Understanding the College Application Process

Parents helping their daughter prepare for college.

The college application process is a long journey that, for many, begins during your child’s Junior year of high school or even before. In fact, even though your child will start taking their most direct steps towards college in the second half of high school — taking SATs, considering schools, etc. — it’s never too early to start preparing for college by doing things like adding extracurricular activities, taking honors courses and, of course, getting good grades.

But how can a parent help with the college application process? You may be asking yourself, “How can I help my child choose the right college?” or “How involved should I be?” Your role as a parent is to guide the process, without taking full control of it. Help your child know what deadlines they need to meet, what forms to fill out and where to look for financial aid. Take them to visit colleges, get them college guide books and talk to them about their interests.

In the end, though, remember that this is their decision and their journey.

Understanding the Timeline

The summer before your child’s junior year is a great time to start looking at colleges. He or she will be out of school, but most colleges, if not still in spring session, typically have some programs running. While the full student body might not be on campus, this may be a good opportunity to see the campus and meet some of the staff. Continue college visits as able during the fall in order to see a college campus in full swing.

“How many colleges should my child visit?” It’s a good question. You should visit as many schools as is reasonable given your time commitments, travel expenses and where your child is likely to seriously consider attending. Typically, it is best to send applications to six to ten schools to maximize the chances of receiving a better financial aid award package. Even if your child thinks they know which school they want to attend before applying, it is still recommended to send out applications and visit each of these schools so you have a basis for comparison.

During the summer before senior year, your child should be preparing for college in earnest if they haven’t already. Taking tests like the SAT, seeking out scholarships, working on college essays, deciding which schools they want to attend and applying for financial aid are all crucial steps in the admissions and selection process. By the end of the fall semester, they should have applied to all the schools they are interested in, depending on the deadline, which usually will be sometime in January. Remember; applying early – by Thanksgiving – reduces stress and slightly increases acceptance chances.

When Should We Apply for Financial Aid?

The financial aid question sometimes frightens and confuses parents and their children. “Do we need to apply for FAFSA?” and “What information is required to apply for financial aid for college?” are common questions that will need answers.

Your child will need to fill out a FAFSA to get any financial aid, but this is a good thing that actually streamlines the process. You’ll provide any relevant information about income and assets, just as if you were applying for a home loan, as well as some other basic information. The FAFSA will automatically apply you for several grants and loan programs.

Other grants and scholarships will require you or your child to take the initiative if you wish them to be part of your financial aid package.

How Can I Help My Child Choose a School?

Your child should choose a school based on their interests, future career aspirations, and, of course, financial aid eligibility. Do they have a good program for the type of career your child is interested in? How much money does this college typically award to its students? What are the retention and graduation rates for this college and how soon after graduation do the college’s students typically begin working? All of these questions, and so much more, are things to consider during this process.

Of course, whether the school is realistic given their reputation and your child’s grades will also be a factor. The traditional strategy is to apply to a few “reach schools” that usually accept students with a slightly fuller academic and extracurricular record than your child, a couple of “safe schools” where your student is slightly above the average requirements for acceptance and a few schools in the “target school range.”

Other factors, like school size, location, athletics and even demographics may play a role for your child. This is not a quick and easy process and it shouldn’t be. It could shape your child’s life for years to come. But it can also be a fun, informative and fruitful experience.

What If My Child Doesn’t Get Into Their Dream School?

Hopefully, you have prepared your child by helping them choose not only their ultimate top choice, but a few schools that they genuinely feel they would enjoy that are perhaps a bit more realistic. If your child has their heart set on a particular school or schools and doesn’t get into them, it can be, understandably, disappointing. It’s important to remind your child that there are many great institutions that can provide a college education. Excelling at one of these schools — even if it’s not your first choice — can lead to a great career.

Contact Ecliptic Financial for Help with the College Application and Admissions Process

Getting your child into college can be exciting, but also very stressful. One of the most stressful aspects of it can be figuring out how to pay for it.

For help with college funding strategies and college admissions counseling, we encourage you to sign up today to attend one of Ecliptic Financial Advisors’ completely free college workshops in New Jersey. We’re also happy to hear from you to discuss your college admissions concerns or questions.  Give us a call at 1-732-502-9700 or contact us online today to learn more about the college application and admissions process.

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