Planning for college? If you need to know how to pick a college, find scholarships, get student loans, design a college budget, live on campus and all of the other details that should be in your online college plan, you’ll find it all right here.
How to Create a College Plan: Breaking it Down for Parents of High School Seniors
As a parent, you want the best for your child and that includes having a college plan. At first, it will seem like those college years are a distant blip on the horizon. However, the years will fly by. You’ll encourage your child to lay the proper foundation during those high school years. It’s a time to choose challenging courses, get down to business, be involved in many activities at school, and help out the community. However, senior year is crunch time. That’s when the pressure is on and your teen will be preparing to leave the nest. Help your high school senior to follow a timeline and be organized for the road ahead. With a college plan firmly in place, you’ll have peace of mind knowing your teen is entirely ready to dive into college.
Get Started the Summer Before Senior Year
Sit down with your soon to be high school senior and look at all of the potential colleges that interest him or her. You have probably been inundated with phone calls, emails, and flyers in the mail. Scope out the Internet for any other colleges of interest. Make a comprehensive list together. Next, talk about your teen’s top picks. You’re going to have to consider money matters. Depending on the cost of tuition and your financial circumstances, some of the choices may need to be taken off the list.
Look for Ways to Ease the Burden of College Tuition
There are many scholarship and grant opportunities out there. Encourage your child to seek out every possible scholarship that is offered, including the unusual ones. For instance, the Duck Brand company, famous for Duck Tape, has offered scholarships for $3000 to girls who design a prom dress out of Duck Tape and wear it to the prom. If your child is a focused student with good grades, you will find that there are many scholarship opportunities that are readily available.
Start the Application Process
While you are seeking out opportunities to make college more affordable, encourage your child to complete early applications to college. The sooner you get the ball rolling, the better. You can sit down with your child to fill out applications. The high school guidance counselor can also offer assistance. If your child prefers to be independent, step back and let your teen go. Ask if you can check the paperwork when it is complete to make sure everything is in order. Then it’s time to sit back and wait for responses.
Start Making the Rounds to College Campuses
Even though it is only summer and it may seem too early, this is a good time to visit colleges with your child. Ask questions, get a feel for what the campus is like, and look into all of the resources that will be offered to your teen at each prospective college. Ask about work study, the cost of college housing and compare off-campus housing expenses as well. You may find that it is less expensive for your child to get an apartment, especially if it is possible to share expenses with a friend. If your child chooses a college that is close to home, commuting is a much more sensible option.
Keep on Track When Fall Begins
When autumn sets in and your teen is back to school, continue to plan college visits. This is actually an ideal time to visit because students are on campus. You and your teen can talk with students, professors, and advisors. You can even sit in on a class. This can be an eye-opening experience that will really give your high school senior a feel for college. Encourage your child to go with gut instincts. If a college doesn’t feel like a match, take it off of the list.
Mark Your Calendar
This is the year that will be filled with a flood of dates that your teen will need to jot down. Stay on the ball. Take a giant, desk calendar, mark important dates, and hang them on the wall in your office or your child’s room. Have another planner that can be taken everywhere. You can do it all on a mobile device as well. However, if you get nervous about relying on technology, it’s always good to have a back-up plan on paper. Keep track of every important date, from deadlines to apply to particular colleges and test dates to college fairs.
Get Ready for Admission Tests
Fall is the ideal time to retake any admission tests, such as the ACT or the SAT. Even if your senior had good scores, it doesn’t hurt to take the test again. Get study guides for your teen, find online resources, and help your child to prepare. Colleges are going to look at the best scores when it comes to applications.
Sit Down with the Guidance Counselor
Set up a meeting with your child’s guidance counselor and attend it with your teen. Make sure that all of the requirements for graduation have been met. Ask the guidance counselor to keep you informed concerning admission requirements for your colleges of interest. You should also supply the guidance counselor with a list of important information that needs to be sent to key colleges. The high school guidance counselor will take care of transcripts, send out letters of recommendation, and make sure prospective colleges get admission test scores. Remember that the guidance counselor is on your team and wants to help your teen to have the best possible outcome in the college application process.
Start the Interview Process
Fall is a great opportunity to set up interviews at various colleges as well. Help your child by encouraging your child to initiate appointments or you can make the appointments yourself. Advise your child that this will be a one-on-one process. You’ll be waiting outside while your teen gets the opportunity to ask questions, share highlights, and discuss reasons why a particular college is at the top of the list.
Begin Applications For Financial Aid in the Winter
As the winter months set in, this is the time to start applying for financial aid. Financial aid is a must in order to make college more affordable. You do not want to be crushed by college expenses nor do you want your child to bear the burden of excessive loans for years to come. Through a combination of scholarships and financial aid, you can make college affordable.
Talk to the Colleges First
Your teen needs to contact all colleges that have been applied to and ask about financial aid forms. It is extremely important that everything is sent in by the specified deadlines. Otherwise, you could miss out. When the funds run out, you are out of luck.
Don’t Forget the FAFSA
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is a must. You can complete the FAFSA online and your tax information can be transferred to the form during the application process. You can’t leave any stone unturned when it comes to financial breaks for college.
Investigate Student Loans
There is a host of student loan opportunities that are available to your child. Don’t jump at the first loan you find. Consider federal student loans that are offered at a low interest and will allow your child to wait to start paying them back until after college is completed. Your child may even have a grace period of up to four years to get established in a career before those loan payments need to begin. Otherwise, look into college loans at credit unions and banks. Check out lenders that specialize in student loans. If you look before you leap, you’ll get better loan terms.
