How to Get In-State Tuition When You Live Out of State

How to Get In-State Tuition When You Live Out of State

Have you ever compared the tuition cost differences between in-state and out-of-state schools?

Did you gasp out loud when you saw out-of-state costs?

Yep, yep. It’s often thousands of dollars more expensive to go to an out-of-state university compared to an in-state university. In fact, the average tuition and fees at a public, in-state school is $10,116 and the average tuition and fees at a public, out-of-state school was $22,577 for the 2019-2020 school year, according to U.S. News and World Report.

It often makes students’ decisions easy. If your child’s comfortable with the idea of going to the flagship university in your state, he might think, “It’s cheaper, it’s close to home. Sign me right up.”

Should you migrate to your in-state university? Well, that depends! Don’t discount your neighboring states — and know a few things before you jump on the local state university bandwagon. Here’s what to know and how to get in-state tuition when you live out of state.

What is In-State Tuition?

There’s a reason you pay less for your own state’s public institutions. One word: Taxes. Your child can attend these public institutions at a lower cost than people who live out of state due to this lowered cost for in-state residents.

States fund public community colleges, university systems and vocational education institutions. This support makes up 14 percent of state spending up to $167 billion, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

What is Out-of-State Tuition?

So, what’s out-of-state tuition? Students from other states pay out-of-state tuition.

Here’s a good example of in-state versus out-of-state tuition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill:

North Carolina ResidentsOut-of-State Residents
Tuition and Fees$9,018$36,000
Housing and Meals$11,526$11,526
Direct Costs$20,544$47,526
Books and Supplies$972$972
Travel and Personal$2,694$3,472
Loan Fees$56$56
Indirect Costs$3,722$4,500
Total Cost of Attendance$24,266$52,026

There’s a big difference, right? Before you write off ever letting your child cross state lines, keep reading!

How to Get In-State Tuition if You Live Out of State

It’s totally possible to pay in-state tuition if you live out of state — and it might not even be that complicated! Here’s how you can help your child make it happen.

Establish Residency

Establishing residency is one of the most straightforward ways to get in-state tuition. 

Residency requirements vary by state and university. Living in the state for a certain amount of time is one common way to establish residency. 

  • Live in the state: Many states require your child to live in the state for at least one year to be able to establish residency. Your child can prove residency with an apartment lease, utility bills or vehicle registration form, for example. Note: Right now, some students are currently studying in a different state from where their institution is located due to COVID-19. However, this temporary location change shouldn’t affect residency requirements.
  • Consider whether you should switch to a different parent’s address. Your child may qualify for residency in both states, depending on where the majority of financial support comes from.
  • Your student must prove intent. This simply means your child must prove that he or she would like to live there long-term. A driver’s license is another great way to show that commitment, or a written and notarized documentation from an employer that your child has been employed for a specified period of time.
  • Your child must show proof of financial independence. Check with the school about these requirements. Your child may need to show employer proof as above or show proof that he pays taxes in that state.

Regional Markets and Reciprocity Agreements

Many universities offer regional markets and reciprocity agreements. This means that colleges or universities offer students in different states in-state or reduced tuition. These programs typically get reserved for students who live in the same region. Here are a few examples.

Southern Region 

The Southern Regional Education Board Academic Common Market agreement offers tuition discounts for academic programs for students who live in: 

  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maryland
  • Mississippi
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia

The Regional Contract Program lets students obtain professional health degrees at out-of-state institutions by paying in-state tuition at public institutions or reducing tuition at private institutions.

Midwestern Region 

Midwest Student Exchange is a reciprocity agreement for students who live in:

  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Kansas
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • Nebraska
  • North Dakota
  • Wisconsin 

Western Region 

The Western Undergraduate Exchange offers tuition discounts for students who live in: 

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • North Dakota
  • Oregon
  • South Dakota
  • Utah
  • Washington
  • Wyoming

Your child can also enroll in graduate programs outside of their home state at resident tuition rates and the Professional Student Exchange Program lets health care majors to enroll in select out-of-state professional programs.

