College Planning for Families

Step-by-Step Guide to Applying to College for Parents & Families

Step 1. Research & Visit Colleges

Researching colleges is vitally important to decide where you want to apply. Much of this research can be done online now, with some sites even offering 3D tours of campuses and live forums to ask questions from real students.
 
If possible, visit the schools that top your list. Another good route to learning more specific colleges is attending college fairs, info sessions with visiting admissions representatives, or talking to current students.

Step 2: Compare College Choices and Finalize Your College List

A perfect college list will consist of schools that your student would happily attend, which are a good fit academically and program-wise, and which represent a variety of realistic admissions chances.
 
When creating a college list, your student will need to juggle numerous priorities and decide which are most important, including things like college size, geographic location, program offerings, cost, and student life. There are several online tools that will help compare colleges and universities that match your priorities:

Step 3: Complete the Online College Applications & Review Them Closely

Once your college list is finalized, you can apply using the college or university website or you may consider an application that is accepted by many colleges and universities across the US, such as the Common Application (accepted at more than 800 colleges and universities) or The Coalition Application (accepted at more than 140 colleges and universities, application fee waiver offered, and the only option for the University of Florida). Students must create an account to proceed with both the Common Application and Coalition Application.

Step 4: Consider Finances

Financial aid is a necessity for most college-bound students. If you need financial support, you will need to fill out the FAFSA and learn about the financial aid that might be available to you.

Many students also consider scholarships to help offset college expenses. These are a great option, and there are many more scholarships out there than most families even realize. Start your scholarship search early, during winter of 11th grade, and continue to work on it throughout your college application process. Some scholarships require lengthy applications with polished essays, so be sure to allow enough time for these.

Step 5: Make Sure Standardized Test Scores Make the Cut

This is not a requirement for Florida Colleges, formerly known as Community Colleges, or Technical Colleges.

Standardized test scores are still an important piece of college admissions, even as more and more colleges shift towards a more holistic approach. Standardized test scores are even sometimes used as an initial screening tool, especially at large colleges where they receive far more applications than they can closely review.
 
You should take your ACT or SAT for the first time during the spring of 11th grade. This will leave the entire summer to study and raise scores, while also allowing at least two more chances to take the test in fall of 12th grade. Some students are eligible for fee waivers for these tests; talk to a school counselor to find out if you are eligible.

Step 6: Write Your Essays

This is not a requirement for Florida Colleges, formerly known as Community Colleges, or Technical Colleges but often a part of scholarship applications).

The Common App essay prompts are usually released in the spring before they are due, and most other college applications are on a similar timeline. You can preview these prompts and begin brainstorming and even drafting your essays during the summer before 12th grade. This is a great time to reflect carefully since you won’t be
under the constraints of a normal school year and will usually have a little more free time.
 
You should be writing second and final drafts of your essays by early fall of 12th grade. Don’t forget to have a teacher or mentor edit and proofread for you before you submit a final draft. Scholarship applications often include an essay that would detail your financial need, career plans, efforts to overcome a barrier, etc.

Step 7: Ask for Letters of Recommendation

Whether you apply using the common app, the coalition app, or a university-specific application, you will inevitably be asked for letters of recommendation. Before you request these, be sure that you understand the requirements for them as dictated by your specific application. Some applications specify that these must be written by teachers, others request one from a teacher and one from a guidance counselor, and
still others leave the decision entirely up to you. Recommendation letters are often requested when completing scholarship applications.

It is important to request the letters of recommendation early enough to provide ample
time for the writer. A kind reminder may be needed and always send a thank you note.

Step 8: Create an Admissions Theme Reflected in a College Resume

A standout college application will present a clear picture of a student with well-rounded academic pursuits but specialized interests and experiences. Generally, to get into a selective college, you will need to perform well across the board in your academic classes, but you should also show some specialized interests, ideally ones that relate to
your goals for the future.

Your application theme is essentially your unique, comprehensive story of who you are as a person and a student. Creating a resume will help organize information, accomplishments, and experiences that will help with the college applications and scholarships.

Step 9: Put Together an Application Timeline

There are several different options for college application timelines. Some students decide it is best to apply Early Decision to a top choice school. Other students opt for Early Action applications, while still more pursue Regular Decision. You can get a better idea of the pros and cons for each option by checking out this post by College Vine:

Once you have decided on the basic timeline for your college applications, create a calendar that includes all your upcoming application deadlines. Programming notifications into your phone or mobile device to give yourself a few reminders in the days leading up to these deadlines is a great idea.