Researching Colleges, Academics



What to Research

When beginning to research colleges and universities there are numerous things parents and players must take into account. Each aspect of a school will ultimately lead to a wholistic view of the environment that will best fit your student and help them to be as successful as possible. 

First and foremost each athlete must ask "what if?". What if we took athletics completely out of the equation? Would you still be looking at the same universities or would your choices be different. Our goal is to help find the best fit from all aspects of the college process.

The overall culture of your college may play as big a role in your future success as your degree. Figuring out what's important to you will help you narrow the field when choosing a college, and you may discover some options that hadn't even been on your radar!

Identifying basic colleges and universities criteria

Starting your college search with the basics will help you identify the colleges that will best suit you academically and personally. Each of us has unique needs and values, and what is important to you may not matter to someone else. Take location, for instance. If you don't want to be more than 100 miles from home, then schools on the other side of the globe are out! The same goes for school size, cost, and other basic college criteria. By identifying your needs early on, you can eliminate hundreds of schools and focus on the things that will make your school a perfect fit.

Obviously, academics play a huge role in determining the right school for you. But so does location. Where do you want to study? Is year-round sunshine a must for your mental health, or does the call of the winter ski season require a more diverse climate? Perhaps you hope to compose essays in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, or maybe you prefer the comforts of home. College is both an education and a journey, so consider what type of location you hope to experience when exploring college information.

You should also consider the ambience of your surroundings when choosing a college. If you can't live without nightlife, think city! If you're into the great outdoors, you might want to go rural. There are colleges in every environment you can imagine, from tiny towns in Minnesota to the middle of Manhattan.

If you've always lived in the suburbs, an urban campus can be an adventure. But after a few weeks, will you yearn for grassy fields and open space? On the other hand, if you're used to malls and movie theaters and choose a college in a rural area, will you be racing into the student center at midnight, desperately seeking noise, lights, and people? When examining the options in a college guide, think about where you grew up and how much of a change you want.

Don't forget to consider the sizes of the schools in your college search. Colleges come in all sizes, from a school in California that enrolls only 26 students to a university like Penn State that can enroll 30,000 or more. Which one is better? That depends on you.

  • Did you go to a small high school or a large one?
  • Did you grow up in a city or a rural area?
  • Do you like being places where everybody knows you, or do you like the anonymity of a crowd?

Large schools typically have large campuses, as well as a healthy selection of student services and things to do; a small college may offer individualized attention, as well as a more intimate and personalized experience. You might even want to think about how far you want to walk to get from one class to another. Even those little details of college info may affect your decision.

The different types of schools on your list can often be overlooked when you're considering college criteria, but you should keep in mind that all colleges and universities are not the same.

  • What do they devote time and resources to: research or teaching and learning?
  • Do they have a speciality in one specific area or are they known for providing a broad education?
  • Are they single sex or coed?
  • Do they have a religious affiliation?
  • Are they public or private?

There are also historically Black colleges, Hispanic-serving institutions, schools with co-op programs, and many with large evening and part-time programs. A college guide typically provides important facts about each school's type and characteristics. Your options are almost limitless and your personal learning style, preferences, and available resources will help you find the place where you'll best succeed.

Cost, scholarships, and financial aid 
The cost of college is one thing that most parents think about during the college search process. Not all colleges and universities have the same price tag and there are a variety of ways to cut your costs. Most schools offer financial aid, scholarships, and work-study programs, aside from student loans.

Consider your special talents outside of the classroom. You may qualify for a full ride if you can carry a tune or a football (or both), while making the grade. Even if you don't get a full ride, every little bit helps.

Public universities often offer much lower tuition rates to in-state students, but their fees to out-of-state residents are usually similar to private schools. Private institutions charge everyone the same tuition, but they often have privately-funded scholarships, so it's worth applying even if the price tag seems too high.

A school's tuition isn't necessarily the exact amount you'll pay, because it doesn't reflect financial aid or extra expenses like housing and books. But it's still wise to check out tuition figures when considering college information, as it may expand or diminish your options, depending on your financial situation.




There is a lot to consider in the college admissions process, like identifying admission requirements, filling out college applications, getting letters of recommendation, writing the application essay, and making a final decision. The articles and links below provide tips on these topics and can help you plan for each step in the process.


Key Elements in the College Application

College applications have many key elements that students need to complete in order to help themselves stand out. Essays, interviews, letters, portfolios, and the college application form itself can help you to present yourself successfully and personally.

Strong recommendations help college application

In terms of recommendation letters, you can control which teachers to ask, but you cannot determine who will write the counselor recommendation or what any of your recommenders will say.

You might ask for additional letters from an employer, coach, arts or music instructor, volunteer service coordinator, religious leader, or other person who knows you well. Some colleges even include a peer reference form. Choose additional letter writers carefully, and only ask for letters that will help colleges to learn more about you than they will find in your academic recommendations.

