April Maguire 3 min read Tips for Parents

Why Parents Shouldn’t Underestimate The College Application Process

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As a parent, you naturally want to do everything in your power to help your teen achieve their dreams. Unfortunately, both parents and students sometimes mistakenly assume that the college applications process is no big deal. All you have to do is select your top schools from a list and fill out a handful of applications, right?

 

On the contrary, applying to colleges is a lengthy and demanding process that takes a serious toll on everyone involved, including students, parents, siblings, teachers, and counselors. Moreover, if families don’t start planning early, students might miss out on opportunities to optimize their applicant profiles and maximize financial aid.

 

How Long Does It Take to Apply to Colleges?

 

If you think you can wait until senior year to start the college application process, then think again. The truth is applying to college involves a whole lot more than paging through a few shiny brochures and sending in your transcript. Your student’s journey to college applications actually begins the minute they set foot into high school. Schools are interested in how your student performs both inside and outside the classroom, for all four years of high school. Good grades are important, but strong and interesting extracurriculars are what help your teen stand out from the other high-achieving applicants. The longer you wait to get started, the less time you have to optimize your profile and gain a leg up on the competition.

 

Families also underestimate how time-consuming it is to choosing which schools to apply to. While most students apply to between six and seven schools, some aim for ten or more institutions, including reaches and safety options. Students spend can spend around 20 hours choosing which schools to apply to, and at least another two hours filling out each school’s specific essays and requirements.

 

Completing financial aid documents can take an additional 10 to 20 hours. Different schools require different forms and have different deadlines, so it’s important to get those straight to maximize your financial aid award.

 

Another task that eats up serious time is completing students essays. Most colleges require students to write a 650-word essay as part of the Common Application, but many schools ask for supplemental essays as well. Key to standing out from the crowd, essays show off students’ writing prowess while revealing invaluable information about their life experiences and achievements. On average, students spend 10 to 20 hours drafting and fine-tuning their Common App essay.

How Parents Can Support Their Teen in the College Applications Process

 

  • Help your student figure out what grades and scores will make them competitive. If a student is set on attending Princeton, for example, it’s helpful to know that the average applicant has a 4.0 GPA and an SAT score of 1400. Getting this information may encourage students to raise their grades, or sign up for an SAT program that can help them boost their scores.

 

  • Support your teen’s passions. Extracurriculars are what set applicants with strong grades and scores apart. Encourage your student to join (or start) school clubs, play sports, practice an instrument, or even work a job. If you have the time and resources, you can support them financially as they take private music lessons, or you pick them up from practice.  

 

  • Identify which schools require the ACT, the SAT, and the SAT IIs. That way, your teen can plan to get all their testing done over time, rather than rush to take required exams last-minute.

 

  • Plan campus visits together. Teens who visit colleges can learn about different schools’ academic programs, extracurricular offerings, and campuses. Parents and students can talk through which features are most important and start narrowing down a list of schools.

 

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Timeline for College Applications

 

Below is a timeline for the college applications process, including steps students should take junior and senior year to optimize their applicant profiles:

 

Junior Year

 

Fall Tasks:

  • Take the PSAT if aiming for a National Merit Scholarship
  • Take the SAT or ACT
  • Research colleges and major programs
  • Figure out what standardized test scores you need to get into your dream school

 

Spring Tasks:

  • Whittle down your list of colleges, identifying reach, target, and safety schools
  • Consider retaking the SAT or ACT; find a tutor to help boost your scores if needed
  • Take SAT Subject Tests, if your schools require them

 

Senior Year

 

Summer Tasks:

  • Finalize your list of colleges
  • Review application requirements

 

Fall Tasks:

  • Draft your college essays and ask for feedback
  • Request recommendation letters from teachers and counselors
  • Apply for early decision and early action (usually due in November)
  • Apply for financial aid and scholarships

 

Spring Tasks:

  • Apply for regular decision (usually by January 1)
  • Notify colleges of your plans to attend or not attend by May 1

 

Does your teen want access to expert college guidance — for free? When they create their free CollegeVine account, they will find out their real admissions chances, build a best-fit school list, learn how to improve their profile, and get their questions answered by experts and peers—all for free. Encourage them to sign up for their CollegeVine account today to get a boost on their college journey.

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April Maguire
Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
A graduate of the Master of Professional Writing program at USC, April Maguire taught freshman composition while earning her degree. Over the years, she has worked as a writer, editor, tutor, and content manager. Currently, she operates a freelance writing business and lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their three rowdy cats.