New England 

Students who live in the following states can take advantage of the New England Regional Student Program

  • Connecticut
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • New Hampshire
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont 

Students can pay discounted tuition rates when they enroll in a major not available at public institutions in their home state.

District of Columbia

The D.C. Tuition Assistance Grant offers up to $10,000 per year to bridge the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition for students who live in Washington, D.C., to attend public institutions in other states, with a maximum amount of $50,000.

Consider Liberal Arts Colleges

I always smiled when someone asked, “What’s the out-of-state cost at your school?” 

Why? Because I had great news for families. The cost wasn’t any different for out-of-state students because I worked at a liberal arts college

Liberal arts colleges charge the same price no matter where you’re from, and here’s why: Unlike public colleges and universities, private institutions don’t get funding from state governments. Therefore, private colleges and universities charge one tuition rate for all students, whether your child resides in the same state as the institution is located or not. 

For example, if a liberal arts college is in Florida but your child lives in Minnesota, you’ll pay the same price whether you live in Florida or Minnesota.   

Tuition Adjustments and Scholarships for Out-of-State Students

Our college used to offer an out-of-state scholarship for students who attended an out-of-state college in an effort to boost our out-of-state numbers. Offers like that may be achievement-based or merit-based, depending on differing schools’ requirements. Your best bet is to ask questions if your student’s looking into an out-of-state institution. Email or call an admission counselor at that school for more information.

It’s Possible to Get In-State Tuition!

Do your research. Just in case you didn’t read the last paragraph, I’m going to repeat it again: Email or call an admission counselor at each college your student’s considering. it’ll make you feel more prepared to make some decisions about the college search, or it’ll at least give you a start in the right direction!

How to Start the School Year (and not Think Your High Schooler’s Behind!)

How to Start the School Year (and not Think Your High Schooler’s Behind!)

My daughter started second grade (in-person instruction!) Thursday morning. Off she went, clad in a little purple mask and a tiny plaid dress.

We don’t know how the year will go. Maybe kids will all be home by November. Maybe they’ll manage to dodge all sickness and everyone will make it to May. 

Who. Knows. 

The only thing we can all do is make the best decisions we make for our families and our kids and keep moving forward, right? Even if your child’s in high school, you’ve got the same worries. It’s hard to see your child’s retreating back disappear into a long hallway.

The blight of the academic changes last semester left many high school experiences high and dry, and you might wonder if your child’s high school career is crumbling.

Here are a few ways you can keep your high schooler on track! Don’t forget to get my high school checklist for quick tips for launching the college search at the start of this year.

Check in on Academics

High school disruption happened to an unprecedented level this spring. However, that doesn’t mean that your child can’t catch up or choose to go a different route. 

Here’s what I mean by this. Here’s a quick scenario. 

Jessica didn’t do well in Algebra II last semester. The combination of no in-person instruction and trying to get extra Zoom help from her teacher still didn’t work well. Her teacher had a hard time explaining some of the concepts to her without seeing her worksheets in person. 

Jessica’s not sure what she should do this semester. She’s back in school for the time being, but she’s also back to online learning.

Here’s another scenario:

Ben missed a whole semester of individual trumpet instruction from his band teacher. He wants to be a college professor and brass instructor when he graduates from college. He still practiced, but he needs individual instruction. Zoom classes from core classes like math, science and social studies took up all his time. 

Even if your child is in classes right now, you may need to be prepared for another at-home semester. You may have other options. Don’t settle if the experience last semester wasn’t the right route for your child:

  1. Take the class somewhere else. Look into a community college option. 
  2. Get into class with another teacher. 
  3. Find out what tutoring options are available or whether in-person instruction is a possibility.  

Tap into Extracurriculars 

Lots of things got pushed to the wayside this spring — including extracurricular activities and athletics. Some states plan to move forward with the fall athletics season as scheduled and others have already modified plans, including shifting the entire fall season to 2021. 

