Here’s how to help your high school senior prepare to apply to college. 

Filling out 8-10 college applications can seem daunting to an adult, let alone a high school senior. By developing a system to complete and track applications, you can almost guarantee you and your student will remain on speaking terms after the last app has been sent. Without a system, I make no guarantees.

Seriously, even the most independent and capable kids need help with applications. I’m not recommending you do the work for your son or daughter, but I strongly encourage your involvement with advising and guiding. With your teen, devise a plan before the first application is filled out. 

Check out my suggestions below.

Create a schedule My daughter did this for herself, and later created one for her brother when the time came. Using a word-processing or spreadsheet program makes it easier to share the file among you and your teen and with the guidance counselor, who will need a copy.

What to put on the schedule Basically all the important components: name of the college, application deadline, personal deadline (when your teen wants to complete the app), required materials from the student and required materials from the guidance counselor.

IMG_0957Find the deadline dates and the required materials checklists on the Admissions or Application page of each college’s website. Though the Common App and Coalition websites also include deadline dates, always double-check it against the college website. Note that Common App schools often have a supplement, which goes under “required materials” for the student.

Early Decision vs. Early Action vs. Regular Deadline There are actually three deadlines for many colleges and your senior needs to pick one.

Early Decision means that if your teen is accepted, they must attend. This deadline is usually the earliest one. Some colleges also restrict students from applying anywhere else until an admissions decision is made. This is great if your teen knows this is the college they really, really, really want to attend.

Our kids chose Early Action whenever possible. This doesn’t require any type of commitment on the applicant’s part before or after acceptance. At several college admissions sessions we learned that the majority of the students accepted were in the Early Action pool. One school said their number was as high as 90 percent. The deadline is after Early Decision but before the Regular Deadline. Sometimes more merit scholarship money is available to students who apply first. Another advantage is that the first acceptance letter is likely to come before New Year’s Day.

Regular Deadline is the latest one. Depending upon the college it can be as late as March 31. These later deadlines are good for kids who need to submit their senior midyear grades to help their chances for admission, still need to take the SAT or ACT one more time to get their scores up or who are having a hard time refining their list.

Rolling Admissions basically means that a decision will be made on an application when it’s received, as long as it’s before the deadline. Admissions close once the college has accepted its maximum number of students, which can occur before the deadline–one more reason to apply sooner rather than later.

MoneyCheck scholarship deadlines Some colleges list dates for merit and other scholarships on their admissions or application checklist page. If not, visit the financial aid site. This is very important because scholarship deadlines often precede the regular application deadline. I know many deserving kids who missed out on merit scholarships because they applied for aid too late.

Make an early scholarship deadline your student’s new application deadline.

Review the additional materials checklist The list likely will include:

  • the high school transcript
  • teacher and guidance counselor recommendations/evaluations
  • SAT/SAT II/ACT/AP/IB scores
  • transcripts for any work completed at or in conjunction with another college
  • school report
  • activity sheet/high school resume
  • Common App supplemental form.

The high school transcript and recommendations are all submitted electronically directly by the guidance counselor (and teacher, if the Common App). SAT/ACT/AP/IB scores must be sent directly from the testing agency at your student’s request. College transcripts need to come straight from the college.

My kids also requested their guidance counselor send their activity sheet/resume and a recommendation from their coach or another instructor (i.e. dance teacher) with each application.

With all the pieces in hand and a schedule made, now it’s time for your senior to start applying to college.

Share your suggestions for getting organized for college applications in the comments section below.