Monday, May 12, 2014

Staying Organized in the College Application Process

by Ryan Hickey

Researching and visiting colleges is exciting both for high school students and their parents. However, the actual process of applying to college can be a bit tedious. Combine this with the fact that your child has so many other things going on in their life, including planning for graduation day, and it can be easy to accidentally overlook an administrative step in applying to university.

Use this guide to stay on top of the process from start to finish.

Start early and make a plan

As obvious as this seems, it is something that often doesn't get accomplished. Not knowing exactly what your child needs to submit -- or when they need to submit it  -- too often results in missing important deadlines.

While it can seem unnecessary in our technological age, sometimes it's best to get back to basics and write everything out on a physical calendar. If your family is using a digital calendar, make sure that both you and your child can access and amend it as needed.

That way, you can keep abreast of important deadlines and ask your child about their progress toward those milestones ahead of time.

The process itself

What exactly is your child going to need in order to apply to college? This can vary in minor ways from school to school. However, for the Common App, your child will need to submit official transcripts, standardized test scores, the application form itself, essays and teacher/guidance counselor letters as requested by the school.

Submissions of transcripts, standardized test scores and even teacher/counselor recommendations are generally completed electronically. However, if the school requires teacher recommendations, take some time to discuss which options are best. Courses where your child made excellent grades are a good choice, but colleges are really looking for more meaningful information, such as your child's ability to accept feedback, their work ethic and their passion for learning.

The essay portion of the application process strikes fear in the hearts of many high school students, and placing high pressure on your child can backfire, leading to increased procrastination. The easiest way to begin is simply with an informal conversation -- which can take place anywhere from the dinner table to the car -- about some possible topics for the essays. This will get your child thinking about what to do instead of simply avoiding it until the last minute.

Finally, there is the application itself. Straightforward as it appears, this requires gathering a lot of information that your child may not have readily available. The application needs to include everything. If your child has attended more than one high school, do you have the address of the previous school? What was the exact name of the merit award that your child received sophomore year? Who was your child's supervisor for last summer's volunteer program? Do you have this person's contact information?

Don't assume or let your child assume that the information is "somewhere" and will be easy to retrieve when needed. Plan to spend a few hours gathering everything together, and start early in case it takes a few days for someone to get back to you with the information that you need.

What should you do if you have already skipped a step or missed a deadline?

Plead for mercy. There's no guarantee that a particular college or university will be helpful to you in this scenario. However, it can't hurt to ask. The worst thing that can happen is that the school will say "no." Never lie, but if your child truly had extenuating circumstances, such as an illness, injury or sudden death in the family, then you might receive some leniency.

Ryan Hickey is the Managing Editor of Peterson's & EssayEdge and is an expert in many aspects of college, graduate, and professional admissions. A graduate of Yale University, Ryan has worked in various admissions capacities for nearly a decade, including writing test-prep material for the SAT, AP exams, and TOEFL, editing essays and personal statements, and consulting directly with applicants.


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