What’s your initial first reaction to the question, “What is a community college?”
They’re affordable? They’re primarily for commuter students? Yeah, true, but there’s more to it than that.
First of all, it might not even cross your mind that there are similarities — not just vast differences — between a community college, liberal arts college and a university.
Finally, there’s value in visiting all types of colleges, even if you think your child knows what kind of college he wants to attend. Do your due diligence and visit before you commit to a college. In the meantime, I’ll give you some solid information about community colleges to guide you.
What is a Community College?
Community colleges offer two-year associate’s degrees, certificate programs and vocational training. Your child might choose to go directly into the workforce after his or her degree or might choose to pursue a four-year degree after community college.
An associate’s degree is an undergraduate degree that usually takes two years to complete. Here are the common degree types you can get: associate of arts, associate of science or associate of applied science.
Here are a few career paths that require a two-year degree (in case you’re looking for some ideas!):
- Registered nurse
- Air traffic controller
- Pharmacy tech
- Medical assistant
- Dental hygienist
- Dental assistant
- Radiologic technologist
Certificate programs are short-term, non-degree programs that usually take between six months and a year to complete. You may be able to take classes in the evenings or on weekends, which can be handy if someone is trying to juggle other responsibilities, like a job.
Why would you want to get a certificate program? Let’s say your student wants to learn something new that will help that future career. But you’re not interested in taking the classes necessary to get a degree.
Here are a few career paths that require a certificate degree instead of an associate’s degree:
- Auto mechanics
- Construction trades
- Computer and information services
- Business and office management
Let’s say your child’s interested in business management. Here are a few different ways your child’s interest in business management could shake out at a community college:
- Management: Associate degree
- Accounting clerk: 1-year certificate
- Accelerated accounting: Less than 1-year certificate
- Entry-level accounting clerk: Career pathway certificate
See how it’s possible to have several options? You won’t have to get a two-year degree if you don’t want to.
How are Community Colleges Different from Other Types of Institutions?
Here are a few other major types of postsecondary institutions:
- A public (or state) university receives significant public funds from the government of that state.
- A private university is not funded by the government.
- A liberal arts college is smaller than either of these types of institutions and is also not government funded.
All states in the United States have public and private colleges and universities.
Community college instructors spend most of their time teaching and working with students. They usually don’t spend as much time working on research as their counterparts at four-year public research institutions. Professors at large research universities spend a great deal of time conducting original research. They often spend less time teaching.
Liberal arts colleges offer four-year bachelor’s degrees. Professors at liberal arts colleges teach broad-based courses instead of the specific training you’ll find at a community college. They offer classics like history, mathematics, art and English — you won’t find majors like industrial technology or welding at a liberal arts college.
Professors also spend most of their time teaching instead of conducting research. Liberal arts colleges typically offer:
- Small class sizes
- Accessible professors
- No teaching assistants
- A focus on undergraduate education, rather than a full focus on research and graduate education (this means that professors with a terminal degree in their field teach classes)
Community college students on a four-year track can elect to attend a liberal arts college, private university or large public university. You’ll be a transfer student if you continue your studies at a four-year college or university.
Most community colleges are commuter colleges. This means that most students do not live on campus. In contrast, private colleges and universities in particular offer a residential community.
The most glaring difference between a high school diploma, associate’s degree and a bachelor’s degree could be how much you can earn over a lifetime. Here’s a quick snapshot, according to the Center on Education and the Workforce:
- High school diploma: $1.3 million
- Associate’s degree: $1.7 million
- Bachelor’s degree: $2.2 million
Obviously, money isn’t everything. Maybe your child’s lifelong dream has always been to become a dental hygienist. Don’t let these figures scare both of you away. Many associate’s degrees can result in an excellent salary and offer great lifetime earnings potential.
Pros and Cons of a Community College
There are several reasons students choose to attend a community college — and there are also several cons your child may want to seriously consider.
- Affordable tuition
- Flexible schedule
- Can be a good way to transition from high school to college
- Small class sizes
- Offer the convenience of living at home
- Can help you figure out what you want to study
- May give you a chance to strengthen your grade point average
- Curriculum is more limited and less rigorous
- Student life is less robust
- Commuter school isn’t for everyone
- Professors with a terminal degree in their field aren’t usually what the norm at a community college.