Meet Coaches Online

Naturally, college coaches have shifted to digital recruiting. This means coaches will rely more heavily on online recruiting networks like Next College Student Athlete (NCSA) to discover, communicate with, evaluate and recruit talent.

Help your child beef up his most recent information, including grades, highlight video and more. This will make student-athletes more searchable to college coaches. Recruiting will depend on what happened last year.

Can your child do camps, showcases, tournaments and more? If so, sign up.

Check out this summary from NCSA:

  • 80% of college coaches do not expect impacts to their athletic program’s scholarships.
  • A majority of coaches say that COVID-19 will impact their recruiting timeline for their 2021 class.
  • 39% of coaches believe that their recruiting timeline won’t encounter delays. 
  • 46% of coaches expect a recruiting delay. 
  • 15% of coaches believe recruiting will speed up.

Try to Continue Clubs and Organizations

Even if your child starts the year with at-home learning, find out if there’s a way to continue student council, Key Club, National Honor Society, Future Farmers of America — whatever it is that your child’s into! Get on Zoom, help coordinate if you can. Find out who the teacher sponsor is of the club and organization so your child has the best chance of continuing those activities. 

It might be impossible to continue certain activities with remote learning (like running club) so look for alternatives. Can your child start a solo running club and members keep track of their running individually? 

Be creative and help your child brainstorm other ways to continue extracurricular activities. 

Know that Colleges Understand

Know that above all else, colleges understand what students are going through. If your child says, “I couldn’t complete my last semester of Future Business Leaders of America because of the pandemic,” they’re going to understand. In fact, admission offices are looking for more ways to evaluate students and come up with ways they can evaluate your student’s character, motivation, creativity and more. 

So, in light of the pandemic, what did your student do? Did he come up with a way to help people during the pandemic? Did she gather supplies for people in the hospital during the pandemic? 

The more your child can do to stand out, the better that college application will look.

Just don’t worry about missing out on things — more than ever, colleges will have to roll with the punches.

Don’t forget to download my free high school checklist you can be taking now for the college search!

How to Prepare for College as a Freshman in High School

How to Prepare for College as a Freshman in High School

Freshmen may not believe their journey starts right now, but it does. Now’s the start of school and there’s no reason to wait!

We’d occasionally get emails or letters from students that would explain their bad grades — loss of an important family member, students’ own illnesses, traumatic event, lack of motivation, switch to a different teacher, lack of maturity, etc.

Colleges do take that information seriously — things happen. However, it’s best not to plant those seeds of doubt. 

Anecdotally, in the admission office, we found that a high predictor of college success were students’ grades in high school — more than SAT or ACT scores. The variable that generally reflects the strongest correlation with college academic achievement is the high school GPA, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling

So, how to prepare for college as a freshman in high school?

Naturally, it’s up to you to have that conversation with your child before school starts. 

Grades Matter, Starting Now

You knew that would be the first thing, right? It’s really hard to change the tide of bad grades as a senior and high school academic success paves the way for college success. High school grade point average is still the highest predictor of a student’s likelihood of graduating from a two- or four-year college. Although any single grade is imperfect, when averaged over a high school career, the grade point average is an excellent predictor of how a student will do in college.

Here’s a scenario: Meredith knows she’ll be able to slide through high school because of the community college’s open admission option — that anyone can get in, no matter their grade point average. Meredith believes that she can “take it easy” freshman year because, if all else fails, she can go to the local community college.

However, research shows that putting effort toward grades in high school is essential, according to the American Federation of Teachers. In fact:

  • Students who don’t do homework end up with 1.2 years less education and 19 percent lower earnings than average. 
  • Students doing 15 hours or more a week of homework attain almost 1.5 more years of education and attain 16 percent higher earnings than average. Isn’t that amazing?!

Steps to Prepare for Freshman Year

Freshman year may look a whole lot different than your child may have envisioned. Here’s what you can do to help your child prepare for college. (Yes! It’s time to have these conversations now!)