Don’t Forget Additional Tests
During senior year, your child will have more tests to take that are connected with college. The SAT subject tests may be new to you. They focus on individual subjects. Encourage your child to take tests in subjects that demonstrate your teen’s strengths. There is also the ACT which is an achievement test to demonstrate what has really been learned over the years. It’s important to know which test scores the colleges you are applying to are interested in, as you may be able to forego taking the SAT in favor of the ACT or vice-versa. There’s also an opportunity that you may be able to choose which test results to include in your application if there is no preference at the school of your choice. If your child is an AP student taking Advanced Placement courses during senior year, the AP tests are highly recommended. They can actually earn your child college credits and cut the number of classes that your child will be required to take. For instance, the AP American History test could make it possible for your child to already have two college courses under his or her belt when it’s time to start the first semester of college. Each college is different as far as how much credit they will give, but it’s definitely worth a shot. The better your child scores, the better the offers will be from colleges.
It’s Decision Time in the Spring
Colleges will be informing your child of admission decisions in the spring. This is the time when responses will be coming in the mail. Your teen may also get phone calls and promising offers for scholarships. If your child excels in a sport, don’t be surprised if the college teams want your teen to sign up. Sit down and consider all of the acceptance letters together.
Study Financial Aid Packages
There is a good chance that your teen is going to want to jump at certain colleges that have accepted. Remind your child that you need to look at the financial aid packages. You need to choose a college that is trying to work with you to make college affordable. Certain schools may offer major incentives to get your child to become part of their student body. You can even try negotiations. If your child has a college of preference, but the financial package isn’t as sweet as a competitor, contact the Dean of Admissions and lay it all on the line. You may get the college to offer a better deal.
Accept the Best Offer
Once you’ve looked at everything together, help your child to make the final decision. You’ll need to wade through paperwork to actually accept an admittance offer. A tuition deposit will be necessary as well. Finally, plan another visit. Now that you know which college your child wants to attend, it will mean even more. If possible, go to the campus while classes are still in full swing. Let your teen get the big picture and come to the full realization that this is the next step toward the future.
Pin Down Housing Opportunities
Find out what housing is available for your teen. Freshmen may have fewer choices than upperclassmen. If your child doesn’t like the housing that is offered at the college of admittance, find out about apartments that are available. Residents in college towns know that they have a goldmine of opportunities when the college students come in for the year. Check postings at the college and online. Weigh all of the expenses before your child finally makes a decision and you figure out what your annual expenses will be. Room and board is a considerable addition to the budget. Some parents have even purchased homes to flip so that the student has a four year stable home at a lower monthly cost than renting.
Talk About Meal Plans
Every college offers meal plans. Your child can eat three meals a day on campus, two, or one. Most dorms allow students to have a small refrigerator and microwave in the room. Kitchen facilities may be available as well. You can save a considerable chunk of change of your child stocks food in the room to eat breakfast, or breakfast and lunch outside the cafeteria. Have some savvy and figure out ways to cut corners.
Check Out Work Opportunities
Your child may need to work while attending college. Whether there is a work study program at the college or other opportunities in the area, it won’t hurt to get a list of prospects before enrollment in the fall. Your child may be able to babysit, pet-sit, house-sit, or tutor as well. Think outside of the box.
Ask the College About a Mentor Program
Many colleges offer a mentor program in which they pair your child up with an upperclassman. Find out if your teen’s college can connect your teen with another student as the fall semester approaches. Your child will have someone to talk to and ask questions. That mentor can be a regular contact once the school year is underway, a compass when your teen isn’t sure which way to go. Navigating life on campus can be overwhelming. It’s good to have someone who is considered a friend for advice and support.
Enjoy the Summer
The summer before college can be a last burst of freedom before it’s time to buckle down. You’ll be glad you spent the last year preparing so you can breathe easy. Encourage your child to travel with friends and enjoy this brief window of time. Do things together as a family. If your child is going to be far away, you’ll want to take advantage of every moment together.
Go Shopping for College
Now is the time to get anything your child needs for college if you haven’t already. Check out sales on clothes, electronics, school supplies, and mini appliances. Start packing everything away in totes. Before you know it, you’ll be loading up and heading off to school.
Give the Car a Tune-Up
If your child is allowed to have a car on campus, you’ll want to give your teen’s car a good inspection. Bring it to the shop and go through all of the routine maintenance. Make sure the registration and insurance policy are up to date.
Think About a Credit Card for Your Child
You may want to open a credit card for your teen for emergency expenses on campus. However, be wise. You can set a limit on the card or give your child a debit card that is actually linked to a bank account that you have established for your teen. If your child has an actual credit card, insist that they are the one who pays the bills. Open it in your child’s name. This will give your teen the opportunity to establish credit and your credit will not be affected in any way. Make sure the limit is reasonable to keep your teen out of trouble.
Plan a Big Send-Off
Your child is about to begin a great journey in life that will open the door to opportunities in the future. Make a big deal about it. Plan a party. Invite family and friends to celebrate this pivotal moment in your teen’s life. This will only come around once. Make it count.
Help Your Child Get Settled in at the End of Summer
As summer winds down, it will be time for your child to head off to college. Load up the car and get ready to make the trek to your teen’s college of choice. Make sure everything is set in your child’s housing or apartment and go out to dinner as a final farewell. You might need to bring a box of tissues, but don’t feel too bad. Christmas break will be here before you know it.