Essays crucial to application for college

College essays typically include a combination of one longer personal statement (250 to 500 words); a short answer about a meaningful activity or volunteer or work experience (150 words); and a question on a topic such as "why are you interested in College X and why is it a good match for you?" See these essays as opportunities to reveal different sides of yourself: What makes you different? What are your major academic and non-academic interests and strengths? What are your goals for college and beyond?

The essays are puzzle pieces that you can lock together to showcase who you are. Don't be afraid to modify essays written for one college to address specific questions of another. In fact, if you use the college common application, you may be answering the same basic questions. Plan to write at least several drafts, sharing your work with trusted friends, parents, teachers, and counselors who can provide you with constructive criticism and suggestions.

Need help with your essay? Try EssayEdge.

Letters to the college may be necessary 
During the admission process, you might also write letters from time to time. Perhaps you have an interest in a sport, activity, or particular academic area. You can e-mail or write the appropriate representative at the college to learn more. You can write to update a college about your academics and activities in the winter of senior year, or when you have won an award or done very well in school. If a problem has arisen, you should also contact colleges to explain.

While some students attempt to gain favor for their college applications by staying in constant contact, don't worry about schools counting the number of e-mails and letters and calls. Several key, meaningful contacts are of much greater value than pestering busy admission staff with trivial updates or questions.

Take advantage of on-campus interviews 
On-campus interviews are not offered as part of the application for college at many schools these days. Take advantage of them where you can, but recognize that they are not typically an evaluative component of your admission process. View them as information sessions, a chance for you to ask questions and demonstrate interest in a college.

Do keep in mind that while an interview won't be the sole factor that gets you in, proven interest can be a tipping factor in a college's decision to admit you. Take advantage of these opportunities to learn about colleges, demonstrate your interest, and detail your goals and strengths.

Supplemental materials may be part of college application

Supplemental materials should be submitted only when required by a special college program, such as an arts school, or when a music CD, art portfolio, or writing sample will really help you stand out. Work with an experienced teacher to help you pull together samples and decide whether it makes sense to submit them. Check colleges' Web sites to see if they encourage or discourage these kinds of materials, and whether they have guidelines as to how to submit them. Extra materials can help you shine, but they can also become a burden if they are unnecessary.

Online college applications

Many colleges are strongly urging students to apply online, and we second the motion. This path is safe, quick, and fairly simple. Most public universities are receiving most of their applications through their own state Web sites, and some, like California, have their own online college application form. If you're applying to multiple colleges online, make sure to address particular college programs, characteristics, and other reasons why you are applying to each school in your essays.

Regardless of how you apply, treat every element of your written applications with care — the overall impression of a college application often has just as much impact on a reader as the substance of your essay.

Test scores and the college admission process

If you're a strong test taker, you've got little to worry about, as long as you can do well in your classes and fulfill the other college admissions requirements. However, many students perform well in a college-prep curriculum, but have trouble with the ACT or SAT. If you fit this profile, focus on your grades, stretch yourself in tough classes and make sure you prepare in the months leading up to your test.

While grades are at the top, that's not to say that test scores aren't important in the college admissions process. In 1993, NACAC found that 46 percent of colleges surveyed placed "considerable importance" on admission tests. As the number of graduates and competition for admission to selective schools has increased, so has that percentage. In 2003, the number went up to 61 percent. The number that placed "considerable importance" on grades, 78 percent, had remained fairly consistent over those 10 years.

Other important college admission requirements

Next to grades and test scores, other key college admissions requirements were mentioned, though they're less prominent. Class rank (not calculated at about half of high schools), interviews (not offered at many colleges), essays (not required by some colleges), and recommendation letters were identified as being of "considerable importance," but by less than a third of respondents.

Test scores more important at selective schools 
Which colleges do emphasize test scores? According to NACAC, it's the most selective institutions — particularly those admitting fewer than 50 percent of applicants. So if you're looking for college admissions assistance to a selective institution, consider putting extra effort into test preparation; it may pay off in the end.

This also holds true at schools outside of New England or the West; schools with a yield of less than 60 percent; and four-year, private, and middle- to large-size institutions (those with 10,000 to 20,000 students).

However, some schools don't consider test scores at all. Most two-year and non-selective schools are in this group. 



College Comparison Chart 




College Planning Timeline, Students



Ninth Grade, from Petersons

At this stage in the game, you’re laying the foundation for your high school career. This is a time to establish your academic and extracurricular credentials. You should also begin to explore options for your career or further education.


Fall: Think about extracurricular activities and your list of classes


Meet your guidance counselor. 
Your counselor is ready and willing to help you make sense of your college and career options. As soon as you can, set up a meeting to talk about your plans for high school and the future.

Get involved. 
Extracurricular activities (both school- and non-school-sponsored) are an important part of high school. Make the effort to get involved with groups, clubs, or teams that interest you. These activities are fun and make you a well-rounded student.

Pick the right mix of classes. 
Make sure you’re enrolled in the appropriate college-prep or tech-prep classes and that you’re taking key core requirements, such as English, math, science, history, and a foreign language.


Winter: Consider a college savings plan


Make the grade. 
Get off to a good start with your grades because they will impact your GPA and class rank. Although college seems like a long way off right now, grades really do count toward college admission and scholarships.