Roll with Remote Learning

A few moms I know have their kids all set up with remote learning. Danielle has set up a six-foot long table for her five kids and they all study at the same time, like a one-room schoolhouse. Tracey’s high schooler studies in a common living space — not in his room. Here are a more tips for remote success: 

  • Limit distractions. As much as you can, keep kids away from their phones, Netflix, the refrigerator (“I need snacks ten times a day to study, Mom!”) and more.
  • Stick to a routine. If your child has a Zoom class at 10, suggest studying for that class at the same time every day. Write out a schedule in advance and align it as closely with your child’s class schedule as possible.
  • Look at actual textbooks. It’s taxing to look at a screen all day — you may understand if you sit at a computer all day long! Check out blue light-blocking computer glasses if your child has no choice but to stare at a screen all day!
  • Fix any difficulties with classes. Is your child having trouble with classes due to distance learning? It may be hard to adjust to learning trigonometry online. Find out whether the teacher offers study sessions outside of class and can demonstrate how to do complex math problems or teach Shakespeare individually. 
College search tools for a pandemic!

Examine Eighth Grade Experiences

College success is linked to high school preparation — and that starts now. Use eighth grade as a springboard for the conversation. Ask your child: 

  • What worked well in eighth grade?
  • What do you wish you would have done differently in your classes in eighth grade?
  • How would you do things differently?
  • Is there a better way to stay organized this year?
  • Classes will be more involved this year. How do you think you’ll plan to study?
  • What do you think is the secret to success?
  • What classes do you think will be a challenge/not as much as of a challenge? How will you handle each?

Take College Prep Classes

Make sure the plan includes college prep classes: 

  • English: Keep in mind that colleges like to see four years of English.
  • Math: Colleges also like to see four years of math. Math classes should include at least four of these classes: Pre-algebra, algebra, geometry, algebra II or trigonometry, precalculus and calculus.
  • Science: Take at least three years of laboratory science classes (check specific school requirements) but a fourth year is still a bonus. Make sure your child plans to take biology, chemistry and physics.
  • Social studies: Most colleges require at least two years of social studies or social science, including world history and U.S. history, government, sociology, geography or psychology.
  • Foreign language: Many colleges require a minimum of two years of foreign language while in 
  • Arts: A small number of colleges require at least one year of visual or performing arts.

Cultivate Good Study Habits

It’s best to start freshman year with good study habits so your child is used to implementing them each year of high school.

Here are some tips:

  • Determine your child’s most productive study hours. Does your child do better in the early morning? Late evening? During study hall? Extracurricular activities might make it tough to be picky, but try to cater to your child’s best hours.
  • Encourage your child to get plenty of sleep. Teenagers need between nine and nine and a half hours of sleep (in fact, studies show that most teenagers need exactly nine and a quarter hours of sleep!) according to Nationwide Children’s Hospital. The need to study might hinder your child’s sleep cycle but try to hit those nine-and-a-quarter hours as much as possible! It’ll make your child more productive in school and during study time.
  • Make sure your child has all necessary resources. Does your daughter do better when she’s got a laptop in front of her? A quiet room? Does your son need a special calculator? Does he do well studying in the midst of chaos (at the kitchen table)? Make sure your child’s set up for success wherever that may be.
  • Help eliminate distractions. Netflix off, phone in quarantine. What other distractions normally bug your child during study hours? The cat running circles in the dining room? The neighbors coming over at the exact same time every night?
  • Check in. Keep a mental check of what 
  • Know what’s due. Now, this doesn’t mean you have to know every single math problem assigned to your child. Just know in the back of your head 
  • Come up with ways to keep grades up. What went well last year? Did your child’s grades measure up to what you expected? Did your child think he could have done a little better? Make a list of ways (together!) 
College search tips for a pandemic! Free!

Talk About College, Starting Now!

Let’s step away from the academic conversation for a second. There’s other stuff to talk about! 

Talk About College Money

It’s never too early to have conversations with your child about how much you’ve saved for college. In fact, it’s really important — it will help your child understand his college options. Talk to your child about how much you’ve saved, how much you can help out per month during college and more. 

