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College Planning Checklist for Parents
The college process is a stressful for both students and their parents. As the parent of high schooler, how do you make sure you’re staying on top of the important information, key dates, and everything else involved in college planning? Here’s you checklist for keeping your student—and yourself— on track.
Discuss high school expectations
At the beginning of the year, discuss expectations for the rest of high school. Ask about college and career goals, while reminding your child that these plans are not set in stone. Formulate a plan together about how you’ll reach those goals. For more tips on planning out high school, read Should You Start Planning for College as a Ninth Grader?.
Use your discussion to inform your action plan. This should include an outline of specific steps and goals for meeting these aspirations, along with checkpoints and measures of gauging progress along the way.
Help your student adjust to the demands of high school
Based on your child’s individual strengths, interests, and needs, you should create a study plan together—the demands of high school will be different from what she’s used to. This plan should include how she will study along the way for smaller tests, specific methods of preparing for finals, and avoiding end-of-year burnout.
Encourage your student to get involved in extracurriculars
Your teenager should start exploring her interests by joining clubs and participating in activities out of school. Encourage her to join as many as even vaguely interest her now, and you can make a plan for whittling down the list to those about which she’s truly passionate later on.
Prepare for standardized tests
Help your child prepare for the PSAT, which she should take for the first time this year. It can be useful in gauging her starting point and determining whether she will need help preparing for the SAT or ACT. Her score report will provide strengths, weaknesses, and areas to hone.
Practice tests can also be useful in helping your child prepare for the SAT, which she’ll probably take for the first time in 11th grade. Suggest that your child start taking them now, so she’s more than prepared for next year.
Start visiting colleges
Now is a good time to start going on campus tours to help your child gauge her interest and fit (how well her values align with a school and if she can picture herself there). You’ll probably go on many tours, so getting a head start can give you time to fit everything in.
Research colleges online
In addition to going on tours, you and your student should be researching colleges online. Look at individual websites, view rankings, and use other online resources to learn more about individual colleges and whether they’re right for your teenager. Not only will doing so help you and your child learn more about the school, but you’ll also get a better idea of what your student is looking for. Check out 7 Online College Planning Resources for Parents for tips on where to look.
Paying for college is an important stage in college planning. Gather financial information to prepare for completing financial aid forms later. You should also evaluate your financial situation. While financial aid can help, you may not be able to afford your child’s dream school. Discuss any limitations with your child now, so she knows sooner rather than later.
For more financial planning advice, read 4 College Financial Planning Tips for Parents of 10th Graders.
Create a standardized testing plan
Your child should take the SAT or ACT this year. Based on practice tests and the PSAT, which she should take for the second time this fall, figure out strengths and weaknesses, and develop a plan for how to improve. Also, come up with a plan for staying on top of schoolwork and other commitments while preparing for the SAT.
Formulate college lists
Make a preliminary list of colleges to which your child will apply early in the year. Include a balance of safety—schools to which she’s likely to be admitted, middle—schools where she has about a 50-50 chance of getting in, and reach schools—colleges to which she has a small chance of being admitted. Help your child be aspirational but realistic; for example, Ivies are a reach for all students. Revise this list late junior year based on visits and research to come up with her final college list: the colleges to which she will actually apply.
Start working with your student to apply for scholarships
Scholarships can help you pay for college. Start applying now, because many deadlines are early senior year or even junior year. Work with your child to make a list of deadlines for the scholarships that seem appropriate. Read Getting a Head Start on Your Scholarship Search for more tips on applying for scholarships early.
Remember to check in with your child regularly. Discuss how high school is going and reflect on your child’s goals. You should also discuss college goals. For more advice for college planning as a junior, read Share This College To-Do List with Your Rising Junior.
Complete your financial aid forms
Complete financial aid forms, including FAFSA. You will need personal financial information, such as tax returns, bank statements, and other documents. Your child’s package offers will be based on the financial information you provide on these forms.
When you receive package offers, spend some time evaluating them with your teenager. The language and breakdown of the components of the offer can be confusing; read Understanding Your Financial Aid Award Letters for clarification.
Work on college applications
This, of course, will be one of the biggest parts of senior year. While the work should be your child’s, you can support her be offering to read and provide feedback on applications and essays, making sure she stays relaxed and healthy, and giving assistance in other ways. Read Parents: Surviving the College Admissions Roller Coaster for tips on providing support during this process.
Help you student decide on a college to attend. This can be a difficult decision, of course. For tips, read Parents: 8 Ways to Help Your Teen Make a College Decision.
Encourage your student to consider her options carefully. She should visit the school again, spend a night, and sit in on classes and activities to get a real feel for the school. She needs to make sure she truly fits in, taking into account the whole student experience, not just the prestige of the college.
Put down a deposit
Most deadlines are in May, so most likely, your student will have to come to closure then. You’ll need to put down a deposit, which is generally non-refundable. If your child gets off a waiting list and wants to attend that school, discuss whether you can handle this financially. It’s best to have the conversation before the possibility arises, so you’re prepared to handle it if and when it does.
Start preparing for college
College will be here before before both of you know it. Figure out what your child needs and what you want to accomplish before fall. You may want to go shopping, go over health and safety plans, and help your student adjust to the transition—among other plans, of course.
Your child should be doing something productive and advancing her goals every summer. Activities might include summer programs, college courses, volunteer work, and travel. While she should have some time to relax, too, she also needs to be showing colleges that she’s working toward her goals and living out her passions.
For some ideas of ways to spend summers, read 50 Summer Activities for High School Students. Keep in mind that you will need to decide on an activity earlier in the year, because many deadlines occur during the school year, so figure out your student’s plans well before summer rolls around.
A Final Note
College planning is stressful for everyone involved. However, making a point to stay involved, check in with your teenager, and work together to solve problems and establish goals can help you and your teen get through it in one piece. Don’t be caught off guard! Start planning now, so you can help your student achieve success for later.
Other resources for parents:
Looking for support for your student as she navigate the road to college? Check out the CollegeVine Mentorship Program. Our mentors drive significant personal and professional development for their high school mentees.
Combining mentorship with engaging content, insider strategies, and personalized analyses, our program provides students with the tools to succeed. As students learn from successful older peers, they develop confidence, autonomy, and critical thinking skills to help maximize their chances of success in college, business, and life.