Explore your interests and possible careers. 
Discuss your skills and interests with your guidance counselor and take advantage of Career Day opportunities at your school.

Consider a college savings plan. 
Talk to your parents about planning for college expenses. If your family already has a savings plan, continue to add to it. If not, now is a great time to start saving for college. Your parents can use our financial planning calculator to help them assess their current savings situation and plan for the future. 


Spring/Summer: Learn about college and make summer count


Build your credentials. 
Keep track of academic and extracurricular awards, community service achievements, and anything else you participate in, so it’ll be easier to remember later. It’ll come in handy when you want to highlight your accomplishments—such as when you’re filling out college applications or creating a resume.

Start learning about college. 
Look at the college information available in your counselor’s office and school and public libraries. Use the Internet to check out college Web sites. Use our college search and view college profiles. You may even want to start a list of colleges that might interest you.

Begin to get a feel for college life. 
Visiting relatives or friends who live on or near a college campus is a great way to get a sense of what college is like. Check out the dorms, go to the library and student center, and walk around the campus. Don’t worry yet about where you want to go—just get a feel for college in general.

Make summer count. 
There are plenty of ways to have fun and build your credentials during the summer, such as volunteering, getting a job, or signing up for an enrichment program.



Tenth Grade


For this year, you’ll want to stay on track with your high school classes and activities and begin to narrow down the plan for your future.

Fall: Take the PSAT and explore careers


Take a practice PSAT. 
Taking the PSAT as a sophomore will help prepare you for the real thing next year. It also allows you to release your name to colleges so you can start receiving brochures from them.

Start getting ready for the ACT. 
Ask your guidance counselor about the PLAN assessment program offered by American College Testing. This program helps determine your study habits and academic progress and interests; it will also prepare you for the ACT.

Stay on track with your courses. 
Work with your guidance counselor to make sure you’re enrolled in the courses you need to prepare you for college or a career. Move on to the next level of classes in the core subjects (English, math, science, history, and a foreign language).

Begin learning about the college admissions process. 
Get familiar with general college entrance requirements. The guidance counselor’s office, the library, college Web sites, and advice articles are all good sources of information.

Continue exploring potential careers. 
Explore your career options in more detail—research possible careers to learn about the tasks, education, and training necessary for each occupation.


Winter: Read and Write


Take on new roles. 
Stay involved with your extracurricular activities and work toward leadership positions in the activities you like best. Become involved in community service and other volunteer activities.

Read, read, read. 
Developing your reading skills will help prepare you for tests and make you a well-rounded individual. Read as many books as you can and read the newspaper to learn about current affairs.

Practice your writing. 
You’ll need good writing skills no matter what path you pursue, so work on those skills now to get prepared. Find a teacher or another adult who can advise and encourage you to write well.

Get advice from your counselor. 
Meet with your guidance counselor to make sure you’re staying on track. You can also discuss your PSAT scores and ask about postsecondary enrollment options and Advanced Placement (AP) courses.

Spring/Summer: Keep your grades up and reach out to colleges

Keep your grades up. 
There’s probably a lot competing for your attention, but it’s important to remain focused on doing well in your classes. Remember that your grades affect your GPA and class rank—two factors that colleges consider in the admissions process.

Start your college search. 
Use our college search tools to decide what factors are important to you and see a list of collegesthat matches your criteria. Attend college fairs and read the material you get from all types of schools—you may see something you like.

Contact colleges that interest you. 
Write to schools and ask for more information about their academic requirements and any programs or activities that you’re interested in. It’s especially important to start this process now if you think you want to attend a military academy.

Consider taking SAT Subject Tests. 
It’s often best to take these types of tests while the material is still fresh in your mind. In May or June, you may want to take SAT Subject Tests in the courses you took this year.

Get a summer job. 
Finding steady summer work will look good to prospective colleges and employers. Putting the money you earn away for college will also help you get a head start on a personal savings plan.




Eleventh Grade

This is a key year in the college planning process because you’ll be taking standardized tests, narrowing down your college list, and learning more about financial aid. In addition, you’ll need to stay involved in your high school courses and activities.


Fall: Take the PSAT and start a list of colleges


Stay on track with your classes and grades. 
Meet with your counselor to see what you still need to take. Check on your class rank and your GPA. Even if your grades haven’t been that good so far, it’s never too late to improve. Colleges like to see an upward trend.

Take the PSAT. 
Taking the test qualifies you for the National Merit Scholarship program, which means you could earn money for college. In addition, it’s a good way to practice for the SAT.

Evaluate your education options. 
Now is the time to follow a more specific path. Decide whether you want to pursue full-time employment, further education or training (such as a vocational-technical school, career college, or two-year or four-year college), or a military career. If you’re interested in attending a military academy, talk to your guidance counselor about starting the application process now.

Make a college list. 
Your list of colleges should include schools that meet your most important criteria (for example, size, location, cost, academic majors, or special programs). Weigh each of the factors according to their importance to you and develop a preliminary ranking of the schools on your list.

