Happy New Year 2020!

Once January 1 arrives, the relaxation of the holiday season ends and the pressure is on for families with college-bound juniors and seniors. What steps should you and your child take to prepare for the college application season? That’s the topic of our blog post. Read on for five tips to get you started.

1. Prepare and file the FAFSA

Don’t know what the FAFSA is? It’s the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It should not cost you a penny to fill out and file this application. If your child needs financial aid to attend college, this is one of the most important things you can do.

You can file a FAFSA as early as October 1 of the year before your child will attend college. Even if you think that your income is too high for financial aid, you should still fill out the FAFSA. You may be pleasantly surprised to find that your child is eligible to receive some assistance.

If you haven’t already done so, file your FAFSA as soon as you can because some financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. There are several deadlines (college deadlines, state deadlines, and a federal deadline) of which you need to be aware. Deadlines and other pertinent information about the FAFSA are available at The College Board Blog.

2. Take or retake the ACT and/or SAT

There is still time to take these standardized tests before the school year comes to an end. To find the test dates, register, and practice for the ACT, click here

An interesting note about registering for the ACT is that the website warns that you will need about 40 minutes to complete the registration, so plan accordingly. As for the SAT, go here to see testing dates and registration deadlines. If your student needs to prepare for The SAT, Khan Academy has partnered with the College Board to provide free practice.

3. Have your student practice writing college essays

There are basically three types of essays that colleges have applicants write: 

  • The “You” question: “Tell us what makes you a good student for our university.”
  • The “Why Us” question: “Why do you want to attend our university?”
  • The “Creative” question, where applicants must use their creativity to respond in a way that shows they have a good command of English and critical thinking skills.

It’s a good idea to assign your student each type of essay to write to help prepare for this task. For a “You” essay, your student should focus on the unique gifts and skills they can offer to the college. For the “Why Us” essay, your student needs to be very familiar with each college to which they are applying so that they can state credibly what they find appealing about that college. 

It isn’t as easy to prepare for a creative essay, since your student may not have advance notice of the topic on which they will be asked to write. To prepare for this type of essay, it’s a good idea to assign creative essays as a regular writing assignment. CollegeBoard has a lot of good advice and information on writing college essays.

4. Get the high school transcript up to date

Now is the time to begin creating a transcript if you haven’t already done so. While you could do this from scratch in a spreadsheet, it’s a labor intensive production. When my first student was midway through high school, I discovered Transcript Maker, which makes creating transcripts a breeze! (Try out a 14-day free trial here.)

Regardless of how you create a transcript, you do have to keep good records of the courses your student has taken, the grade earned for each course, exams taken, exam scores, extracurricular activities your student has done, and any honors they have received. Have all of this information at hand when you sit down to prepare your student’s transcript. This is the best tool you have to showcase your student’s high school accomplishments and prove that they have taken the rigorous courses that prepared them for college work, to join the military, or go to a trade school.

5. Gather recommendation letters

Some colleges ask applicants to provide two or three letters of recommendation with their application. What purpose do letters of recommendation serve? They offer the college an insight into who the student is outside of their grades and test scores. Colleges will often request letters of recommendation from a current teacher, school counselor, employer, or coach. Give people enough time to write your student’s recommendation letters so that you’re all set with them when it’s time to submit the application.

Wrapping up

If your child is a senior, I would advise that you get started right away. Your student can ask for recommendation letters, practice for the ACT or SAT if needed, and practice writing essays, all while you get the FAFSA filed and get the transcript pulled together. Before you know it, those applications will be on their way and soon those acceptance letters will be rolling in. 

If you have a junior, you can breathe a sigh of relief and take a somewhat more leisurely route to the same finish line. Before you know it, your homeschool student will be a college student and you will be breathing easy after finishing the race of homeschooling a high schooler.