What are your child’s highest priorities? For example, let’s say your kid’s looking for an active social life and a challenging curriculum. In that case, a community college might not be a great fit. On the other hand, if your child’s priority is to save money and live at home, then a community college could be your best choice.
It also may be a great option right now. Community college is a great first step if you’re not interested in navigating coronavirus far away from home.
How to Apply to a Community College
Applying to a community college is a little more cut-and-dried than writing college essays for Ivy League schools. You can just decide which school you’d like to attend and apply.
Step 1: Do your research.
It’s true that it’s super-easy to find a community college to attend — chances are, there’s one in your town. Just make sure that the community college offers the program you want. Let’s say you plan to study robotics but you find that your local community college doesn’t have that program. It’s not going to make much sense for you to go to school there, is it?
Check out the community college’s website, schedule a college visit and visit the campus. Ask good questions on your tour. You can do all of this before you apply — or you can apply first and then visit a community college. You may feel most comfortable with a mask on or opt for a virtual tour right now.
Step 2: Fill out the application.
Your child will be able to find the community college application on its website — most community colleges have their own application portals. Find the “Apply” button. You’ll have to fill out many of the same details on each application:
- Address, including state of residence
- High school
- Goals in college, such as an associate’s degree or certificate
Your child may be required to prove residency in the state. Your child may need to provide proof of residence through a:
- Driver’s license
- Bank account information
- Voter or vehicle registration
- Your taxes
Contact the community college admission office if you’re not sure what your child needs to provide.
Note: Your child’s transcripts will be enough to prove residency. As long as your child attends high school in the same state as the community college for at least a year, that will be sufficient evidence that your child is a resident.
Step 3: Submit transcripts.
You won’t need to get letters of recommendation, write an essay or send in your SAT or ACT scores. You’ll only need to show the school your child’s high school transcripts.
Submit those transcripts if your child hasn’t yet graduated from high school. Doing so will prove that your child intends to graduate from high school. Ask your child’s school counselor to send transcripts to the community college.
How Much Does a Community College Cost?
Great question. Simply put, the average in-state tuition and fees at community colleges were $3,660 in 2018-2019. This is the lowest cost among all higher education sectors, according to the American Association of Community Colleges. This compares to $10,230 for in-state students at four-year public universities and $26,290 for out-of-state students at four-year public universities. The cost to attend a private, nonprofit four-year institution in 2018-2019 was $35,830, according to that same report.
What kind of financial aid can your student get at a community college? First, you’ll have to file the FAFSA for need-based financial aid.
- Grants: Financial aid that you don’t have to pay back.
- Work-study: You can get a job at the community college you attend. Just like a regular job, you get to collect a check for the hours you work.
- Loans: Financial aid that you have to pay them back with interest.
Want to learn more about how to get need-based aid? Check out the basic eligibility requirements.
Does a Community College Fit Your Student’s Needs Now?
A year ago, your student may never have even thought about the possibility of attending a community college. However, the world has changed — and there are so many paths your child can go to become an accountant, doctor or journalist.
It doesn’t have to look like this anymore:
HIGH SCHOOL —–> FOUR-YEAR COLLEGE —-> PROFESSIONAL SCHOOL —–> CAREER
It can look like this:
HIGH SCHOOL —-> GAP YEAR —-> WORK FOR A YEAR —–> COMMUNITY COLLEGE —-> FOUR-YEAR COLLEGE —-> CAREER
When you’re taking a look at the full costs of college, room and board happens to be part of the cost of attendance. But what is room and board, exactly? What does room and board include in college? How does it fit into the overall costs?
These are great questions. Taking care of college costs may be one of the most expensive (and one of the most important!) experiences you’ve ever paid for, and in this situation, you may feel as if you have to take an X-Acto knife to your budget to pare as much as possible from it to make room and board payments.
In this article, we’ll dive right into room and board meaning as well as answer the question, “What does room and board include in college?” We’ll also cover how to learn the cost of room and board, whether you have to pay room and board (and how to pay for it!). We’ll also walk through steps to make it less expensive.
What is Room and Board?