It helps frame the college conversation a little bit more and gets your child ready for what’s ahead. Student loans might be a part of the college cost equation, and the earlier your student knows that, the better. 

Here are some topics you might want to consider talking about: 

  • Actual college costs vs. sticker price
  • Loans and their implications
  • The importance of scholarships
  • Your own experience paying for college 
  • The difference between grants, scholarships, loans and more (hint: scholarships and grants are free money!)
  • In-state versus out-of-state tuition

Talk About College Preference 

It’s also not too early to talk about where your child thinks he might “fit” best — community college, private liberal arts college, state university, etc. Describe the differences between each and learn more: 

You may not know the answers to these questions right now, but it’s time to start thinking about them.

Things Could Change in a Heartbeat!

We aren’t sure what’s going to happen during the upcoming school year. If your child’s started out online, maybe it’ll continue for the foreseeable future. Maybe your child’s taking classes in person right now but you know all this could change! 

Carefully examine the ways you can help this year get underway successfully — it’s going to take some creativity and maybe even a few pivots, too.

8 Myths About the College Search (and Reasons to Save for Education)

8 Myths About the College Search (and Reasons to Save for Education)

Now that it’s back-to-school time, your child (or you!) may be in paralysis mode. Are you ready to launch the college search? 

It’s okay to say no.

I know that it’s easy to feel completely unprepared, especially when the college search is changing so much right now. 

I thought of five myths right before breakfast. I’m channeling the show “MythBusters” because my 12 years in college admission means I’ve seen it all.

Here are eight quick myths about college admissions, the college search and saving for college that I’m attempting to bust forever.

Should you save for college right now because of market volatility?

Myth #1: I shouldn’t save for college right now because of market volatility. 

Market volatility can actually benefit you right now. The downturn in the markets means that you’ll be getting your investments “on sale.” Let’s say you just had a newborn. A portfolio diversified with a mix of stocks and bonds means you can buy shares of his 529 plan with less money. 

Here’s what happens when the market goes up: You’ll still have that exact number of shares when the market goes back up — and they’ll be worth a lot more money. 

It’s a really, really good idea to save for college right now.

Myth #2: It’s too late to save for college if my child’s in high school.

Let’s say your child is a high school junior and you’re thinking it’s too late to save for college. 

You should save. There’s a really good reason for that, too. A study showed that it’s more likely that your child will go to college, even if you don’t have a lot saved. The study said that if parents save a small amount (less than $500), a child is 25 percent more likely to enroll in college and 64 percent more likely to graduate than a child with no savings. The study is from the Center for Social Development at Washington University in St. Louis.

In a nutshell, the study says that a low-to-moderate income child with school savings of $1 to $499 before college age is more than three times more likely to enroll in college than a low-to-moderate income child with no savings account and more than four and half times more likely to graduate. In addition, a low-to-moderate income child with school savings of $500 or more is about five times more likely to graduate from college than a child with no savings account.

Myth #3: “Shoulda, woulda, coulda” is helpful in the grand scheme of things.

I looked back on something I wrote in 2017: My daughter turns *gasp* four years old this week. Gone are the days of that sweet little voice chirping, “ma-ma.” Now, she’s deftly picking out “cat,” “in,” and “hat” while we read. (Yes, we did read “The Cat in the Hat” for a bedtime story tonight.)

I work in undergraduate admission at my alma mater, Central College, and just for a bit of fun (with a heart attack on the side), I decided to check out College Board’s college cost prediction for her in 14 years. (A really short amount of time, mamas!)

If she makes the same college choice I did, it’ll cost $137,125 (sticker price) for her freshman year alone. 

Cue jaw drop.

BUT! The admission professional in me says—nobody pays full sticker price. TRUE! Plus, there are scholarships, grants, loans, etc. YES! Plus… parental savings. Right.

Believe it or not, it’s possible to save for college. There are more savings options than ever, from prepaid tuition plans to tax-deferred accounts to 529 plans.

