Sometimes you realize there was a kink in your planning.

Talking with one of my best friends the other day after she had just returned from an accepted students tour with her daughter, she lamented how many more schools they needed to visit before a decision was made. “We should’ve started this sooner,” she admitted, referring to the tours. Though my friend and I rarely hold back with each other, I bit my tongue and did not say, “I told you so,” partly because she was fighting the flu, which had hit her hard after she came home from the tour, and because those words wouldn’t solve the problem.

The fact is, even my best friend, who’d been reading my blog from the beginning and telling me how helpful it was, had dropped the ball on the college visits. They’d worked as a family to decide which colleges to put on the list, made sure her daughter sent in her applications by the Early Action deadlines and filled out FAFSA in January. But this one piece had now become problematic.

Her experience is not uncommon. Read on to learn the solution to this and other pitfalls you may encounter.

Calendar Decision DayManaging accepted student tours as May 1 approaches For people like my friend, now’s the time to use that spreadsheet or other comparison chart you’ve been keeping (or are about to create) with info on all your teen’s colleges. By now, most seniors have received their financial aid offers to go along with the appropriate acceptances. Start there: Take off a college that is way beyond your budget. Why risk your child visiting and falling in love with a school that will leave them heartbroken because they can’t afford to attend without going deep into debt?

Next, assess the quality of the program your student wants to study at each school. Then consider other factors: Which colleges emphasize their internship and/or study abroad programs? What’s the employment rate after graduation for students who choose this major? How easily can your teen dual major or minor in other areas that interest them? Also look at which colleges offer the extra-curriculars they’re looking for. Determine their priorities, and remove the schools that don’t meet the criteria.

Now look at the colleges still left on the list and go visit those, ASAP.

Finding a college this late in the game I always say a kid only needs to get into one college, but sometimes that doesn’t happen. I’ve written about what to do when every college rejects your student. But there’s also the issue of what do when, sometime in early spring, your senior suddenly decides college should be in their future or that they want to go away or attend a four-year school instead of community college. Now what?

Believe it or not, there are colleges with April and May application deadlines, and others with rolling admissions that still have openings, meaning your student can apply to them right now. The Common App includes deadlines for all its member colleges and College Simply lists colleges with late Spring deadlines. After May 1, check the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) site to see which colleges still have availability.

Other options include taking a gap year, applying for January/Spring semester admission or attending community college for a semester/year to take care of General Education requirements, then transferring.

Getting around financial aid deadlines In an earlier post, I’ve covered what to do if you miss your college’s financial aid deadline, but also keep in mind that you can fill out FAFSA through June 30 of your student’s freshman year of college. State financial aid deadlines (found on the FAFSA site) also might be later than your teen’s college, as well. So file your FAFSA anyway, and see what might still be available in federal and state aid for your student.

Call each college’s financial aid office and explain your circumstances, including the reason you delayed filling out the required paperwork, and any financial stress your family’s under. For your senior’s top choice school, consider making an appointment to meet with a financial aid officer in-person, if you can arrange it.

IMG_0891Finding SAT/ACT test prep Maybe your teen told you that they were going to save you money and study on their own, you know, take a few practice tests and figure it out. Or you or your student took care of signing them up for the test, but forgot to put test prep on the to-do list and now it’s too late to take a course or find a professional tutor. With the tests looming, check out the Khan Academy site where your student can get free, online SAT prep. Khan is working with College Board, which administers the SAT. ACT offers an online prep program, for a relatively nominal fee, especially compared to what you’ll pay for a course or private tutor.

Another option is to enlist a local college student as a tutor, whose fee will be cheaper than a professional’s. Check with your local library, community center and of course, your own high school to see what other alternatives are still available.

Taking the initiative The best way to avoid these and other pitfalls is to have a plan to stay involved in the college admissions process. You can’t always wait for your teenager to get on board. Figure out how to get your high school student interested by junior year at the latest and motivate your senior when application season rolls around. Both can be a challenge, but it’s the only way to keep the stress level in check as you go through the process.

Share your thoughts and experiences on overcoming college admissions pitfalls in the comments section below.