Continue gathering college information. 
Go to college fairs, attend college nights, and speak with college representatives who visit your high school; use an online college finder and search top college lists. You may be able to narrow your choices or add a school to your list.

Organize a testing plan. 
Figure out when you’ll be taking important tests like the SATACTSAT Subject Tests, and AP exams, and mark the dates on your calendar. You’ll want to have plenty of time to prepare.

Make sure you’re meeting any special requirements. 
If you want to play Division I or II sports in college, start the certification process and check with your counselor to make sure you’re taking a core curriculum that meets NCAA requirements.


Winter: Stay involved, organize college lists, and prepare for standardized tests


Stay involved with extracurricular activities. 
Colleges look for consistency and depth in the non-academic activities you pursue. Taking on leadership roles and making a commitment to the same groups are more important than trying out tons of new activities each year.

Organize your college information. 
Set up a filing system with individual folders for each college’s correspondence and printed materials. This will make it easier to locate the specific information you’re looking for.

Begin narrowing down your college choices. 
Make sure you have all the information you need about the colleges you’re interested in (entrance requirements, tuition, room and board costs, course offerings, student activities, financial aid, etc.). Then begin comparing the schools by the factors that are most important to you and rank your choices.

Prepare for standardized tests. 
Find out if the colleges you are interested in require the SAT, ACT, or SAT Subject Tests. Register to take the tests you need; most juniors take them in the winter or spring. You can take them again in the fall of your senior year if you’re unhappy with your scores.

Talk to your family. 
Have a discussion about the colleges you’re interested in. Your family can learn about what you want to pursue and you can hear any concerns or suggestions they might have.

Learn more about financial aid. 
Examine your family’s financial resources and gather information about financial aid from the schools you’re interested in. High-school sponsored financial aid nights, college financial aid counselors, and advice articles are also good sources of information.


Spring: Search for scholarships and gather recommendations


Prepare a challenging schedule for senior year. 
Meet with your counselor to determine what classes you’ll take next year and to make sure you’re on track for graduation. When you pick your classes, don’t load up on easy electives. Colleges do consider your senior year courses and grades, so stick with a schedule that challenges you.

Start a scholarship search. 
There are lots of scholarships out there; you just need to spend a little bit of time and effort to find them. Check with your guidance office for scholarships from local organizations and use online scholarship search tools to find a wider range of options. The sooner you start looking for scholarships, the easier it will be to select some to apply to during your senior year.

Contact your recommendation writers. 
Teachers and guidance counselors are often asked to write recommendations for lots of students. Consider whom you want to ask now and let them know so they’ll have time to prepare before getting tons of requests in the fall. Ask teachers who know you well and who will have positive things to say. Letters of recommendation from a coach, activity leader, or adult who knows you well outside of school are also valuable.

Apply for a summer job or internship. 
Summer employment and internships in fields you’re interested in will look appealing on a college application or resume. The money you earn can also be used to help pay application and testing fees in the fall.

Set up appointments at your top college choices. 
You’ll often have to plan ahead when visiting colleges. Call the admissions office to set up a personal interview, tour, and a meeting with a professor or coach if you’re interested. You can also ask them to send you an application.


Summer: Visit colleges and work on application essays


Visit colleges. 
Visit the campuses of your top five college choices. Take a tour and speak with the admissions and financial aid staff. You may also be able to talk to students if some classes are in session. If you have an interview, be sure to send a thank-you letter to the interviewer once you return home.

Get advice from other college students. 
If you have friends or relatives in college, talk to them about what college life is like, especially if they attend a school you’re interested in. Although it’s important to hear what the admissions staff has to say about a school, it’s also important to get the students’ perspective.

Organize your financial aid information. 
Develop a plan that includes a list of the aid sources, requirements for each application, and a timetable for meeting the filing deadlines. Getting organized will make the process of applying a lot easier because you’ll know where to find important information.

Start working on your application essays. 
Compose rough drafts of the essays you’ll need for your college applications. Have a teacher read and discuss them with you so you can see what to work on. Make any revisions to your application essays and prepare final drafts. Don’t forget to proofread your final essays a few times.

Make early decision preparations. 
If you plan to apply early decision to any school, take the time to visit the school again and make sure you’re willing to commit. If you elect to apply early decision, you should start working on your application as soon as possible because its deadline will be earlier than others.




Twelfth Grade


Senior year is often an extremely busy time, with schoolwork, activities, and special events. Be sure to stay on track with the college admissions process. Get organized, be aware of deadlines, and don’t procrastinate.

Fall: Visit the schools and complete applications

Continue to visit schools. 
Fall is a great time to look at the schools on your college lists because classes are in session and you are better able to meet and talk with students and professors. You may even be able to sit in on a class or two.

Finalize your college list. 
Use the information you’ve gathered from college visits, interviews, and your own research to decide which schools you will apply to. It’s okay to apply to colleges that you think will be more difficult to get into. But it’s also important to put a few safety schools (where you’re sure you’ll get in) on your list. Talk to counselors, teachers, and parents about your final choices.

