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How do you help your child find the right college fit in October?
The college search is a process. It’s not like your child can usually apply, visit, get accepted and plunk down a deposit all in the same month. (If you can do that, my hat’s off to you! — Ha!)
Again, it’s a twisty road with lots of checkpoints along the way.
Senior parents, here’s what you need to know about how to look for colleges in October. (By the way, this is great information even for those parents who aren’t parents of seniors!)
1. File the FAFSA.
The FAFSA opened on October 1 and now’s the time to fill it out.
The FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Colleges and universities use the FAFSA to consider your child for federal student aid. States and individual colleges and universities also use the FAFSA to award grants, scholarships and loans.
File the FAFSA as soon as possible — for federal aid, you must submit the FAFSA by 11:59 p.m. Central time (CT) on June 30, 2022.
Does that mean you get to veg out till June 29?
Because colleges also carry deadlines. Check with the college(s) your child’s interested in attending to understand their exact application deadlines.
2. Encourage your child to work on applications in advance — not at the last minute.
Most colleges evaluate regular applications between January through March. However, you’ll unearth a few different deadlines for specific admission types.
For example, early action and early decision applications require students to submit their materials well before the new year. Application deadlines show up during the — you guessed it — fall months! You might see a few mid-October through November deadlines at colleges that have an early action or early decision process.
Check — and double check — the admission deadlines for each college your child plans to apply. Even if the college uses rolling admission, it’s best to apply early so you know where your child stands in terms of merit-based scholarships and other financial aid early on.
3. Check out various other deadlines for specific colleges.
Your high schooler may not be done with just an application. You may uncover a few other dates to keep track of:
- Additional deadlines for honors programs
- More applications or deadlines for scholarships and financial aid
How to keep track of it all? Create an online calendar or spreadsheet to plan campus visits so you don’t — gasp! — miss key application dates for scholarships or financial aid.
4. Note ACT/SAT Adjustments
Does your student plan to take the ACT or SAT? Do a quick study on the latest testing information. Will the test be offered where your child normally planned to take it? What are the COVID-19 requirements?
If testing is not available in your area or you don’t meet the safety requirements, know that many schools have gone test optional.
Note: Even if your child’s a senior, it’s not too late to take one of these tests.
5. Start Narrowing Your College List
Your child can only go to one school, right? Time to start narrowing the list! Ask your child a few questions to get closer to a decision:
- Do you want or need to be closer to home? (Colleges close by may not have popped up on your kiddo’s radar before!)
- Do you think you prefer a small liberal arts college or a large university?
- Would you prefer a large city, suburban area, rural community, etc.?
- Do you think you want community college first?
- Are you interested in going to a school that’s currently all online?
- Are you comfortable with some loans?
- How hard do you want to work for scholarships if schools don’t offer much merit-based aid?
- What do you think you might major in during college?
- What types of extracurricular activities would you like to participate in?
Next, divide schools into “safety,” “match” and “reach” schools based on the admission criteria at each school:
- Safety: A safety school means that based on a school’s admission criteria, it’s likely that your child’s academic credentials are way above the average incoming freshman range. A lot of people call this school a “back-up.” It’s a good idea to make sure your child can proudly say, “I’m okay with attending my safety school” — just in case.
- Match: A match school is one that your child is likely to get into based on a particular school’s admission criteria. Your child is likely to be admitted because his or her academic credentials are well within the average incoming freshman’s range. In other words, it’s more likely that your child will attend this school.
- Reach: A reach school is not a guaranteed shoo-in. Encourage your child to choose a school that’s not a complete pipe dream (your child can’t apply to Harvard with a 2.5 grade point average, for example).
Feel like you’re constantly bombarding your child with questions and all you get in return is “I don’t know!” or something along those lines? Remember, your child may not know the answer to some of these questions — this may be the first huge decision he’s ever made.
Elicit help from a guidance counselor, admission counselor or another individual you trust to help guide him through this experience.
6. Start Applying for Outside Scholarships
Outside scholarships include private scholarships and cash awards. Encourage your child to go for those $100 scholarships — they add up.
Totally ask the guidance counselor at your child’s school for insight. Here are a few other pointers:
- Go to area high schools and collect programs dating back up to four years ago. You can find the names of scholarships on that list, Google them and then BAM! Your kid’s got lots of local scholarships at her disposal.
- Contact various civic organizations in town, like the Elks club or Kiwanis club. They usually give away lots of scholarships.
- What types of scholarships does your company offer? Do other family members work for companies that offer scholarships as well?
- Ask your child about scholarship announcements at school. Ask for an email copy of these announcements, if possible, or ask where you can find them online.
- Check social media. Join Facebook groups or other social media groups that post scholarships. All it takes is a simple search!
- Look at scholarship search engines. Google “scholarships for writers,” for example. Use keywords to your advantage!
- If your child doesn’t look like a match for a specific scholarship, reach out to the scholarship committee and ask if your child can apply anyway. Maybe he’s just missing one tiny requirement.
I urge you to check out Scholarship System’s free webinar. Jocelyn of the Scholarship System is amazing — she’s turned getting scholarships into a complete system. She knows how to streamline the process so your child gets scholarship results.
7. Attend Virtual College Fairs
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, NACAC has canceled all Fall 2020 in-person fairs and pivoted to virtual programming. Find out details about 2020 Fall Virtual College Fairs. If you’re wondering how to look for colleges, this is a great place to start because your child can learn a lot about colleges from all over the U.S. from a comfy, squashy chair!
8. Visit Schools
Visit, visit, visit. I can’t stress the importance visiting schools. How to schedule a college visit?
Above All Else — Check In!
- Talk over the type of visit your child wants. Talk to your child before you jump on the phone or set up a campus visit. What does your child want to get out of the visit? Does she want to meet with a faculty member or does that idea terrify her? Does she want what I call the “drive-by” experience — just tour and admission counselor?
- Call the admission office of a college or university. I heavily suggest calling the campus visit coordinator at that college or university instead of signing up online. It’s always better to talk to a live person. A computer can’t hear you talking about your child’s interest in biology, but a campus visit coordinator can — and can offer a one-on-one meeting with a biology major or professor.
- Understand your visit options. What are the options? Let’s say you want to visit on a specific date. Maybe the admission office isn’t doing personal campus visits that day — maybe there’s a group campus visit day.
- Consider a personal campus visit. This is my very favorite type of visit option! I love personal campus visits because they allow you and your child to do a visit that fits your child’s exact interests. It’s personalized! You can visit with anyone in the college you need to (professor, coach, student, etc.)
- Visit in person. I know it’s tempting to do a Zoom visit, but while Zoom is wonderful, it can’t take the place of an in-person visit.
Take the temperature. How’s your child feeling about the process? It’s easy to become so absorbed in checking all the boxes and forget how your child feels. Start having those heart-to-heart chats!