I’ve counseled young folks in high school through the maze of applying for college. I’m sharing my advice for them. (Do you have a child in middle school (ages 11-13)? Part 3 is for middle school preparing for college!)
Grades and exam scores for college preparation
First, keep studying! Don’t be that student that completes graduation requirements and wants to enjoy senior year by taking it easy. Keeping your grade point average up is still important!
Many colleges and universities require a college entrance exam test score for application, usually SAT or ACT. Register to take these tests in the fall (juniors should take the PSAT in the fall and SAT in the spring.) The SAT has been revised: the tests are Reading, Writing and Language, Math, and Essay. These are SAT registration and test dates and these are ACT lists registration deadlines and test dates, along with practice information. These tests require a registration fee so be sure to check with your school’s guidance counselors if that is a problem for your family. Be sure to check your desired colleges’ test requirements and how to have your test scores sent to those colleges.
College preparation for applications
Check with your guidance counselor about how to get official transcripts. It’s good to let your counselor know early if you plan to apply to college. You will also have to check the colleges’ website to find out how they want you to submit the transcripts. You may also need or want recommendation letters from adults who know you well, so ask them before school starts or as early as possible. A teacher or other adult will want your resumé and the exact address information to include in the letter. Some colleges will want the letters to be enclosed in a sealed envelope and signed across the seal. Others will want the recommendations to be entered on a secure website they provide.
Do you want to apply early decision or early action? I recommend that you choose 3 to 5 colleges to apply to, but you may have a favorite that is truly your first choice (applying this way usually means that you plan to commit to the college if accepted and not apply to any other schools). Early decision or early action deadlines usually fall in October and November, so be sure to check in late summer to get all the pieces of your application ready.
You will find that most colleges have an application fee that must be paid when you apply. This could limit your number of schools. Talk to family members and your guidance counselor if you need help with application fees. You can save some time by looking into the Common Application, the Universal Common Application, or the Coalition Application. The Common Application is used by over 700 colleges, the UCA is used by less than 25, and the Coalition is being accepted by 113 schools in 2017.
- You can download this Requirements Grid from The Common Application to see what each college requires for application.
- The UCA gives you a download version of the First Year Application so you can prepare.
- The Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success has an online platform for students to prepare the application.
- Check if your state has a unified application. For example, in North Carolina, you can apply to 120 public, private, and community colleges through CFNC.
Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
Another college preparation step to take is to sign up for FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid.) Most college students receive financial aid either as scholarships or loans. Most colleges require your family to sign up for FAFSA to be automatically considered for need-based or other scholarships. You will have to create an FSA ID. You will use your ID all through college when entering your family’s financial information, apply for financial aid, and review your records. Parents or guardians also need their own FSA ID using their own email address. Once you receive your FSA ID, you’ll be ready to start your FAFSA. The application is open October 1. Each state has different deadlines for signing up, but my advice is to complete it by January of senior year as possible. You can look at a pdf of the FAFSA form here.
There’s a lot more to discuss about preparing for college. Next we’ll talk about choosing colleges and the costs of college. Good luck!
Resource links for college preparation
- What every mom needs to know about paying for college from Living Well Spending Less
- 529 plan info from Saving for College
- PSAT from the College Board
- All about the SAT, registration and practice
- Practice for the SAT from the College Board
- The Common Application
- Universal Common Application
- 150+ colleges have an application process through the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success
- Expert advice on writing Common Application essays from Grown and Flown
- Net Price Calculator from the US Department of Education
- Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) from the US Department of Education
- Get Schooled, a college planning website for kids
- Magoosh test practice preparation website
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