Stay on track with your grades and extracurricular activities. 
Colleges will look at what you’ve done in your senior year, so stay focused on doing well in your classes and maintaining a commitment to extracurricular activities.

Take standardized tests. 
Register for and take the ACTSAT, or SAT Subject Tests as necessary. Be sure you have requested (either by mail or online) that your test scores be sent to the colleges of your choice.

Keep track of deadlines. 
You’ll be filling out lots of forms this year, so it’s important to know what form is due when. Make a calendar showing the application deadlines for admission, financial aid, and scholarships.

Ask for letters of recommendation. 
Give letter of recommendation forms to the teachers you have chosen, along with stamped, addressed envelopes so your teachers can send them directly to the colleges. Be sure to fill out your name and address and the school name on each form. Discuss your goals and ambitions with your teachers so they’ll be more prepared to write about you.

Meet with your guidance counselor. 
Your counselor can help you stay on track with admissions requirements. Make sure they know which colleges you want transcripts, score reports, and letters sent to. Give your counselors any necessary forms much earlier than the actual deadlines so they’ll have time to send the forms in.

Complete applications. 
Finish the application forms for the schools you’re interested in. Proofread them and make extra copies before you send them. Make sure you and your school’s guidance office have sent all necessary materials, including test scores, recommendations, transcripts, and application essays. You should plan to get all this done before winter break, so you won’t be rushing to make deadlines.

Continue your scholarship search. 
Apply for scholarships whose deadlines are approaching and keep searching for more scholarship and grant opportunities. Using online scholarship search tools is a great way to find potential aid. Ask colleges about what scholarships you may qualify for. The downtime after applications have been sent is a great time to focus on financial aid.


Winter: Follow up on applications and submit financial aid forms


Act on the results of early decision applications. 
If you applied early decision, you’ll soon find out if you were accepted. If you get in, you have to withdraw your applications from other schools. If not, keep your other applications out there and focus on those colleges.

Follow up on your applications. 
Verify with your counselor that all forms are in order and have been sent out to colleges. Check with the schools to make sure they have received all your information, including test scores, transcripts, and recommendations.

Submit financial aid forms. 
Fill out the FAFSA, and if necessary, the PROFILE. These forms can be obtained from your guidance counselor. No matter what your family’s income level is, the FAFSA is your main priority for financial aid purposes because it will determine how much you’re expected to pay. Don’t send the forms until after January 1, because they can’t be processed before then.

Send mid-year grade reports. 
Ask your counselor to send your mid-year grade reports to the colleges that you applied to. Remember that the schools will continue to keep track of your grades, so it’s important to keep working hard throughout your senior year.


Spring: Compare financial aid packages and make your final decision


Watch your mail for notification from colleges. 
If you applied under the regular application process, you should receive an admissions decision by March or April. Notifications of financial aid awards should arrive by the end of April.

Check out your options if you’re put on a waitlist. 
Being put on a waitlist is not a rejection. Keep watching your mail; you should receive a decision by May. In the meantime, keep your options open in case you don’t get in. Check out schools that have late or rolling application deadlines.

Compare financial aid packages. 
Make sure to consider each financial aid award carefully. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to contact the financial aid office of the college to get more information. Financial aid is a key factor in deciding where you will attend.

Prepare for any last standardized tests. 
You may be taking AP or CLEP tests to earn some college credit as the school year winds down.

Make your final college decision. 
Notify all schools of your intent by May 1. If you’re not sure which offer to accept, make one more campus visit to the schools you’re considering. Make sure to send your deposit to your chosen school and ask your guidance counselor to send your final transcript to the college in June

Follow up on financial aid information. 
Make sure you have received a FAFSA acknowledgement. If you applied for a Pell Grant, you will receive a Student Aid Report statement. Review this notice, make a copy for your records, and send the original to the college you plan to attend. If necessary, apply for loans

Complete enrollment paperwork for the college you will attend. 
Once you accept an offer, you should receive information from the college about course scheduling, orientation sessions, housing arrangements, and other necessary forms. Be sure to complete all required paperwork by the appropriate deadlines

You’ve finished high school and are about to embark on an exciting new phase of life. Good luck.


College Planning Timeline, Parents



Ninth Grade


Your child's grades appear on official transcripts starting this year, so if you haven't already started doing so, it's time to take stock. If your child has particularly strong academic interests, encourage them, but don't lose focus on strengthening areas of weakness that can't be ignored, such as English or algebra.

Your child should also start exploring career goals so that courses can be chosen that will complement those goals and serve as good prerequisites for college - this is especially true for scientific and technical fields. Sit down with your teen and the school's course listings to sketch out a comprehensive academic program of all the classes your child should take in high school. Lay out preliminary plans for extracurricular activities as well, allowing flexibility for interests they may outgrow or new ones they may acquire. As you do this, allow your child's interests to shape the list!


Get involved
The initial weeks of high school can be a difficult adjustment, socially and academically. Keep an open dialogue about how classes are going. If your child is struggling, now's the time to get a handle on it. Similarly, you may want to talk to the school about placing your child in a more advanced class if the work seems too easy.