Also… this. One of the coolest things I use (and won’t shut up about) is Upromise Rewards is a free loyalty program, in which you can earn cash back for college on “what you already do and buy,” which is exactly what the website touts. You can shop online, go out to eat, buy groceries, book a vacation, and earn cash back for doing it. 

Example: We have plans for a family wedding in Mexico this November. My credit card’s registered on the website. I can go through to book a flight on Expedia. Right now, they have a deal going on that travel is 15 percent cash back through March 31. Voila — 15 percent of our flight cost funnels directly into her 529 plan.

This works for grocery stores using grocery coupons, at popular websites such as Gap, Ann Taylor, Kohl’s, Neiman Marcus, J.Crew, The Children’s Place, — the list goes on!

Ultimately, every little bit helps. Every little bit! Anything I can do to chip away at that $137,125 (ugh… that just hurts to type…) is win-win for me and my four-year-old’s future.

So… Did I use UPromise religiously? 


Do I invest in my daughter’s 529 plan every month, without fail? 


Life happens. Expenses come up. Mice happily invade your vehicle and you need a new van (guess what happened to me this summer, folks!). 

There’s no sense beating yourself up if you couldn’t do all the things. Move forward, save every penny you can and get back on track when you can.

Myth #4: It’s a good idea to write a laser-focused COVID-19 college admission essay. 

It’s a good idea to encourage your child to rethink the “COVID-19 Staycation” title and, if possible, avoid it altogether. The truth is, unless your child used COVID-19 to launch an amazing social justice program or helped people affected by COVID-19. Admission application readers may not want to read about the virus in thousands of essays.

Encourage your child to pick another topic!

Should we get to know the school counselor, or is it just another one of those myths about college admissions?

Myth #5: It’s not worth it to get to know the school counselor at my child’s school.

You’re missing out on a treasure trove of information if you and your child neglect to stop in the school counselor’s office at the beginning of this year. I was an admission counselor at a college for 12 years, and do you know what I did when I visited high schools? 

Sure, I talked to students. But I always took it one step further. I talked to school counselors in depth and even more, I made sure to ply them with treats from our local bakery and do a deep dive on:

  • Academic programs 
  • The culture of the campus
  • Athletics and our awesome coaches
  • Former high school students from that school with great success stories
  • The beautiful campus (“Have you been there, Mr. School Counselor? Here’s a coupon for free treats in the bakery! You’ve gotta make a road trip!”) 
  • And so much more!

I always tried to give school counselors a list of these highlights and answered all their questions. It was so fun! Now, here’s what you can be doing right now:

  • Have your child meet with the school counselor. Make sure you join in on the conversation. It’s time to check on classes, make sure that class success is still possible with a new schedule and whether your child has enough college prep classes worked into the school schedule, too. Don’t forget to check out 8 Important Questions to Ask Your School Counselor Right Now.
  • Have your child put together a resume. The school counselor will be able to use it to refer you to scholarships later.
  • Participate in school counselor activities. Does your child’s school counselor plan to have a back-to-school Zoom night? A parent information night? Participate! Remember, that school counselor is a trove of information.
  • Have your child send a follow-up note. Teach your child to send a thank you note whenever someone does something kind for him. A great meeting with a school counselor warrants a thank you note, and remember, that kind of thanks often goes rewarded. (Who will the school counselor think of first when a new scholarship comes across her desk, perfect for your student?)

Myth #6: We’ll pay the sticker price at colleges.

Please take this to heart: Almost nobody pays the sticker price.

They really don’t. When you look at the costs list at a college and see that it costs $50,000 per year, it might only cost you $20,000. It might even cost less than that! Lots of schools are sticking their necks out for students in the wake of the coronavirus crisis. There may be brand-new aid available to your child!  

Please go through the application process, file the FAFSA and get the financial aid awards from colleges — even if you’re scared away by the sticker price. A school with what looks like a prohibitively high sticker price might cost less than you think. 

Okay, this is really one of those myths about college admissions. Test optional really does mean test optional.

Myth #7: Test-optional admission doesn’t really mean test optional.

