Unless you’re in the college admissions circle, it’s tough to know what really needs to be done to plan for college. Sure, the high school can support you here. But parents typically need to do some digging to understand what exactly is involved for their teenagers.
It’s definitely not an intuitive process.
It’s helpful for you to know that there are 4 essential pieces to the planning puzzle that need to be in place during high school to ensure your teen is ready for college admissions. Set a plan in motion for each of these categories, and add them to the calendar now to prevent a nerve-wracking, rushed and clumsy experience later.
Download this visual timeline to know exactly when to complete each of the following steps:CLICK HERE to get Lea’s FREE Visual Timeline for College Planning
1. Meeting with the Guidance Counselor
The high school guidance counselor is an invaluable resource for getting the whole college planning shebang started.
Here’s the short list of what the counselor can help your teen do:
- choose high school courses each year to ensure graduation standards are met
- take the classes that colleges will look for on a transcript
- learn which advanced courses would be best to take to impress admissions officers
- map out an ACT and SAT testing plan
- recommend colleges that fit with future goals
- find financial aid and scholarship opportunities
- understand college application requirements for specific schools
But…students only get out of this what they put into it. Being proactive in scheduling regular meetings at least once each school year with the counselor is key.
2. Taking ACT and SAT Exams
With some notable exceptions, it’s likely that the ACT or SAT will be required for admissions to the colleges your teen’s considering. Armed with that knowledge, planning for those exams now is an important step to the overall planning process.
Students typically take the PSAT or PLAN exam in October of their sophomore and junior year, which is orchestrated by the high school. After that, it’s game-on for scheduling the big exams.
My typical recommendation is that students take the SAT and ACT starting in the winter of their junior year and at least once more after that in the spring. Students should definitely take the same exam more than once.
Not sure which test is the right one for your teenager to take? Check out SAT or ACT – Which is Best?
Another tip: Make sure to register as soon as possible for the SAT and ACT exam dates your teen will be sitting for; this isn’t something the high school will do for you. Register online at the College Board (for SAT) and ACT.org websites.
3. Finding the Right College Match
One of the biggest first decisions your teenager will make is which school will ultimately be the best fit academically, socially and location-wise for him or her. This can be really exciting!
There are a series of steps your teen should take in this process:
- Reflecting on personal preferences, interests and what he or she wants the future to look like
- Researching through online college search engines and college websites to get a better feel for what schools offer
- Asking family and friends for input about their own college experiences
- Meeting with the guidance counselor to learn about schools that could fit with personal preferences
- Attending college fairs to get more in-depth knowledge of what’s out there
- Visiting colleges to see first-hand what the experience will be like
Building a solid list of 5-8 schools to apply to is a serious undertaking and requires some serious self-reflection and research. This should ideally begin in the sophomore year to have a comfortable amount of time to explore.
4. Completing College Applications
Once your teenager has a list of colleges that would be a good match overall, it’s time to apply!
Regular application deadlines are typically around the Jan-Feb time frame; check each college’s website for accurate cutoff dates. If applying early action, students usually need to have applications in by November 1.
It’s human nature to procrastinate, and so many students wait until the last minute to complete and submit applications. Make sure your teen starts sooner rather than later! College applications are very long, and dedicated time should be spent to make sure they’re the best they can be before submitting.
Starting the summer after junior year is over is an ideal time to begin completing it.
Interested in continuing the conversation? Please leave a comment below!