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How to Prepare for College: Tips for Parents and Students

How to Prepare for College: Tips for Parents and Students
Posted on August 1, 2018 by CHS

It seems like it was just yesterday that you took your child to her first day of kindergarten, and now she is getting ready for college. The college preparation process can be overwhelming for both you and your child. Our blog will discuss tips on early college preparation including: college level classes, standardized tests, and college application tips for upcoming seniors. Read our previous blog on How to Save for Your Child’s College Education to learn about the various ways to plan for your child’s college education in order to ease your financial burden when the time comes. The blog offers saving tips you can use from your child’s infancy through high school.

“Today a reader, tomorrow a leader”
– Margaret Fuller

Importance of Reading
Reading is the key to success in life, whether it is in higher education or a future career. Those who read on a daily basis have a higher chance of being successful in school, improving vocabulary and writing skills, and doing well on standardized tests for college admissions. Parents of young children can encourage reading early on so that it becomes a routine for them before they begin going to school. Many school age children lose interest in reading because they are spending more time with their friends or playing sports. During the early years of your child’s life, it is crucial to make schedules that allow you and your child to read together with the whole family so that your child will develop an interest in reading and continue to do so later in his life.

Once your child enters high school, it can get even more difficult to encourage him to read for pleasure, as reading often becomes just another part of homework. For many students, this discourages reading because they lose the novelty of reading for fun. Rekindle their love for reading by figuring out what their interests are. If your child loves sports or anything action-based, consider choosing fictional action books about superheroes or non-fictional books about sports stars. If your child loves movies, consider books that have inspired movies such as these recommendations from Common Sense Media: 9 Books to Read Before You See the Movies in 2016. For additional tips on helping your child improve his reading skills, read our previous blog on How Parents Can Help Children Improve Reading Skills.

ACT, SAT, and AP during High School
By the time your child enters high school, she should start preparing for ACT or SAT exams. Your child’s ACT or SAT test score will impact his acceptance rate for the colleges he applies to. To learn more about the differences between the ACT and SAT exams, read this blog from Prep Scholar.

College Essay Guy offers an easy to follow timeline that your child can begin using at the start of his junior year. Your child won’t need to take the actual ACT or SAT until the fall of his junior year. If necessary, he can retake the test in spring, and this will allow him to focus solely on college applications during his senior year. Your child may want to take the Practice SAT (PSAT) during his sophomore year. The PSAT will help your child understand what he does well, and what skills need improvement. His PSAT scores can help him determine the time he needs to allocate towards preparing for the actual SAT. He may even qualify as a National Merit Finalist when he takes his PSAT during his junior year, which can win him scholarship money for college. Collegeboard offers online SAT practice tests which can further boost your child’s chance of earning a higher score. ACT Academy offers a practice test for the ACT.

While ACT and SAT exams are important, Advanced Placement (AP) courses are valuable as well. These are the most advanced courses offered at your child’s school, and they can help improve his chances of being accepted into college. Because AP courses are advanced, they are more difficult than regular courses. Be aware of your child’s ability and don’t push him to take AP courses if you feel it will be too difficult for him. If the classes are too hard, it can make his school year much more challenging, resulting in bad grades and feeling discouraged. AP classes are taken during the school year, ending with AP Exams for each course in spring. Students who receive a score of 3 or higher can receive college credit for those courses. This opportunity can give your child a head start, save money, and offer the flexibility to take upper-level courses or study abroad. Every college has their own policy about accepting AP scores, so check with the colleges that you and your child are considering. To learn more about how to earn credit for your AP courses, click here.

Fee Waivers: The standardized tests and AP tests can get expensive, especially when you are taking them multiple times or for multiple courses. This can be even more difficult for low-income students that can’t afford to pay for these tests. Below is information regarding fee reduction/waivers for each exam that is available for low-income students.

For High School Seniors

College Applications: You are about to start your senior year of high school, you finished visiting a couple of colleges during your summer vacation which gave you a general idea of which colleges you want to apply to, you are content with your ACT or SAT score (maybe you will take it one last time before December), and now it’s time to start your college applications.

Application Platform: Get comfortable with navigating your college application online platform to make the process easier. Through a platform, you will only need to fill out your important information one time for all college applications, rather than each time you apply. One of the popular platform choices is Common Application, which has a listing of more than 750 colleges. Since the Common Application does not list every college, you may also want to look at Coalition Application and Universal College Application as well. All of the University of California (UC) colleges have their own platform which can be found here.

FAFSA: Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) will be one of the most important things you can fill out if you need financial assistance to help you and your family pays for your college tuition. Higher education can be expensive and it may seem impossible to pay for, but FAFSA will be able to offer some type of grant, loan, or financial aid based on your family’s financial situation. The FAFSA application is available on October 1, and will have different deadlines based on the school you select. According to Andrews from Scholarship Shark, there are three deadlines to observe. First is the school deadline which is usually the earliest, second is state deadlines which can affect state grants and scholarships, and the last deadline which will close off FAFSA for the year is June 30. Submit your FAFSA as soon as you can in order to receive the most financial aid possible. Don’t wait till the last minute at the end of June because you might miss out on some grant money. FAFSA is something that needs to be filled out every year that you attend college, so keep these deadlines in mind. Learn all about FAFSA at Completing the FAFSA: Everything You Should Know.

Personal Statement: Begin writing your personal statement the summer before your senior year. This will give you time to have it reviewed and edited multiple times before the submission deadline. This portion of your college application will show off your writing skills and characteristics that make you special. The college application will offer various prompts you can choose as the focus of your essay. Learn more about your college essays by clicking here.

Deadlines: There will be different deadlines you need to keep track of during your college application process. For example, the date you need to submit your applications can be different for each college and there can also be early decision deadlines depending on the colleges you apply to. Once spring comes around and you receive your acceptance letters from various colleges, you will also have a deadline to choose the college you want to attend. Mark your calendar to keep track of these important dates!

Letters of Recommendation: Ask your teachers, your part-time job manager, your coach from a sports team, and school counselors for letters of recommendation that can increase your chances of being selected by the admission officers. Some colleges don’t require letters of recommendation, while some will ask for two or three. Check with the colleges you are applying for to verify the requirement. When figuring out whom to ask to write a letter of recommendation for you, consider adults with whom you were able to create a good relationship with, as they will be able to write the best letter. With so many other seniors also asking for letters of recommendation, it will take time for them to finish yours. Be sure to ask early and let them know when you need it. U.S. News advises to ask late spring or early summer of your junior year. To learn more about letters of recommendation, click here.

Other things you will need for your college applications can include personal information such as: contact info, school, family financial info, your high school transcript, and your test scores from the ACT or SAT. Lastly, college application fees can get expensive, especially since you will most likely be applying to multiple colleges. According to Collegeboard, if you took your SAT or SAT Subject Tests using a test fee waiver, you can apply for free. Click here to learn more about the fee waiver and which colleges participate in the program.

The college application process can be a stressful and confusing time for many seniors. Be sure to talk to your parents, teachers, and especially your school counselors for advice. Your school counselors have gone through this process with seniors every year and they will be very knowledgeable about any questions you may have. You can read more about this topic on A Complete Guide to the College Application Process and How to Help a Teenager Be College-Ready.

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