No, it does. They really do mean it. In fact, there’s a list of colleges with test-optional policies that say they will not penalize students for the absence of a standardized test score. These schools endorse a student-centered, holistic approach to admission that will not disadvantage any student without a test score.

You may have also heard something called a “character movement” showing up in the college admission landscape. 

What’s that? 

Colleges are starting to put more weight on students’ character for admission purposes — like social justice, citizenship and more. The tricky thing is that it’s hard to measure. However, if your student can prove outstanding characteristics like grit, tenacity, intellectual curiosity and problem-solving skills, that’s a good thing. 

Major changes may be afoot — but the bottom line is that test optional really does mean schools don’t require the ACT or SAT.

Myth #8: I’m in charge of my kid’s college search.

Would you believe that in a handful of cases, I could see that moms filled out the college application for their kids? It’s hard to watch kids flounder — to sit for hours in front of a blank screen as he tries to write a scholarship essay. But remember, this is your child’s journey. Forget the college application checklist (just for a second!) and read this

Here are a few ways you can divide up tasks. Your child should be able to:

  • Set up Zoom meetings with admission counselors
  • Set up in-person college visits (when you feel comfortable, of course)
  • Scholarship research and applications

Here are a few things you can do as a parent:

  • File the FAFSA
  • Figure out the logistics of college visits (transportation, hotel stays, etc.)
  • Talking to the financial aid office at various colleges (but have your student listen to those conversations!)


Myths: Busted! To help you out, I’ve also put together a back-to-school checklist just for you that also busts some myths about the college search. 

Everyone needs this checklist because let’s face it, launching the college search is hard — and it’s easy not to know where to start. Get my free Start-of-School College Search Checklist from College Money Tips — you’ll have it in your hands in no time!

8 Important Questions to Ask Your Child’s School Counselor Right Now

8 Important Questions to Ask Your Child’s School Counselor Right Now

College and career counselors are the unsung heroes of the college search process. They’re forthcoming about community-based scholarships, college prep courses and more. They’ve got a pulse on what’s going on at colleges and universities — because guess who talks to them before and after college visits? That’s right — college representatives! 

This year may be a little different, but going into it, I’d like to see school counselors hop on virtual visits with college admission counselors so they know exactly what’s going on at each college and university. 

Here’s what to a college counselor (also known as your child’s school counselor) this year.

1. Is it possible to work with you virtually?

You may want to jump on a conversation with the school counselor with your student this year. Classes may be a bit jumbled up because of the school schedule or required virtual classes. Eliminating electives like band and ceramics may also create openings (it’s hard to do band and choir over Zoom). The loss of electives can be a real burden for students, so if an alternative option is needed, now’s the time to talk with the school counselor. Try to schedule a meeting before school starts to discuss all the options available to your student. 

However, if you must meet in person, the school may have a specific policy about how to handle in-person meetings, such as social distancing requirements and wearing a mask in a large conference room. Make sure you come with a prepared list of questions!

2. Is my child still on the most robust college prep schedule possible?

Certain classes may only be offered twice a week, other classes may have been cut — it may seem like your child’s schedule is slowly shrinking. Make sure these are on the schedule: 


Colleges like to see four years of English. Any class where your child will study writing and literature is a bonus because just about every career will require your child to write well. Four years of English also enhances your child’s reading, analysis and communication skills.


Colleges also like to see four years of math. Math classes should include at least four of the following six classes (in order):

  • Pre-algebra
  • Algebra
  • Geometry
  • Algebra II or trigonometry
  • Precalculus
  • Calculus


It may be okay to take just three years of laboratory science classes (check specific school requirements) but a fourth year is still a bonus. Make sure your child’s taken the following:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics

Social Studies

Most colleges require at least two years of social studies, including world history and U.S. history. Your child could consider other social science options, including:

  • Government
  • Sociology
  • Geography
  • Psychology

Foreign Language

Many colleges require a minimum of two years of foreign language while in high school. It doesn’t matter which foreign language your child chooses to study.