Room and board: Quite simply, it refers to the roof over a student’s head (room) in the residence hall and the food a student eats at college (board). Besides that, what are the fringe benefits? What is included in room and board?
As you might imagine after taking visits to colleges, your child will encounter a wide variety of types of residence halls or “dorm living” — large rooms, small rooms, residence halls for solely first-year students, others that are more apartment-style living. Some schools have required residential living on campus.
College rooms typically come furnished with beds, desks, chairs, bookshelves, dressers and closets, not to mention lounge spaces, restrooms, electricity, heat, and internet access. You may have to pay more for fancier on-campus digs, which might include flashier apartment-style living and amenities like fitness centers.
Check the differences between costs of various housing options on campus. The admission office or financial aid office should be able to help you and your child iron out those specific costs.
What is the “board” in room and board?
“Board” refers to a meal plan, or a pre-set number of meals you can purchase prior to the start of an academic semester in college. Colleges also have a wide variety of meal plan options that are preloaded on an ID card. Many meal plans at many colleges offer meals for seven days. For example, a student might choose from a 13-meal plan, where they get 13 meals throughout the week, or a 20-meal plan, where they get 20 meals throughout the week. This is typically called a standard/basic meal plan.
However, students may be able to choose from a much smaller meal plan, such as seven meals per week. Note that some schools do not allow students to opt out of the meal plan, particularly if schools have a residential requirement.
Some schools even offer unlimited meals, but most function as a per meal/swipe limit or a point plan.
- Per meal/swipe plan: The per meal/swipe plan allows your child to swipe every time to use up their allotment. For example, your may use a “swipe” for a granola bar or a huge buffet meal — they would “give up” that swipe, no matter how little or how much they eat.
- Point plan: Purchasing meal points means that you purchase a certain number of points ahead of time and points get deducted from the “collection of points.” For example, if your child eats that granola bar for lunch, it would “cost” them fewer points than the big buffet meal.
How Do You Learn the Cost of Room and Board?
Most schools list room and board right on their websites, so you don’t have to guess where the “room and board” comes in among the other costs. It is embedded in the cost of attendance at most schools.
Schools typically list the tuition, required fees and other parts of a financial aid award very clearly and in order on their websites. Some people call this the “cost of attendance” (COA), which also includes room and board. In addition to room and board, COA estimates other educational expenses such as:
- Tuition and fees
- Personal expenses
Learn more: 6 Ways to Handle a Disappointing Financial Aid Award
Do You Have to Pay Room and Board?
Yes, you have to pay for room and board. Naturally, the total cost of room and board depends on the type of campus housing and the food plan your child chooses. The cost of living on campus, according to the most recent data (for 2020 to 2021) from the National Center for Education Statistics, was $6,897 for all institutions. On average, the board for colleges cost $5,335 for all institutions during the same timeframe.
How do you find out your COA? You can find out the total cost of attendance on the school’s website. However, you can drill in deeper and use a net price calculator, which gives you a more accurate cost of the college aligned with what it will cost your child based on your personal financial situation. You can find a net price calculator on every college and university website — it’s required by law.
How to Pay for Room and Board
Let’s take a quick look at how to pay for room and board from the standpoint of truly understanding your child’s financial aid award. We’ll also help you get an idea of the different types of financial aid opportunities available to your child, including scholarships, grants, loans and work-study.
Step 1: Understand the financial aid award.
One of the most important things you can do: Understand the financial aid award from top to bottom. It’s important to have a firm grasp on how much a particular school will cost.
Sometimes, various types of aid get lumped together. For example, it might look like your child has received a huge financial aid award, but when you peel back each layer, you may realize that a few of those “awards” are actually loans. Some schools also work-study as part of the award calculation. I’m really not a fan of this tactic because it looks like you get a guaranteed lump sum of money, but that’s not true — your child must earn work-study money by working a job on campus.
In addition to that, some financial aid awards do not include the total cost. When financial aid awards don’t publish the total cost right on the financial aid package, you might have to do a little digging. Look carefully at a school’s costs page online, or better yet, call, to be absolutely sure that you’re considering all costs, such as lab, orientation, athletics, campus, transportation fees, etc. You may not find out about these “nasty” surprises till later.