Help your child explore 
As classes progress, encourage involvement in meaningful activities in and out of school. Allow your child to feel out what they're comfortable with and how much time they can dedicate without impacting schoolwork negatively.

Heap on the praise 
Help your child begin keeping an activities record that lists participation in activities as well as accomplishments, awards, and leadership positions.


Provide support 
Keep up regular conversations with your child about his or her academic progress. Grades should be up to par and course levels appropriate. If not, perhaps your child could use your help in establishing better study habits or creating a better study environment.

Be a motivator 
Develop an improvement plan together if your child is struggling and remember that the best motivation is encouragement.

Remain open to change 
One of the points of high school is for students to explore their interests. Determine if your child is enjoying what they're doing, and if any changes need to be made.

Think summer 
You and your child should also start thinking about worthwhile summer plans such as a job, volunteer work, or traveling. Summer is a great time to begin exploring interests that tie in with college or career goals.


Look to the future 
Together, review and evaluate the comprehensive academic program and activities record started earlier in the school year, make any necessary changes, and update accordingly.

Hit the books 
As summer approaches, develop a summer reading list that will help with the academic transition to 10th grade, and finalize any summer plans that were in development.




Tenth Grade


Tenth grade is a banner year for most kids. For the most part, the classes your child takes this year will determine the courses your child will be qualified to take in grades 11 and 12.

In terms of preparing for college, it's an important time, since AP and honors classes require prerequisites that your child will need to be fulfilling this year and next. You and your child should have an open discussion and strategically map out classes together.

Sophomore year also marks the beginning of standardized testing. This year, students can take a practice PSAT/NMSQT — a preparatory step for the PSAT/NMSQT and SAT next year. For students planning on taking the ACT, the PLAN assessment is also administered in their sophomore year. If it hasn't already started, it's buckle-down time!


Encourage preliminary testing 
Make sure your child gets in touch with the school guidance counselor about taking thePSAT/NMSQT. Although the "real" PSAT/NMSQT is taken in October of junior year, this is a great way for your child to get familiar with the test.

In ACT regions, they should ask about the PLAN schedule. The PLAN helps immensely in predicting your child's performance on the ACT.

Both tests will help your child prepare for the "big" tests next year.

Get a head start 
It's also time to start checking out college fairs and possibly meeting with school representatives that come to town. Encourage your child to start investigating schools by attending one fair and a session or two with representatives at school. But don't push it — this might be way too early!

If your child seems okay with this, encourage the creation/modification of a list of colleges that are possible destinations.


Stay coordinated 
Mark the date for the PSAT/NMSQT in big red letters on the wall calendar! Your child should be doing a little prep work for this test, but don't forget to maintain open dialogue on how classes and activities are going. Remember: this is a practice run.


Make plans for improvement 
PSAT/NMSQT scores should be back by now and between you, your child, and the high school counselor, strategies for improving weak areas should be developed, if necessary.


Keep talking 
Just as you've been doing all along, make sure that your child's classes seem to be an appropriate fit. If grades are slipping, perhaps the course levels are too high or study habits are poor.

Stay active 
Take a look at extracurricular activities as well, not just from the standpoint of whether or not they're going well, but if they are having a negative impact on your child's studies and need to be cut back.


Consider additional testing 
You and your child (and perhaps the school counselor) should discuss SAT Subject Tests and APs, although many students wait until their junior year. May and June are the usual test times and the most common test taken by sophomores is biology, as it is often a completed subject by this time.


Break out the sunscreen 
Summer is coming up again, and your child should be considering what options are best for his summer plans. Vacations are nice, but so is earning money or enhancing one's transcript with asummer camp or program!

Check the schedule 
If your child needs to, he or she should register for June SAT Subject Tests now.


Plan for the coming school year 
Testing aside, gently oversee registration for next fall's classes and activities. Urge your child to select (or continue) the most challenging classes possible and to participate in at least one community service activity. Finalize any summer plans, and, just as you did last year, devise a summer reading list together that will help the transition into junior year.


Make the break a productive one 
Your child should have a job or be participating in constructive activities throughout the summer. Summer study, jobs, and volunteer work always rate high with admission officials. If your child has a career goal in mind, see if you can help arrange a day where he or she can "shadow" someone who works in that field.

Do some early research 
The Web provides good college entrance information, as well as online applications to many institutions. Summer is a great time for you and your child to check out some of the sites and bookmark your favorites.



Eleventh Grade

This year the college search process really gets going. The combined exploration of the past two years along with your child's testing should help refine the list of colleges that you and your child have been working on. Poor grades will not be as easily forgiven as they were in previous years, and colleges will look for commitment and accomplishment outside of the classroom.

Just as you've been doing all along, help your child stay on top of things and continue to provide support and encouragement -- and constructive criticism, if needed.



Kick it up a notch 
Make sure your child registers for the October PSAT. This is the qualifying test for the National Merit Scholarship program and great practice for the SAT.

Go to the fair 
Check into college fairs and college representative visits to the school. (The school counselor should have a schedule.) Encourage your child to attend and to start becoming very familiar with the college resources available at school.

