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Duke University
Duke University
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Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

Balancing Family Responsibilities with Applying for College

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Being a high school student is stressful enough, and if you have additional family responsibilities on top of your academic and extracurricular commitments, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. If you have responsibilities like household chores, caring for younger siblings, working to contribute to your family income, or participating in your family business, it may be difficult to find the time to work on college applications. This may be especially problematic for students who come from low-income backgrounds, whose families may not have other options for assistance and support.

So how do you find the time to apply to college while balancing your family obligations and school responsibilities? Read on for tips on how to manage your applications and your other commitments.

How much time and energy does it take to apply to college?

Applying to college is a time-intensive process. You will need to fill out the actual applications, write multiple essays (sometimes several for each college on your list), research and visit the schools (if possible), and keep all files and deadlines organized. There are also less direct ways the college admissions process will eat away at your time. You will need to study for your courses, prepare for and take standardized tests, maintain your involvement in extracurricular activities, and build relationships with the people who will write your letters of recommendation.

The process can take up a lot of energy, not to mention cause a good deal of stress. To start, make sure your academic and extracurricular schedule is not too demanding. Check out our post, How to Effectively Balance Your Time in High School for advice on managing your school schedule.

How can you cut back on family commitments?

Sometimes, one person simply can’t do it all, and you may need to ask your parents if there’s any way you can decrease your level of involvement in order to have more time to apply to college. It is a good idea to start involving them with the process early on so that they are aware that applying to college requires a major time investment.

Keep your parents up to date with the steps you are taking towards completing the applications, your progress, deadlines, and what you still need to do. It’s also a good idea to use tools like Google Calendar or a family whiteboard to keep everyone informed of how you are managing your time and how much time you need. You should plan on checking in regularly.

How can you make the best use of the time and energy you do have?

Starting early on the application process is a good idea for any high school student, but especially one who has a lot of responsibilities to manage. There are many creative solutions to balancing your busy schedule.

For instance, you might make a schedule—taking into account your other obligations—and set specific goals for every week, month, or other period of time. If you have a friend or classmate in a similar situation, suggest that you become “accountability buddies” to keep each other on track for deadlines and encourage each other to complete tasks in the time available to you. You should also look into the resources your high school or community provides. There may be materials or services available to students applying to college. Check with your guidance counselor for more information.

Another idea is using the technology that’s available to you to aid with your college search. For example, you might research one college per day on your phone while you’re on the bus, or use apps to help you study for standardized or school tests. You can also use other tools to help, such as keeping an SAT vocabulary sheet next to the register at work if you work in a store, listen to an audio book while you’re making dinner, or turn facts you need to learn for an AP exam into a game or song to play with the kids you babysit.

You also need to schedule in time for relaxation and sleep. They are necessary to keeping you active and healthy while you have time to work.

What should you tell colleges about your responsibilities at home?

Colleges tend to be fairly understanding when it comes to students who have significant family and home responsibilities, particularly if you’re a first-generation applicant or come from a working-class school district, and will often make allowances for you. As we explain in How Does Being a First-Generation College Student Affect My Application?, admissions committees are likely to understand you have other responsibilities that may interfere with your grades and school life.

It’s also a good idea to make your guidance counselor aware of your additional responsibilities so that he or she can mention it in your letter of recommendation. He or she may also be able to provide you with additional resources to help you manage your time.

You may also choose to write about your situation in a college essay if it fits in with the prompt and you can relate your story in a meaningful way.

If your grades have suffered because of family obligations, be sure to explain this in the additional information section of your applications. Be as specific as possible when describing your circumstances. Even if you have managed to maintain good grades, you may still want to explain your situation on your application, so colleges can take it into account. Read our post for more advice on explaining exceptional personal circumstances.

Applying to college while managing family commitments can be time-intensive and stressful, but there are several strategies you can employ to make the process easier on yourself. For more tips on managing your time as a high school student, check out CollegeVine’s posts, How to Effectively Balance Your Time in High School and Managing Extracurriculars: A Guide to Strategic Quitting.

For tips on finding financial assistance for the college process, read our guides, Approaching the Cost of Visiting Colleges as a First-Generation Student, FAFSA, CSS Profile, IDOC, Oh My: A Guide to Financial Aid, and The Complete Guide to Fee Waivers in the College Application Process.


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Short Bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix Hercules. She specializes in education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Slackjaw, Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket, and Funny-ish. View her work and get in touch at: www.lauraberlinskyschine.com.