Every year I work to support my students in finding the right college or university for their future studies. The most important thing I emphasize is that it is a process. It requires a great deal of planning, determination, and adult encouragement.
There are three areas in the college application process that cause the most trouble for students and provide the greatest opportunity for parents to assist.
A personal statement is a short and focused essay where a student writes about who he or she is and where he or she wants to be. These statements are often required as part of the application to a college or scholarship, as they help the selection committee get a better idea of the student’s academic and personal strengths. It is a great chance for the student to demonstrate who he or she is beyond what the transcripts show. Writing a good personal statement is also a process that needs plenty of time for thinking, writing, editing, peer review, teacher feedback, more writing, and more revision.
Parents, encourage your student to write a personal statement during junior year so he or she can get used to the process. Writing about oneself can be very difficult and I often have students who have no idea what to write about. As a parent, you are uniquely qualified to help define your child’s best qualities and provide a few examples of where you have seen your child using his or her positive characteristics.
FAFSA stands for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It is the most important part of the college process because it will determine how much grant money will be available to your child. A grant is the amount of money a child can receive toward educational expenses without having to pay it back. There is a limited amount of government grant money and it operates on a first come, first serve basis. If you submit the application too late, the money will be gone.
Parents, you have a critical role in completing the FAFSA. The forms will require you to provide evidence of your family’s income by using your tax documents, W-2 and 1040 forms. You will be able to submit the FAFSA sooner if you have this information available. All schools offer free services to parents to help prepare these documents, so take advantage of them.
Students have no idea about how much things cost and often fall in love with a school or program without regard to the price tag. Shop around! For example, community colleges sometimes offer the same certifications at a very discounted price.
Before your child decides which school to attend, look together at every option and have a serious discussion with your parenting partner and child about costs. Taking these first steps should help get your child on the right path to choosing a college and financing his or her education.