Guide to College Application Planning and Resources - Part 1

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Many families are entering the season of college planning and college applications. This guide will help you with planning and resources no matter what grade your child is in currently. It is never too early to start thinking through the college process. This first installment focuses on establishing your family team and setting expectations; college application planning tools; deciding where to apply (college search and comparison tools); resources for the application process and requirements for selected colleges; and planning to take the SAT or ACT. Part 2 in this series will focus on resources for letters of recommendation, college essays, financial aid planning, and scholarship planning.

Establishing Your Family Team and Setting Expectations

The first thing I recommend to families as they embark on the college planning process is that they get everyone on the same page by establishing realistic expectations and clear roles and responsibilities. To guide this process, consider the following questions:

  • How much can your family realistically afford to spend per year of college?

    • Bear in mind academic expenses such as tuition and books, as well as living expenses, in addition to the number of children your family will put through college. The College Board has a free College Cost Calculator that will help you estimate how much college will cost by the estimated time of enrollment. There are also handy college budget worksheet templates that will help your family realistically plan for all college expenses. Check out Bankrate’s Student Budget Calculator, for example.

  • Once you know how much your family can allocate to college, have an honest conversation with your child(ren) about whether applying to out-of-state colleges is realistic and under what circumstances, if applicable.

    • For example, maybe out-of-state colleges are only realistic for your family if a combination of loans, grants, and scholarships are secured.

  • Set expectations about roles and responsibilities.

    • How involved do you, as a parent, want to be in the application process? Who is primarily responsible? How involved does your child want you to be and in what particular areas does your child want your help? Who will be responsible for any college debt incurred from loans, credit cards, et cetera? Have a frank conversation about these topics so that the family is on the same page. I recommend setting regular family meetings to check in about the college process as well.

  • To approximately how many colleges will your child apply?

    • Talk together to establish a realistic number of college applications that can be managed time-wise, but also financially, as most colleges have a college application fee (some colleges may waive the fee under certain circumstances; check the specific college’s website for details).

  • Do you want/can you afford to bring in an outside consultant to help you with the college planning and application process?

    • Sometimes a neutral third party can be particularly helpful in getting everyone on the same page, as well as lend expertise to particular stages of the process, such as research, college essay review, and tracking progress.

College Application Planning Tools

  • Once you have established your family team and set expectations, it is time to start planning the application process.

Deciding Where to Apply - College Search and Comparison Tools

Okay, so now you know approximately how many colleges to apply to, the annual tuition you can afford and whether this includes in-state as well as out of-state colleges, and who is doing what, but where to start with deciding where exactly to apply? There are a wide variety of college search and comparison tools to assist in this process:

  • College Simply

    • This data-driven resource allows you to search and compare specific colleges; view college rankings and admission standards; as well as search for colleges you are likely to be admitted to, based on your SAT or ACT score(s); among other features. This is a very good tool with which to start your search.

  • Best College Reviews

    • This is a great resource if you know what you want to study and want to find the best ranked schools in that program area.

  • U.S. News & World Report

    • Once you have some idea of the colleges to which you might like to apply, but need to narrow down the list, this report provides helpful tools to compare colleges on a wide variety of categories.

  • U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard

    • This resource is similar to the US News & World Report, but allows you to further narrow your search based on college location and size.

  • If you just can’t get enough of these search and comparison tools, check out Prep Scholar’s list of top 10 best college search websites.

Admission Standards and Application Deadlines for Selected Colleges

Common Application

  • Unlike when I was applying to college, there is now a Common Application through which you can apply to more than 800 colleges using one application. This time-saving tool also helps you manage deadlines and view your application progress.

Standardized Tests - Planning to Take the SAT and/or ACT

To be continued…

Part 2 of this series, which will be posted in two weeks, will focus on resources for letters of recommendation, college essays, financial aid planning, and scholarship planning.

Here’s to simplifying college application season as much as possible! Please reach out if you need help sorting through this process. I can help facilitate family discussions, research schools, and help your family manage and stay on top of the application process.

Esha/Enriched Family

Enriched Family is a unique, custom research and consulting business dedicated to providing families with the information, tools, and systems they need to live more organized and joyful lives. Services include: Custom family-focused research (child care, education, health and wellness resources, camps, and enrichment activities), family organization solutions (stuff and systems), and productivity consulting for busy professional parents (planning and prioritizing, productivity coaching, and time management coaching). I offer a free, 20-minute initial phone consultation to all new clients to discuss matching your needs and priorities with my services. I invite you to check out my services and click the "Let's Get Started!" button below to contact me with any questions. 

(Please note, the above post is provided for informational purposes only; the information is accurate and true to the best of my knowledge, but there may be omissions, errors or mistakes, and no guarantees are made.)