A small number of colleges require one year of visual or performing arts prior to admission.

Check with the school counselor to be sure your child is checking all the boxes. Pay special attention to the requirements at each college. The last thing you’d want is to let COVID-19 be the reason your child didn’t take a fourth year of English.

3. What’s the latest information you’ve heard from college representatives? (In particular, School X?)

When I visited schools in the fall of 2018, I made sure to talk to the college counselor at every high school I visited. I sat in that counselor’s office and made sure to spend a few minutes highlighting exactly why students should visit our college. I repeated my elevator pitch for the counselor, highlighted the exact programs and majors that were getting a lot of attention and described what the campus was like. I tried to give each counselor a goodie basket and always gave each counselor a bundle of materials to hand out to students.

Every time I visited high schools, I made sure to let counselors know that our college was a great option for the right type of student.

Now, not all admission counselors from colleges spend that much time with school counselors. However, remember that school counselors have their ears open — and still will during the pandemic. Maybe even more so, because they’ll be collecting information about which colleges have changed their requirements, like ACT and SAT testing and more. Be sure to ask this question, because you might learn a nugget of information you can’t get online.

4. When will you hold virtual visits with admission representatives? How will my child get notified?

Since it’s likely that no in-person admission visits will happen this year, encourage your child to attend virtual college rep visits. It’s the next-best thing. Virtual visits are the perfect platform for your child to ask questions. I know it seems like something’s “missing” when your kid can’t meet with reps one-on-one, but what’s more important is asking the right questions. 

Here are a few key questions your child can ask: 

  1. Are there extra scholarships due to the pandemic? 
  2. What the campus is like right now due to COVID-19? Will this continue for the foreseeable future? 
  3. How has the pandemic affected the college process?

Admission reps should be as forthcoming with information as possible — it’s their job.

5. Which colleges do you think will be a good fit for my child?

Again, take advantage of the intel school counselors get from college representatives and ask about the colleges he or she thinks are a good fit for your child. The college counselor hears nuggets of information, such as:

  • All of College X’s students got into medical school last year.
  • College Y may switch to all online offerings next year. 
  • College Z’s exercise science program is really popular.

Obviously, these are random examples but you may learn more through the school counselor than a random online search.

6. Which classes are the best college prep classes the high school has to offer?

Does your child’s high school offer college coursework? Does your student want to take AP classes? If so, your child’s college counselor should be able to suggest some options that would be a good fit. Here are a few great follow-up questions:

  • Is my child ready to take AP courses?
  • How many are available and how many do students typically handle at once?

7. Are you aware of my child’s achievements? 

I personally love this question because it gets to the heart of whether the school counselor really knows your student. It’s important that the college counselor has a firm grasp on your child’s interests, career goals and achievements (both in the classroom and out of the classroom). Obviously, it’s impossible to expect your child’s school counselor to remember extracurricular activities for every student, so that’s where a resume comes in handy. Include:

  • Notable achievements or awards
  • Leadership positions held
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Community involvement
  • Higher-level classes taken and special projects 

Make sure you and your student are as warm and friendly as possible toward the school counselor. Doesn’t it motivate you to work harder when someone brings you cookies for doing a great job? (I’m not saying you need to do that, it’s just a reminder that we’re all going through stress and a little “thank you” goes a long way.)

8. Can I switch to a different school counselor? 

Technically, this isn’t a question you may want to ask your child’s school counselor. However, the question may need to be asked if your child’s school counselor doesn’t seem to fit your family. Does the school counselor push back meetings with your student or not answer your questions thoroughly? Ask for a counselor change — you want to be sure your child is getting the best help possible, especially now that colleges are changing everything.

Ask Great Questions

Your child’s school counselor may be overworked and overwhelmed, but it’s also important to give each other grace during these turbulent times. Take advantage of the precious time you get with the school counselor by getting ready: Prep those questions ahead of time. Write them down, make them a priority and have a great conversation, whether it’s on Zoom or in person.

Pin It on Pinterest