Preparing Your Child for College Admission: A Timeline
November 20, 2012
With two children in college and two more in high school, my husband and I have had to learn the ropes regarding preparing children for college. As we prepared our oldest child two years ago, I wished I had someone to give us a timeline of "what to do when" as we prepared. Now that I have a bit of experience in the area of preparing for college, I would like to give you a general timeline of tips for preparing your child for college admission.
Middle School: Begin thinking about the high school classes that will prepare you for college. Take the most difficult classes you can handle. Take interest and skills assessments to help you think about possible career options. Talk with your school counselor and parents about careers that interest you. Create a tentative high school class plan. Your high school counselor/advisor will usually be assigned at the end of your 8th grade year and follow throughout all four years of high school. Get to know the assigned counselor; let the counselor know your areas of interest so that he or she might suggest classes pertaining to that interest.
Freshman Year: Recognize the importance of working hard to achieve good grades all throughout high school. The cumulative grade point average is figured for all four years of high school, so you cannot slack off as a freshman and sophomore and hope to easily pull out of it later. Every grade counts, even for the elective classes. Take the most difficult classes you can handle. Stay focused on your schoolwork. The freshman year is also a good time to look into clubs, sports, and other activities of interest that may appear favorably on a college application. Examples include, but are not limited to: Student Council, Speech and Debate, Key Club, National Honor Society, and Peer Tutoring, to name a few.
Sophomore Year: Your sophomore year may be a good time to take an ACT or SAT Prep Class so that you will be prepared to take the test in the fall of your junior year. If you go to the ACT or SAT testing websites, you can find the dates when the test will be given. Go ahead and get your testing location and date scheduled, and put it on your calendar. If you qualify for free or reduced lunches, you may have the fee waived for taking the SAT or ACT tests two times (total) during your junior and/or senior years.
MCPL has many test books and practice tests available through our website. Here is a link to our site’s ACT test prep practice from LearningExpress Library. When signing up for junior year classes in the spring of your sophomore year, look into signing up for classes that will earn college credit through Advanced Placement or Dual Credit classes. These classes may have a fee associated with them, but it is will be at least 50% less per credit hour than what you would pay at a public college. Check with your guidance counselor to see if scholarships may also be available. Also, recognize that specialty classes in your area of interest may even be available for free during your junior and/or senior years at the vocational technical center assigned to your school. Those specialized classes often require an application process. If your counselor is familiar with your areas of interest, they will be able to suggest special Vo-tech classes and send you reminders for application deadlines. Some of these specialty classes include: Computer Repair, Car Repair, Child Development, Nursing, Cosmetology, or Computer Design.
Junior Year: Your junior year is a busy time for your preparation for college. Attend college and financial aid events offered through your high school and in your community. This is a great time to research private scholarship options. MCPL has many books specifically about applying for college scholarships and how to write a winning essay to earn those scholarships. Take the ACT or SAT test for the first time in the fall of your junior year, and identify areas where you need improvement. You may retake the test again in the spring of your junior year. Now is the time to request materials from colleges that interest you, and visit their websites. Schedule your visit online by clicking on "schedule a visit" off of the college’s admission page or by calling the college’s admissions office. High school students are often given 3 free days during their junior and senior years to make college visits without being penalized for being away from school.
Review your high school class plan. Be sure you are taking the most difficult classes you can handle. Stay focused on your schoolwork. Make sure you are meeting your high school graduation requirements. The summer is a great time to enroll in an enrichment program or explore your skills through an internship or apprenticeship.
If you are planning to play Division I or II college sports, the fall of your junior year in high school is the time to sign up for National Collegiate Athletic Association Clearinghouse. You must be cleared by the clearinghouse before you can receive a scholarship or compete in college sports. You can go to the NCAA Clearinghouse website for more information. This is also a good time for you to contact the coach for that sport at your college(s) of interest. This will allow a scout from the college to schedule a time to come and observe you in action.
September - November: Arrange campus visits to those schools that interest you. It's okay to go more than once. Don’t be afraid to visit a private college that costs a little more money, because many times the private schools are able to offer substantial academic and athletic scholarships not as readily available at public colleges. Retake the ACT or SAT test one last time. Meet with your school counselor to review your high school class plan. Select the schools you will apply to. Make a list of deadlines for each school. Create a resume of your academic, athletic, and work activities, as well as other achievements. Prepare a portfolio if you're interested in the arts. Ask for recommendations (if required) from teachers, counselors, and others who can comment on your abilities and talents. Attend a financial aid event. If you plan to apply for early enrollment at your college of choice, this often needs to be completed by November 1. Fill out every scholarship application that applies to you. Every dollar counts!
December - February
If you did not apply for early enrollment, now is the time to enroll in colleges that interest you. Make copies of each application. If you qualify for free or reduced lunches, many colleges will waive the enrollment fee with a letter from your guidance counselor.
Apply for financial aid by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as soon as possible after January 1 of your senior year. You and your parents will need the previous year's income tax information to complete it. Review you Student Aid Report (SAR) for accuracy.
March - May
Have your final high school transcript sent to the colleges that you've applied. Choose a college and notify in writing those you don't plan to attend. Send in any required forms or deposits.
I hope that having this timeline will help you feel more prepared as you enjoy this special time in your child’s life. Preparing for college is a big undertaking, but with careful planning along the way, the process will be so much more enjoyable for you and your child.