An important note 
If you haven't done so yet, get a Social Security number for your child.



Keep driving the bus 
If your child is taking the PSAT, make sure the date is in big bold letters on the family calendar. Diplomatically remind your child to read the Student Bulletin and to try some practice questions. Try to refrain from grilling your beloved offspring about how he or she thinks they did as soon as the test is over. Plan a not-test-related treat instead.

Get out of town 
Schedule a day trip to visit nearby colleges. Don't worry if these are places where your child won't apply. The goal is to explore different types of schools. Aim for variety. Discuss which characteristics of schools are attractive and which aren't.



Get ready to buckle down 
If you have questions about PSAT scores, contact your child's guidance counselor and, if necessary, discuss strategies for improving weak areas for the SAT. This is another year for college admission tests, so look into prep options for the SAT, ACT, and AP.

Look to the future 
Help refine the list of colleges, with test results in mind. If you or any of your acquaintances have a college student at home for the winter break, ask them questions and encourage your child to do so as well.

Start thinking dollars and cents 
Take an introductory look at financial aid forms just to see what you'll be doing this time next year.



Keep up communication 
How's school going this year? Since classes are probably tougher than ever, continue to evaluate your child's academic progress. Does everything seem to be going alright? What does your child need if he or she is struggling?

Dream about summer 
Start making initial summer plans for working, studying, volunteering, or attending a summer program. Try to make sure your child is involved in something that looks good on a college application.



Check the schedule 
Look ahead to SAT or ACT registration deadlines. There may be one coming up quickly since some juniors take the SAT in March, which isn't a bad idea. Heed the February registration deadline.



Plan, prepare, and plan some more 
Consider and plan spring vacation college visits. Hopefully, your child's spring break WON'T coincide with college breaks, so you can see some students and really get a gander at college life when you visit.

Get organized 
Have your son or daughter start a "College Binder" by making an early list of target colleges in a notebook. Visits to college Web sites should increase and he or she should begin calling, writing, or e-mailing target colleges to request publications. Set aside an area where all the marketing materials can be organized and be easily referenced.

Remember those tests? 
If you didn't do it last month, check upcoming SAT or ACT registration deadlines for tests your child still needs to take. Is there one on the horizon? Make note of the test and registration dates on your calendar.

If AP tests are coming up, make sure your child discusses plans to take exams with teachers and/or the guidance counselor, as needed.

Make plans 
Discuss the lineup for senior-year classes. Urge your child to include at least one math course or lab science, as well as the most challenging courses possible. Both of you should recognize that colleges weigh senior classes and grades as heavily as the junior record.



Does your child still need to take the SAT or ACT? Check for registration deadlines and upcoming test dates. If it hasn't already been done, have your child update his or her extracurricular activities record.



Prepping for tests 
Does your child still need to get the SAT and/or ACT out of the way? (And yes, we will remind you every month until it's done!) Make sure no deadlines or test dates are being overlooked.

If your child needs to take the TOEFL as well, check the test dates and help your child get registered.

Explore some options 
Assess the need for and affordability of special services, such as standardized test prep courses, independent college counselors, and private group tour programs.



Make sure your child is registered for anything that still needs to be done. As always, if your child has a test coming up, mark the test and registration dates on the family calendar.

Think scholarships 
Take advantage of the summer slow-down by visiting scholarship search and financial aid Web sites with your child, or by checking out comparable library resources.



Don't slow down 
By now, your child should be accustomed to setting summers aside for employment or some other constructive activities. These are the types of activities that sit well with admission officials. This is also a good time to take some summer visits and plan fall college visits.

Work on your child's list 
Keep your child on track with test preparation, if needed. He or she should continue requesting college publications. They should also begin planning, if not executing, any supplemental submissions that will be needed, such as audition tapes or art slides or portfolios. Review and update the list of target schools that you and your child have been developing, adding the pros and cons of each school.




Twelfth Grade

Phew! Once your child reaches senior year, the college search kicks up a notch and will sometimes feel like a full-time job — with all of the toil, tedium, and triumphs that come with it. But this is the home stretch for both you and your future college graduate. It might be a lot of work, but it's a labor of love!



Take a moment with your child 
Start the year off right by planning an evening out (perhaps dinner at a favorite restaurant) with your college-bound child. Go over your strategy for the school year. Discuss plans and goals and review your child's list of colleges. If necessary, find a few more colleges using an online college finder (or college lists) to make sure you haven't neglected any possible colleges.

Also discuss plans to attend college fairs and meet with any college reps who may be coming to the school. (The school guidance office will have a schedule.) Go over which college sites have been visited and which ones haven't. Finalize plans for college visits. If it all seems overwhelming, reassure your child (over dessert!) that you'll be there to support them every step of the way

Start the application process 
Does your child still need to take the ACT or SAT? Find out the dates and get them registered!




Make a decision on early decision 
Go over options for early decision and early action and determine if it's an option you and your child want to pursue. Help your child complete the college list by adding application and financial aid due dates, then add the dates to the family calendar.

