With summer break right around the corner, you're likely gearing up for part-time work, hanging with friends, and sleeping in. But there are some things you—and your parents—should be getting a jump on now to ease the college application and selection process next year. Here's our month-by-month guide.
Meet with the high school guidance counselor
Believe it or not, June of your junior year is a great time to meet with the high school guidance counselor.
If time allows, wait for second semester grades to post. That way you'll have a better idea of your cumulative GPA and courses you need to take senior year.
Be prepared to talk about the following topics:
- SAT/ACT registration. If you need 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 that require the SAT or ACT will want you to take them by November or December. Note: Fewer colleges require these tests now, and the College Board has made some changes to how it administers the SATs, so make sure you're familiar with the latest updates.
- Senior year course selection. Review the classes you have 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 to do a deep dive into the colleges you're interested in applying to.
Parents: Your role in this process is to help your student come up with a system to gather and record their research. One idea is to have them create a portfolio (digital or on paper) of the information they research. For example, have them research at least 10 colleges they're interested in attending. Next, have them narrow that list to their top five choices.
List the application and admissions requirements and deadlines for each school. Finally, put the important dates on a calendar the entire family can access.
Money, money, and more money
Students and parents will be spending a lot of time in the summer exploring college costs and financial aid options. Once you've created the college portfolio, review the "sticker price" of attendance of the schools you'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, 2021. We also have created a step-by-step guide to help you when applying.
Parents: This is also an ideal time to review any college savings plans or other money set aside for higher education. You can approach this as a DIY if you're comfortable with it, or meet with a financial planner. Determine the amount of money you'll be able to contribute and compare that number to the cost of attendance for the five schools your child researched. And remember, it's not just a matter of draining the accounts. You'll want to make informed decisions about how much you take out and when so you're getting the most bang for those hard-earned bucks.
Time for a road trip
Summer is the ideal time to explore the colleges. If you can, visit all five of the schools you researched. If that's not feasible, try to visit at least two or three. (You can use this tool to find out which campuses are fully open for tours and which ones are still doing virtual tours.)
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 you and your student get a feel for the school, the campus, and the surrounding area.
When you get home from the road trip, write down any thoughts and observations you had about the visits. File this information in their college portfolio.
See also: How to Pick a College: The Parent's Role
The calm before the storm
August is a busy month for seniors, so make sure to set aside a few days in early August to review the college portfolio that you created with your parents.
Parents: 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 parents.
Parents: 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. This will help them narrow down the application process.
No matter what the numbers look like, don't write off any college based just on its cost. The "list price" tuition is rarely what a given student pays. You can usually bring that number way down with a combination of loans, grants, and scholarships.
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 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.