College admissions season strikes fear and panic into students and parents alike each year. Parents worry about how to afford the ever rising tuition and students anxiously await their admission decisions after grueling hours of endless essays, score reporting, and application submissions. This dreaded rite of passage has become a tradition for many families as parents remember a simpler time, when they applied to college. Even though the process can be overwhelming and often overly complicated, there are some important steps to remember that make this stress inducing season a little easier on all parties.
The first step in the college admissions process should be career exploration. Unfortunately, for most families college cannot be an endless string of trying classes and determining interests. It has simply become too costly for most families. Therefore, it is crucial that students begin exploring areas of interest early on in high school. They can take electives, join after school clubs and programs, engage in shadowing and internship opportunities all for little to no cost. This is the best time to determine what a student is passionate about and also what they dislike, which is just as important to rule out options.
The second step is to find colleges with programs of study in that area of interest and begin developing a list of colleges. A solid college list is going to have two-three schools in each category of reach, target, and safety. Reach schools are going to be highly selective schools and often have average metrics on admitted students that are higher than the student’s. Target schools are going to be less selective and have metrics for admitted students right within the student’s current range. Finally, safety schools are going to the least selective schools with metrics of admitted students that are lower than the student’s. Target and safety schools are going to have the best chances for merit based financial aid. This is because if the student has solid metrics (GPA, test scores, course rigor) the school will want to entice them to accept their offer of admission with merit based aid to bring down the overall cost. This helps parents alleviate some of their cost concerns. It also helps families avoid going into debt.
An important tip is to negotiate financial aid offers with the school. Simply stating that another school offered them more aid per year, but that they would prefer attending their school with the hope that they will rework their offer to make it more enticing. This really only works when schools are of similar caliber and students have solid metrics. Some schools do have a strict no negotiation policy, while others may very well review the offer and return with a more favorable aid package. The worst they can say is no, so it never hurts to ask.
The third step is to start the application process early on. The Common App opens each year on August 1st. However, this does not mean students cannot begin their personal statement or essay before then. They should also have their college list completed before August as well. The schools should be researched and categorized well before the opening date.
So how does one keep track of everything? The deadlines, the essay drafts, the college list, and research can be organized using simple spreadsheets or free project management tools available online. This will help students stay on top of tasks and parents keep up to date with where their child is in the process.
The college admissions process is an arduous one, but by beginning early on and developing a plan the stress and uncertainty can be alleviated.