Ready or not, prepared or not, after years of hard work and preparation, your child is in the final, defining and transitory, senior year of high school. Whether this is your first or third child, each college-bound high school student walks a unique path.
By the beginning of your child’s senior year, you may be in the refining stages of your child’s dream or your child may be considering fast and furiously what opportunities are available. High school counselor Brooke Nova encourages parents to speak to several people about their careers and explore college campuses. She also notes that setting up overnight stays on college campuses “are free.”
1. Talk it over. You have been listening to your child’s dreams all through her childhood. Now is the time to reflect the intimate knowledge that you have gained over these years. What are his talents? What is she passionate about? What will she always want to be a part of her life? What does he want to contribute? Making time for conversation and real dialogue with your child is crucial to helping her to focus her aspirations on a possible program of study.
2. Brainstorm a big list. The first list of colleges and universities should include a wide spectrum of choices from which ultimately to choose. Some of these choices should provide a stretch that challenges your child. Encourage him to attend any college presentations that are offered at the high school. Explore university websites together and separately. Your child will let you know when your presence over his shoulder is no longer required. You can compare notes later.
3. Consider campus size. What size campus will appeal the most? As my daughter, Natalie, and I learned, actually visiting the campus was the best way to get a feeling for size. On our visits, we observed the kind of people who were walking around campus. How did the large campus feel?
4. Discuss distance from home. How far away is your child comfortable living? Some students are fine going to the opposite side of the country while others prefer to stay close to home, where weekend visits are possible — or perhaps even to live at home that first year. My son, Thomas, chose to attend an in-state college, albeit hours away from us.
5. Apply, apply and apply. Early in the senior year is time to tackle the tedious work of completing college admissions applications as well as scholarship applications. This load will be lightened considerably if, as Nova suggests, the student used the summer prior to 12th grade to research scholarships and to draft samples of scholarship and admissions essays. Sarah Myers McGinty’s book, “The College Application Essay,” is an excellent reference to use as a guide for those intimidating essays.
6. Make that essay shine. Parents, siblings and friends can help with the editing process. In most cases, the final admissions or scholarship application is uploaded online. Take the time, however, to print out the various pieces and refine the wording. If ever there were a time for perfectionism, it’s when writing college and scholarship applications.
7. Attend financial aid presentations. Many high schools have at least one night, usually in the fall, to invite someone from a local University Financial Aid Office to speak about financial aid. It’s helpful to attend more than one of these presentations. (I attended a multitude of them.) Attend at least one with a friend; better yet, a friend who has already sent a child to college if this is your first. A second set of ears can help with sorting through the information overload.
8. Get a jump on senioritis. Senioritis seems to hit all of them. It’s just a matter of how far into the year it takes to kick in. Brooke Nova encourages students to finish most everything, “[applications to college, scholarships, and FAFSA] should be done by winter break.”
9. Wait it out. Even after all of this preparation, there is nothing to do but hang in there with your child and wait for the letters of acceptance or rejection to arrive. If your child was taking some risks in their applications, there are bound to be disappointments as well as victories. You will likely celebrate one day and then receive sobering news the next. Be prepared for tears. Remind your child that the closing of one door opens another.
10. Accept the roller coaster. During my daughter’s senior year, sometimes she accepted gentle reminders, other times, she bristled at any suggestions. As a parent, I was continually walking that tight rope between supporting and hovering. I felt the stress of meeting the application deadlines right along with her. Even so, I couldn’t write her essay for her. I was almost grateful when she shut her bedroom door in my face so she could work on it on her own. Later, when she took the envelope into her room to open privately in her own space, I held my breath, too. But the results were hers, not mine.
Key Financial Aid Resources:
Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA): pheaa.org
U.S. Dept. of Education College Scorecard: collegescorecard.ed.gov
Federal Student Aid: fafsa.ed.gov
The Financial Aid Information page at finaid.org
Net Price Calculators: These are available on a college’s or university’s websites and allow prospective students to enter information about themselves to find out what students like them paid to attend the institution in the previous year, after taking grants and scholarship aid into account.
Diane Turner Maller is a freelance writer and mother of two college graduates. Watching her children complete their degrees made all the efforts to support them worthwhile.