As a former high school counselor, I can tell you how emotional springtime can be for parents of seniors. If that’s you, know that it’s not uncommon to experience pride, excitement, fear, panic, and utter confusion on a daily basis.
As the reality sets in that your teen will be flying the coop in a few months, it’s your job to understand the steps your child must take in order to finalize their college acceptance and financial aid awards.
So what exactly should you be focusing on during the next few months? Here’s the scoop.
Look for financial aid letters in the mail
In many ways, March is the calm before the storm.
Financial aid packages may start arriving this month. If your child has not received their financial aid award letters yet, contact each school to make sure they have all of the information they need.
March is a great time to sit down with your teen and work through the numbers for each school. This will help give them a real-world view of what their post-college life might look like. You can compare financial aid packages from different schools with our NitroScore tool.
Talk less and listen more
You'll be spending a lot of your time listening to your teen agonize over which college to attend.
If all the schools they are considering are within an acceptable tuition range, use this opportunity to share in the decision-making process with them. Not only does it give your teen ownership over the decision, it also shows that you trust and honor their opinion.
Push for scholarships
Scholarship season is in full swing, which means your teen should be knee-deep in applications. Here are a few tips that may help make the process go a bit smoother.
- Make sure they have an “activities resume.” This is a one-page document that lists all of their awards, activities, work experience, clubs, and more. They can transfer information from this document to their scholarship applications to save time.
- Read all of the eligibility requirements and directions. Yes, this goes for both of you. It's your teen’s job to complete the application, but it’s also a good idea for you to read it over together and answer any questions they may have. You can also save them from the time and disappointment of applying for scholarships they are not eligible for.
- Remind them to get letters of recommendation ASAP. Most scholarship applications will ask for at least two letters. If your teen did not get letters for their college application, they will need to ask their teachers, counselor, coach, employer, etc.
- Check over any applications before they hit “submit.” This may feel a bit like you’re micromanaging, but look at it this way: if you’re helping them with college costs, the payoff could mean more money in your pocket — and theirs after they graduate. It’s also a good idea to have their school counselor review their applications prior to sending them in.
Take a road trip
If your teen has been accepted to more than one college and they’re still unsure about where they want to go, now’s the time to revisit those schools.
Before you go, ask the high school guidance counselor if any graduates are currently in attendance at the school you’re visiting. Getting a tour from a current student can really give you a true feel for the campus and what the college has to offer.
During your visit, focus on the feel of the school.Ask your teen questions such as:
- How does it feel to be on this campus?
- Do you have any concerns about the school?
- What do you love about it?
- Do you feel comfortable and why?
- If you had to choose today, what does your gut (and heart) tell you?
Tell them to go with their initial answer and not to overthink these questions.
Review pros and cons
After visiting the schools, have them go through the selection process again. But this time, ask them to compare the answers to the feeling questions.
Compare financial aid awards
Because your financial aid package is created for you based on the cost of attending a particular school, your aid amounts will vary from school to school.
Pay attention to any directions or details about additional information. You may have to complete an online form in order to accept your award or fill out and return a paper form. If you have any questions or don’t understand what’s in your aid offer, contact the school.
Take some time to compare your costs for different schools by plugging your financial aid information directly into our college cost calculator.
Review waitlist guidelines
If your child was waitlisted by a college, make sure to review the process for that school and respond accordingly. Follow up with the admissions office regularly, as this is key in helping this process move along.
May is full of decisions and “to do” lists. A lot of what needs to happen this month will be a joint effort between you and your teen.
Be ready for 'Decision Day'
May 1 is known as National College Decision Day, or the date your teen needs to notify their school of choice that they are coming. There are also financial requirements that need to be fulfilled. Make sure to review any deposit requirements that are detailed in your acceptance letter.
Notify other schools
Have your teen send a brief note to the other colleges to thank them and turn down their offers. This frees up places for other students.
Request a final transcript from the counseling office
Your child needs to submit a request for their final high school transcript to be sent to the college they will be attending. These will be mailed out after final grades are posted.
Send thank you notes
There’s a good chance it took a village to get your teen to where they are today. Ask them to write thank you notes to any adults and friends who encouraged and supported them throughout this process.
Get to know the financial aid office
This is a good time to contact the financial aid office at the college your child will be attending. Find out if there is anything else they need from you. Ask for the name of the person you’re speaking with and make note of it. Having a contact in this office will come in handy.
Appeal financial aid
If your financial aid award wasn’t quite what you were expecting, find out how to write a successful financial aid appeal letter.
Determine if you need additional money to pay for college
If you still need additional aid, consider parent loans or private loans. Not sure where to start? Download our free private student loan guide to learn more.
The most important thing to remember
Before you get started on the spring timeline, there’s something I want you to do: close your eyes, and think about how turbulent your emotions are right now. Remember those feelings of excitement, panic, and confusion mentioned above?
Now, multiply how you’re feeling by 10.
That’s how your teen is feeling.
Amidst all of the checklists, acceptance notices, financial aid award letters, and scholarship applications, don’t forget to take the time to be a family.
Yes, your soon-to-be college student needs your guidance (and checkbook), but they also need you to just be mom and dad.