Move them in the "write" direction 
Monitor the start of applications and encourage your child to mull over various application essaytopics to determine if any can be overlapped to reduce the workload. Your child should also start requesting teacher recommendations now; that way, they'll be done well in advance of any deadlines.

Hit the road 
Start making college visits to the top schools on the list of colleges, and schedule any interviews that can be completed on campus or with college alumni. Attend college fairs, gather more information, and take a little time to laugh about the process by renting a good comedy and taking a night off!

Think dollars and cents 
Certain colleges require a supplemental financial aid form, known as the CSS/PROFILE. This has an earlier deadline than the FAFSA. Check the schools to which your child is applying to find out if you'll need to complete this form in addition to the FAFSA.



Nag (but just a little) 
You might have to start nagging your teen about early application deadlines, if applicable. Narrow your college list to those schools to which applications will be sent. Try to use time over the Thanksgiving break to get in a campus visit. As your child starts working on (or completing) applications, offer to proofread and provide constructive criticism.



Start coordinating paperwork 
If your child plans to have another go at the SAT or ACT, make sure they register. The January sitting (February for ACT) is their absolute last chance.

Keep an eye on the calendar 
Get your federal financial aid forms (FAFSA) from the guidance office or the Web and attend workshops if there any available. Leave gentle reminders about any January or February application deadlines and have your child confirm that teachers and guidance staff are up-to-date with reference forms. Also make sure that transcripts are being sent to all short-list colleges.

Celebrate early 
Usher in the New Year with a family toast to the future, whatever it may bring.



Remember "parent" deadlines 
If you have everything you need, file your income taxes and begin filling out financial aid forms, such as the FAFSA. Finish and mail these forms as soon as possible — and never late! Keep in mind that many schools list earlier FAFSA filing dates than that which is listed on the form itself.

Finish up applications 
Encourage your child to complete all of his or her applications, even those with later deadlines. Make copies of everything and save them! If SATs are being taken this month, find out if "rush" scores are required for any of your child's choice schools.

When the last application hits the mailbox, CELEBRATE!



Follow up 
Unless confirmations have arrived, your child should consult colleges by phone or online to check the status of applications. They should keep track of who they speak with and find out if there are any materials that still need to be sent in.



Work through the waiting game 
After nearly four years, the wait is nearly over! There may be some decision letters arriving this month and, hopefully, they will bring great news.



Stay cool 
Resist the urge to open letters addressed to your child. Also, don't despair when thin envelopes show up — that doesn't always mean it's a rejection letter. Some schools send out enrollment forms later.

Remain supportive 
If your child is accepted, cheer and applaud! If a rejection letter arrives, try to put things in perspective with a comment like "It's an extremely competitive college and your math test scores must have hurt." (Don't say something like "The admission folks at that school seemed like a bunch of Bozos from the get-go." Even if that's what you think!)

Take a second look 
Compare financial aid offers and contact financial aid offices with any questions. If you feel you need to, appeal the awards. Plan crunch-time visits to campuses, as needed, to help with the big decision: which school to attend.

Follow up 
Was your child placed on a waitlist? Make sure to return any waitlist cards and follow up with the admission offices regularly. Send updated records and other information, if available. Encourage your child to write an upbeat "Please take me, and this is why you should" letter. It may make a difference.

Take a deep breath 
If you and your child have made a final decision about which school to attend, then congratulations! Now, make sure you send in any required deposit. Be sure not to dawdle and miss the May 1 deadline or your child may lose their spot to some other hopeful student. Last but not least, notify the schools that weren't chosen that your child won't be attending, particularly if an aid offer was made.



Polish off the details 
Make sure your child takes any needed AP exams.

Remember P's and Q's 
Encourage your child to write a thank you note to anyone who may have been especially helpful in the college-planning process. Guidance counselors are often unsung heroes, as are teachers who write recommendations, scholarship agencies, admission counselors, financial aid officers, secretaries, tours guides, or other students. Of course this isn't obligatory, but recipients are sure to be pleasantly surprised.

Buy some extra-long sheets 
Stay on top of housing plans in case there are any forms that need to be returned. You and your child may also consider alternatives to the dorms, if there are any. Find out the dates for freshman orientation, as some schools have them in spring or summer. And of course, make sure your child knows when course registration is.



Play the waiting game 
You and your child may both be a little jumpy around mail-delivery time each day. Keep your eye out for "the envelope," but also keep your cool.

Give your child (and yourself!) a pat on the back 
Help your child organize a file to keep track of summer mailings from the college. Categories might include orientation, housing, course registration, and finances.

Attend to the details 
Your child may want to consider summer courses to accelerate or place out of required courses, but make sure the college has confirmed that it will accept the credits. Also have your child confirm that the high school has forwarded a final transcript to the college.

On a less stressful note, take your child shopping for supplies and dorm décor. Don't forget about suitcases for packing clothes!

Give yourself some well-deserved credit 
After everything is done, sit down and have a good cry while you go back over all the masterpieces your child has created over the years. And remember, this is a good thing and you've done a GREAT JOB!




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