Help Your High Schooler Get Organized to Apply for College

By Sarah Welch and Alicia Rockmore

Applying to college is at once exciting and daunting. Where do you want to go? What do you want to study? How are you going to pay for it? And then there are the interviews, essays, and teacher recommendations. All of this on top of the regular load of schoolwork, sports, activities, and yes, a social life (we are talking about teenagers here). How can you help as a parent? What can you do to get your teen set on the right path?

Sarah on “it’s not your application”

“Parents want to help their kids as much as they can. You gave them their first push on the swings and helped them with their addition, so it’s only natural that you want to help them with their college application process, but there’s only so much you can do. You have to remember that it’s their responsibility and their project and while you can guide them, you can’t take full control. The most supportive thing you can do is to have them formally “book time” on your calendar for proofreading essays (build in two proofreading work sessions) and finalizing financial aid applications. It gives them deadlines to work to that won’t upend your life.”

Alicia on “teaching a good lesson”

“I have many years before I have to worry about going through this with my daughter, but I see some of my friends who are in the thick of it now and, from the outside looking in, I’m planning to look at it as one (potentially last) great big lesson to teach her. If I take over, what kind of lesson does that give her? I don’t want her going off to college without the skills necessary to take charge of her life and by shepherding the whole process, I’d be doing that.”

Here are three ways to help with the process:

1. Plan, Plan, Plan and Mark it All in a Calendar.

Have your teenager sit down at the beginning of the year with a marker and calendar and compile all of the important dates and deadlines for school and for college applications. Once they are done, sit down with them and have them go over their plan of attack with you. If they have a sense of when things are due and what needs to get done when, they’ll have a much better chance of doing it on time rather than scrambling at the last minute.

2. Recommendation Letters.

These gems are one of the most important parts of an application, so remind your student to start thinking about which teachers to pick way ahead of time – consider setting an email reminder to ask her about which teachers she has chosen to ask the last week in September. Then, once the teachers are selected, be sure your student gets them a recommendation form right away. They’ll appreciate the extra time (since they have so many to write) and you’ll probably get a better letter (since they won’t be writing ten at the same time).

3. First Drafts are Never Final.

Sure, the grades and the teacher recommendation letters are vital to the application, but the essay is where your child can really tell the admissions office where they shine. Encourage your child to start writing his/her essay with plenty of time, but don’t nag them about it, as that will have the opposite effect. Consider engaging the whole family: have each person write a few sentences each day about the person applying for college (and have them write a few sentences each day about themselves – for the “personal statement”). Go over them together each night at dinner, or before bed. It will provide the applicant with multiple inputs for their own work, uncover important themes, and hopefully demonstrate the benefits of doing a little bit each day rather than sitting down at crunch time to bang something out.

4. Financial Aid.

Tuition, room and board, books – it all costs so much these days. Financial aid is a necessity for most applicants, but it is an undertaking in itself. Again, plan for deadlines way in advance to avoid the last minute shuffle. We recommend having your student put together a shared Google calendar that details what aid forms need to be submitted, and when – and set up alerts for all deadlines. Then they can share the calendar (and alerts) with all who need to be kept in the loop.

For additional organizational tips, visit our website at www.getbuttonedup.com.

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