need a PIN number to do this. Write it down and start keeping a NEVER LOOSE list of PINS and passwords. It will save you a lot of frustration when you have to fill it out every year (yes, every year that they are in college). "our school" offers free assistance for this in early January.

18.  After you have completed the FAFSA, you will get a number called the EFC (expected family contribution). This is the amount the Federal Government thinks you can pay for college. It is NOT the number you will end up paying. Every school does things a little differently. The CSS profile is another tool some colleges use to figure out how much need you have. Even after you get scholarship offers, if there is a school that your child wants to go to, but feels cannot afford, go to that FA department and see if there are other things your child can do to help offset the cost. (work study, departmental scholarships, private endowments all can be thrown in). The FAFSA will also determine if you qualify for FREE money from the government. 

19.  Read all emails in their entirety. Some students miss out on incredible scholarships just from not responding to an email or deadline.

Use websites such as: 
College Admissions, Search, and Financial Aid Help from College Confidential
College Admissions - SAT - University & College Search Tool
College Search and Reviews, Scholarships, College Admissions Chances - Cappex

There is an incredible knowledge base out there, and I learned everything about the college process from these. High school guidance counselors are overworked, have 100’s of students they are working for every day, and can’t do this for every student even if they want to! You have to be proactive and Advocate for your child!

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