It’s also a good idea to consider the fees and interest rates for loans. Use an interest rate calculator to get a sense of how much it will cost you for sure. Finally, remember that colleges also implement tuition increases each year but scholarships don’t always increase as tuition increases.
Ultimately, it’s important to really understand the full figure and what to expect.
Step 2: Apply financial aid toward room and board.
How does financial aid award actually work? You get a round COA, then apply individual situations to it. Specifically, this means that you apply scholarships, grants, work-study and loans to it. Therefore:
Cost of attendance (COA) – Financial aid = Your final costs
Filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) will get you started in the right direction. This means that your child will be considered for federal student loans, federal work-study and federal grants. I encourage every family to file the FAFSA no matter what, because you may be able to chip away at the costs using federal aid. Items such as work-study will not go on your child’s financial aid award if you don’t file the FAFSA. You must file the FAFSA in order to qualify.
Read more about how to get college paid for.
- Consider housing assistance grants. Some states offer housing expense grants for students, and it’s important to recognize that grants do not need to be repaid. Funding can depend on your state and your child’s school. Housing grants may require an application, including filing the FAFSA. Check with the financial aid office at schools, state department of higher education or more.
- Search for scholarships (including throughout college). Your child does not need to pay scholarships back (just like grants), but they can help cover the cost of room and board. Students can find scholarships through a wide variety of means, including through a college or university, through your local community (through clubs, organizations, religious groups, etc.) Need-based and merit-based scholarships can help you pay for room and board. Your child can also apply for scholarships throughout those college years — they’re not limited to just scholarships they get during their senior year of high school.
- Consider loans: Loans can help your child pay for college. Federal student loans give your child the best bang for their buck because they have the lowest interest rates and give them opportunities for forgiveness as well as other flexible repayment options such as income-driven repayment. Here are a few types of federal student loans you may need to be aware of:
- Direct Subsidized loans: The government pays the fixed interest rate (which means the interest rate doesn’t change) on need-based Direct Subsidized loans when your undergraduate child stays enrolled in college at least part time. Your child will also receive a grace period before they need to repay their loans after graduation.
- Direct Unsubsidized loans: The government does not pay the fixed interest rate on non-need-based Direct Unsubsidized loans, unlike in the case of Direct Subsidized loans. Unsubsidized loans go to undergraduate and graduate students.
- Direct PLUS loans: As a parent, you can take out a PLUS loan to pay for education costs when you need to pay for “the rest” of college costs. Graduate students can also take out PLUS loans for graduate school. However, you must have a decent credit score in order to qualify.
- Private student loans: If your child still needs more money to pay for college, they can tap into private student loans. They can have fixed or variable interest rates and various loan terms (which refers to the length of the payback period) but these rates may be higher than federal student loans. Your student also cannot access privileges related to forgiveness or other types of income-driven repayment plans with private loans.
Step 3: Consider other options.
It’s possible to think outside the box here. In many situations, your child doesn’t have to live on campus. If you and your child pencil out the costs and you find out that it’s cheaper to live off campus, it might actually be a good idea to approach an off-campus living situation.
Your child may also want to look into becoming a resident advisor (RA) in their second year of college. An RA is the leader of a portion of a residence hall, which means that they might mentor a handful of first-year students and help them get used to residence hall living. They might play games with them, organize on-campus group meals and oversee the behavior of residents on that floor. RAs typically receive free or discounted room and board. The amount of the discount varies from school to school.
In many cases, student RAs must maintain a certain GPA and continue to make academic progress throughout any given semester.
Step 4: Pay the bill for room and board.
Finally, the last step involves paying the final bill for room and board. Most colleges send the first semester tuition bill prior to the start of the academic year, like in July. You may also consider opting for a monthly payment plan, which divides up the months of the year that your child will attend school or spreads them out over the course of 10 or 11 months.
Make sure the school’s financial aid award captures the correct scholarships and other aid (particularly outside scholarships) before you pay the bill.
Is it Less Expensive to Live On or Off Campus?
At first glance, the cost of living off-campus may seem cheaper than room and board, but by the time you add up the additional costs, such as furniture you have to purchase, utilities, and purchasing your own groceries, you may get close to the cost of paying for room and board.
Iron out all the expenses between both with your child. It’s your child’s first foray into adulthood and it’s important to remember that some kids need the residence hall environment for a few years — some students are not yet ready for apartment living.
