With summer break right around the corner, your teenager is likely gearing up for part-time work, hanging with friends, and sleeping in. You, on the other hand, know that college stuff is looming, and are probably wondering if there are things you should be doing to prepare for the big push in the fall.
Helping your high schooler prepare for the future may seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Planning for college kicks into high gear now, so here's what you need to know.
Meet with the high school guidance counselor
Believe it or not, June of junior year is a great time for you and your child to meet with the high school guidance counselor.
If time allows, wait for second semester grades to post. That way you will have a better idea of your child’s cumulative GPA and courses they need to take their senior year.
Be prepared to talk about the following topics:
- SAT/ACT registration. If your teen needs to take or retake the SAT or ACT, ask about test dates and deadlines for registration. Both offer test dates in the summer months. You can also ask the counselor to recommend test-prep study materials. College application deadlines come fast, and most schools will require your child to take the SAT or ACT by November or December.
- Senior year course selection. Review the classes your child has registered for and make sure they align with the minimum college admissions requirements.
- College admissions requirements. Ask the counselor to explain general college admissions requirements. Take notes and plan on asking a lot of questions.
College research and planning
July is the month for your teen to do a deep dive into the colleges they are interested in applying to. Your role in this process is to help them come up with a system to gather and record their research. One idea that works is to have them create a portfolio (online or paper) of the information they research.
For example, have them research at least ten colleges they are interested in attending. Next, have them narrow that list to their top five choices.
Ask them to list the application and admissions requirements and deadlines for each school. Finally, have them put the important dates on a calendar that the entire family has access to.
Money, money, and more money
You will be spending a lot of time in the summer exploring college costs and financial aid options. Once your child has presented you with their college portfolio, you can look at the actual costs of attendance of the schools they're interested in.
Spend some time on the Free Application For Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) website. Make a list of all of the documents you need to have ready to apply for financial aid. Remember, the application window opens October 1, 2018.
This is also an ideal time to meet with your financial planner to review any college savings plans or other money set aside for higher education.
Then, determine the amount of money you will be able to contribute and compare that number to the cost of attendance for the five schools your child researched.
Sit down with your child and explore the scholarship search websites. Take notes about application requirements and important deadlines.
Time for a road trip
Summer is the ideal time to explore the colleges your child is considering. If you can visit all five of the schools they researched, go for it. If not, try to visit at least two or three.
Call the admissions office to make an appointment for a tour and schedule time to sit down with a college representative. These visits can help both of you get a feel for the school, the campus, and the surrounding area.
When you get home from the road trip, you and your child should write down any thoughts and observations you had about the visits. File this information in their college portfolio.
The calm before the storm
August is a busy month for seniors, so make sure to set aside a few days in early August so they can review their college portfolio with you.
Your job is to listen, observe, and, if necessary, manage expectations about how much your family can reasonably afford. (More about this below.)
This is also a good time to find out if there is anything you need to do for the college application process. If you are providing the funds for the application fee, make a list of the amount each school charges.
The money talk
Even though talking about money can be uncomfortable, the conversation needs to happen. Remember that research you did in July? It’s now time to go over it with your child.
You need to be honest about the amount of money you can contribute, and your child needs to know this information before they start applying to colleges in the fall.
Decide how much you are willing to contribute and communicate that to your child. This will help them narrow down the application process.
College fairs and financial aid events
Find out about college fairs and financial aid information sessions in your area. These events allow you to meet with college representatives and counselors from the financial aid offices that can answer your questions.
You can visit the National Association for College Admissions Counseling website for a list of college fairs or ask your high school counseling office about events in your area.
Oh, and one thing we forgot to mention … don’t forget to have fun. Even though the college planning activities have kicked into high gear, you can still make plenty of time to enjoy your summer.
If you want to start prepping for completing those financial aid forms in advance, check our guide to filling out the FAFSA.