How to prepare for college app season

how to help your child apply for college application tips

Pictured: Arizona State University sign, one of the colleges my daughter visited

How to prepare for college application season

Well, hello! If you happen to have been here awhile, you might be wondering why I am suddenly writing about being the parent of a college student. Well, I happen to be the parent of a college Freshman, and I also have two teenagers getting closer to college age. When you have a blog, the point is to share what is going on in your life as well as share tips and tricks in areas you have knowledge. After this past year, I have learned a lot about being the parent of a college student, so I want to share that knowledge with anyone who may have a high school student thinking about college; and also anyone with a college student. I hope you enjoy this new series! I will try to publish one article a week about being a college parent.

Since this is the first post in this series, I wanted to start with college applications. This is something many parents have asked me about at school, and in my other children’s extra-curricular activities. How do you get organized for college application season? I know the process can be overwhelming, especially if you, the parent, did not attend college, or this is your first student going through the process. So, let’s dive into my tried-and-true tips for preparing for college application season!

It does not matter if your student is a junior getting ready to start the application process in August, or if you have an eighth grader with college aspirations. This is the time to prepare for college application season. The biggest thing we learned while filling out my daughter’s applications, is that you need to have all of your extra-curricular activities ready to write about. You need a list! Without a list, you might be looking back on your calendar and digging through drawers seeking certificates and records of activities you have forgotten about. Don’t let this happen to you. We went through it. You need a central place where all of these activities are recorded so your child can easily fill out their applications without forgetting about that weekend building a house for Habitat for Humanity or that time your child was captain of the soccer team.

The easiest way to stay organized is with a sharable spreadsheet. We created a Google spreadsheet which my husband, myself, and my daughter had access to. During the fall of her senior year, she also shared the spreadsheet with her high school counselor. It made life very easy and organized!

In this spreadsheet you need two tabs. One tab will have a list of schools your child is applying to, and the second tab will have columns for extra-curricular activities. This includes activities, awards, service hours, and leadership positions back to seventh grade. Yes, you read that right, seventh grade. My daughter had one application which asked for everything going back to seventh grade. While most applications ask for ninth grade forward, this one application allowed her to enter her activities going back to seventh grade. So be prepared!

You will want a column for each sport, each activity, volunteer work (record those hours!), leadership positions, and more. Label each activity, award, leadership position, etc., with grade level. For volunteer work, you will want to list hours by grade level too. The CSU (California State Univ.) app, UC (Univ. of California) app, Common app, and Coalition app all have different ways of asking for this information, so make sure you have everything detailed in your spreadsheet so you can easily enter this information into the application without any confusion.

The college tab will list the colleges your child plans to apply to. You can make columns with the school’s ranking, the major’s ranking, application due date, link to application, whether or not references are needed, does the school require SAT/ACT, and anything else you find you need to record.

I am not going to recommend which schools to apply to, that is a personal decision based on major and which state you live in. You may want to show your child examples of different types of schools. There are two things to look at when deciding which schools to apply to. What size school does your child want? Do they want a large campus such as Arizona State? Would a small school be a better fit for them such as the University of San Francisco? Do they want an urban environment such as UCLA located in Los Angeles? Or would a small college town be a better fit such as Penn State located in State College, PA? Is a public school or private school a better fit or OK budget-wise? Once your child considers these options, start your list of colleges to apply to!

Finances are an important part of the college list. Are you applying for financial aid? Will you be taking out loans? Are you paying cash for college? The worst thing that can happen is that your child applies to their dream school, gets in, and then you realize you cannot pay for it. Make sure the colleges on your child’s list fit within your tuition budget and payment plans. Private schools and out of state tuition can be very expensive. You may want to add a column on your spreadsheet with tuition cost. Another thing to consider is if a school is out of state, how much will travel cost? You will need to consider plane tickets, hotel, ground travel etc. So, factor those hidden costs into your budget when considering out of state schools.

That is all you really need to do to prepare for college application season, which starts in August and runs through January of your child’s senior year. Create a spreadsheet, record activities, leadership, and volunteer hours; and during Junior year, and create a list of colleges. That’s it! It is much easier than it seems, and your child will be organized for college application season! Love that!

Let me know if you have any tips, questions, or both!

Thanks for stopping by and let me know if you have any questions about the college application process. I would be happy to write about it to help you, and anyone else navigating this process.