mastering college application chaos: a parent’s guide

Welcome to the whirlwind that is college application season! The air is thick with excitement and a hint of stress as students and parents alike gear up for this crucial step in their educational journey. With some early action deadlines as early as November 1st, we understand that the pressure is on. But worry not, for we’re here to guide you through this challenging yet rewarding process.


Start Early and Stay Organized: One of the golden rules of college applications is to begin early. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither are those impressive application packets. The Common Application is a fantastic tool, but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s a one-size-fits-all solution. In addition, many schools don’t use the common app. The earlier you begin the process, the less stressful it can be. The process does feel overwhelming, so come up with a timeline that you are comfortable with.

Request Recommendation Letters Promptly: The importance of recommendation letters cannot be overstated. These letters are your child’s chance to shine through the eyes of their educators. Reach out to teachers or mentors early to secure these letters and provide them with ample time to craft thoughtful recommendations. We’ve also heard of the success of kids submitting letters from sources you might not have thought of, the school janitor, the manager of your local grocery store. If someone in your community has had meaningful interactions with your child and can offer a unique perspective, this can help your child stand out. 

Plan for Test Scores and Transcripts: Ensure that standardized test scores and transcripts are submitted well in advance of application deadlines. Don’t leave these crucial elements to the last minute, as delays can be stress-inducing.

Mind the Financial Aid and Scholarships: College isn’t just about acceptance; it’s also about affordability. Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and researching scholarship opportunities can significantly ease the financial burden. Don’t skip this step; it’s as important as the applications themselves. Even if you think you don’t qualify for financial aid, you may still have to fill this out for merit at particular schools. It is a long process requiring an abundance of information. 

Supplemental Essays and Additional Prompts: While the Common Application streamlines certain aspects, keep in mind that many schools have additional prompts and questions that require supplemental essays. Each institution has unique requirements, so meticulous attention to detail is vital. 

Create a Comprehensive Student Resume: Regardless of your child’s age, it’s wise to start compiling a comprehensive resume of their achievements and involvements. A well-organized spreadsheet detailing dates, accomplishments, and organizations they’re part of will be invaluable when filling out applications. What may seem trivial today could be useful in the future. 

Seek Professional Guidance: If the college application process feels overwhelming, consider seeking guidance from a college admissions counselor. These professionals can provide valuable insights, help you select the right schools, and provide advice on creating standout application materials.

Proofread and Edit Thoroughly: Attention to detail matters. Before submitting any application, proofread essays and forms meticulously. Consider having a trusted friend or family member review your materials as well. Use tools like Grammarly to avoid common grammatical errors and typos.

Keep Track of Deadlines: Create a calendar or spreadsheet to keep track of application deadlines for each school. Missing a deadline can significantly impact your chances of acceptance. Some may have a general deadline, but there may be a different deadline for merit or their honors program.

Show Genuine Interest: Many colleges track demonstrated interest. Have your child attend information sessions, campus tours, or virtual events to show their enthusiasm for a particular school. Encourage them to email the admissions person if they have questions. Enroll them in summer programs of potential schools. Have them mention these experiences in their application essays if relevant.

Highlight Unique Qualities: Students should emphasize what makes them unique. Sharing passions, hobbies, and experiences that set them apart from other applicants. Colleges value diversity and individuality.

Stay Positive and Stay True: College application season can be stressful, but remind your child to stay positive and stay true to themselves. Let them know that it’s best to be authentic in their essays and not to try to be someone they are not. You want to find a school that’s the right fit for your child, not a version of who they think colleges want.

Prepare for Interviews: Some colleges may conduct interviews as part of their admissions process. Prepare for these by researching common interview questions and practicing responses. It could be helpful to have a relative or neighbor help your child prep. 

Request Fee Waivers if Eligible: If application fees are a financial burden, inquire about fee waivers. Many colleges offer them to eligible students. Some colleges also offer waivers for simply emailing them or attending informational sessions. 

Stay Informed: Keep an eye on your email for updates from colleges. They may request additional materials or provide important information about the application status. It is helpful to create a new email address at the beginning of the process that both the parent and child can access. 

Celebrate Achievements: Don’t forget to celebrate achievements, big or small, along the way. Completing applications is a significant accomplishment, and your child should take pride in their efforts. 

You’ve Got This! As you embark on this exciting journey with your child, remember that college application season may be chaotic, but it’s also an incredible opportunity for growth and self-discovery. Take a deep breath, stay organized, and seek resources and tips from your child’s school and parents who have been on this journey before you.

Best of luck to all the aspiring scholars. 

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