How to Make Room and Board Less Expensive
You likely have a little bit less maneuverability when saving on room and board in a residence hall because there aren’t dozens of ways to cut back. Your child’s only options may involve choosing a less expensive meal plan (which likely involves fewer meals) or a lower-cost dorm room.
However, there are quite a few ways your child can reduce expenses if they choose to live off campus:
- Put together a budget to monitor daily expenses.
- Get a roommate to share expenses.
- Choose lower-cost groceries or clip coupons and limit going out to eat.
- Cancel cable and opt for lower entertainment costs.
- Save on utilities (wear a sweater instead of turning up the heat) and turn out the lights.
- Choose a lower-cost apartment with fewer amenities.
- Shop for cheaper internet.
- Use public transportation.
- Limit use of credit cards.
- Brew coffee at home.
Encourage your child to get creative about saving money — college students are notoriously creative.
It’s Possible to Save Money on Room and Board
You can save money on room and board. It’s a good idea to compare costs by considering the answer to “What are room and board expenses?” and comparing on- and off-campus options side by side.
Furthermore, encourage your child to get as many scholarships and grants as possible, money that they don’t have to pay back.
Do college scholarships pay for room and board?
Yes, college scholarships pay for room and board. When you get a financial aid award, most money gets applied toward both tuition, room, board and fees, with the exception of certain scholarships such as full-tuition scholarships, which only apply to tuition.
Does room and board count as tuition?
Room and board is not the same as tuition. Tuition refers to the costs you pay for classes. Tuition varies from college to college, just as room and board varies from school to school. These costs can vary widely. For example, a liberal arts college may cost far more for tuition, room, board and fees than a community college.
College tuition costs continue to rise. Parents often struggle to manage the costs even with substantial financial aid, and students are (justifiably) fearful of the debt they’ll amass trying to pay their own way. The hope of course is that action will ultimately be...
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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?
- 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.
Above All Else — Check In!
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!
Pulling your hair out because your child won’t get going with college applications? Or maybe it’s tricky to get the application deadlines organized, the essays written, understanding the types of college applications…
Okay, you know what? Let’s not overwhelm you more.
When I first became an admission counselor, I had zero awareness that other schools even had admission deadlines.
Because we used rolling admission and we could accept college applications at any time.
Are you aware of the fact that colleges have application deadlines?
Ha! Just kidding — I know you know.
Here’s how to take the flummox out of college applications. Flummox: What a great word!
Maybe your kiddo can add it to his application essay!
Step 1: Review your child’s short list.
Is the list still the list? It could have changed since your daughter’s junior year. COVID-19 hit and everything changed. Your child may no longer want to go to a school far from home. She may be less than interested in the school down the road, which has all online classes — and nothing else.
The point is, where she was last year could be completely different from now. She also could have added six more to the list since then.
Step 2: Have a family conversation.
Now’s the time to talk about what makes sense for your child’s needs — together. Maybe your child has severe allergies and you think that wearing a mask everywhere will make it harder to breathe.
Maybe you feel that your child had a horrible junior year and those college prospects don’t look nearly as good as they could have.
Step 3: Understand the various admission types.
Different schools = different admission types.
Let’s do a quick overview of admission types to help guide you through.
Your child can apply to a bunch of schools with the regular application submission deadline. The deadline itself varies between institutions.
Regular admission deadlines typically fall in early January and admission offers are sent out in late March or early April. Your student has until May 1 to either accept or decline the admission offers. Colleges that offer regular admission usually incorporate an early college admission option (detailed below).
Colleges release admission decisions regularly — sometimes daily — instead of sending them all out on one target date with rolling admission.
An admission committee reviews your child’s application as soon as all required information is in, rather than setting an application deadline and reviewing applications in a group. Colleges that use a rolling admission policy usually notify applicants of admission decisions quickly.
Rolling admissions decisions are non-binding, which means that your child will not be required to attend that school. Your child will not need to decide whether to enroll until May 1, or National Candidate Reply Day.
Open admission means a college accepts any high school graduate, regardless of academic performance, until all spaces in the incoming class are filled. Community colleges often admit students through open admission.
Early Action (EA)
Early action gives your child the option to submit an application before the regular deadline. These plans are not binding, which means that your child is not required to attend that particular college. Some colleges have an early action option called EA II — a later application deadline.
Early Decision (ED)
Early decision means your child submits an application to his or her first-choice college before the regular deadline. Early decision plans are binding. This means your child must enroll in the college if admitted and accept the financial aid award offered — immediately. Some colleges have an early decision option called ED II — a later application deadline than a school’s regular ED plan.
Single-Choice Early Action or Restrictive Early Action
Single-choice early action, also known as restrictive early action or restricted early action, is another non-binding option. Your child is not required to attend if accepted. However, your your child may not apply to any other school during the early action period. It’s a combo of both early action and early decision. In other words, it’s less restrictive than early decision but more restrictive than early action.
Step 4: Make a list of college deadlines.
Wouldn’t it be nice if all college application deadlines fell on the same date every year?
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The spreadsheet includes everything you want to keep track of — including application deadlines. Save it as your own and fill it out however you’d like to use it. It’s a great way to get you college search in gear.
And, for heaven’s sake, you can keep track of all those application deadlines!
Step 5: Understand the various types of college applications.
In addition to admission types, you also contend with different application types.
It’s okay, though. Each college makes it very clear on its website which type of application it uses. (Make sure to mark it down the College Money Tips Visit Spreadsheet!)
You can apply to nearly 900 colleges and universities using the Common Application (aka Common App), including public and private colleges and universities. In all 50 U.S. states and 20 countries!
- Gather materials, such as transcripts and test scores.
- Create an account.
- Add colleges your student plans to apply to.
- Get recommendations or other official forms from counselors, teachers and others.
- Plan the essay and write it.
- Submit your application.
The Coalition aimed to improve the college application process. MyCoalition, is designed to engage students, particularly under-represented students, in the college application process You use a digital storage locker, interactive Collaboration Space and the application is accepted at all member schools.
- Start application.
- Choose your applicant type.
- Follow all the links to the various application parts to complete the college’s application. These steps vary depending on the college.
Some schools use the Universal Application — but many schools also accept the Common and Coalition Applications. Figure out which schools on your child’s list coincide with a specific application type and concentrate on that one.
- Click “Start New.”
- First years complete the First Year Admissions Application. Transfer Applicants complete the Transfer Admissions Application.
- Fill out the Personal Statement or essay portion if necessary.
- Fill out supplemental forms.
- Complete recommendation and report forms required by the colleges. Each college may require different Part 3 forms and some may not require any at all.
- First-year applicants can request the Instructor Recommendation, School Report, Midyear Report, and the Final Report as well as the Early Decision Agreement or First Marking Period Report when applicable.
Colleges’ Own Application
Many colleges don’t bother with the Common Application, Coalition Application or Universal Application. You must fill out their own application! Some colleges accept a shared application like the Common Application or their own application.
For example, the institution where I worked (a private college) requires its own application. We didn’t accept the Common, Coalition or Universal Application.
If you compared them all, you might see similarities and differences between all application types.
Step 6: Time block.
Help your student set aside specific amounts of time to fill out the application. Let’s say your student must complete the application by November 1 for Early Decision.
Sit down with your child and time block out specific evenings and weekends (working around soccer and piano lessons!) to work on the essay and other application sections. It might look like this:
- College X application: September 15
- Common Application recommendation requests: September 18
- Common Application essay: September 21 to 30
- And so on!
Encourage your high school to tackle small sections at a time. It’ll keep your child from getting overwhelmed.
Small steps! It’s all it takes.
Step 7: Get help — but schedule ahead!
Your child’s English teacher might be a whiz at crafting essays. Have him reach out to her for help with plenty of time to spare before the deadline. His teacher might be helping 60 other kids with their essays, too!
That brings up another point: Make sure your child asks for recommendation letters in plenty of time. Weeks, if not months, in advance! You want to make sure your child’s recommendation doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.
The reality: You don’t know how long it’ll take your child to complete the application. It might take days, it might take weeks!
But you and your student want to get this part of the college search just perfect. Take plenty of time to get it right. Your child won’t regret crafting the perfect essay, waiting on a stunning recommendation letter and more.
Just build in plenty of time to do it!