Searching for Scholarships can definitely begin earlier than senior year, but now is a perfect time for seniors to use their free time for searching and applying for scholarships. Many students ask me where to search and how to get the most money. Unfortunately, there is no single, simple answer.
As I receive copies of my students' award letters, I continue to be astonished by how complex and confusing these letters can be, especially for those not familiar with the financial aid jargon. It is disappointing that some schools continue to take advantage of the students and families by presenting their packages in very deceiving formats leading families to believe some colleges are more affordable than they actually are. An important part of the work I do with my families is helping them decipher these letters and make an informed college decision.
Most 15 and 16 year olds are thinking about their next game, their latest high school crush, surviving AP classes, or getting their driver’s license, not about their college plans for 2 -3 years down the road. It seems a bit unfair that they should have to think about such important things at a young age, but that is what the process has become and it is in their best interest to start early. Here are four resolutions for high school students considering college.
Spend time researching college and career options
By now, many students have had a broad discussion of college plans with their parents and/or high school counselor. What they probably haven't done is actually sit down and do some self reflecting and research. What are their potential career and course of study interests? What type of college do they envision for themselves? What are the requirements for admission to those colleges? They should make it a goal to spend time doing research now while they still have time to adjust their high school path, visit schools, prep for tests, and set up job shadowing and classes to help them with their admission and final decision. That small amount of time they spend over the next year has the potential to make a BIG difference.
Establish college application timeline and goals NOW
Students in their next to last year of high school should establish their timeline for college applications now! Although they may not have their 'list' narrowed down to the final few schools, it is not too early to establish personal deadlines for getting their applications done. The key is to set those deadlines early - take the potential college deadlines and move them back by 6-8 weeks! There can be a lot of unexpected delays, added requirements and other bumps along the college application road, and it is better to be done early than to risk an incomplete application. Students who stay organized and work ahead often forget to take into consideration the fact that there are pieces to the applications which are not in their hands. Recommendation letters, high school transcripts, and test scores are just a few examples of requirements which may not be sent directly by the student. Students need to give their counselors and recommenders plenty of time to complete their pieces.
Continue to put forth best effort in school and remember college decisions are NOT everything
By now many students at this stage in their high school careers have completed their applications, especially those for out-of-state colleges. Most of those even have their offers of admission already. The first of two resolutions for students at this time are to continue to put forth their best effort in school. There are plenty of other students willing to take their spot at their potential future college and there is little room for slacking and decline in grades. Colleges do pay attention to this and indeed have the power to revoke their admission offer if they feel the student is not meeting their academic standards.
The second resolution and unarguably the most important, is for students to remember that admissions decisions are not everything. Unfortunately colleges are unable to truly get to know each student before making an acceptance decision. Although a student may not have gotten into their dream school, their future is still very bright and they have plenty of opportunity to shape it the way they want it to be. Every college has something great to offer, students just have to take advantage of it. I do believe some colleges are better fits than others and strive to help students find the best matches, but ‘the perfect college’ does not exist. College is only the beginning of the journey. It can be a spectacular part of it, but it is not everything and it is certainly not the end.
For more new years advice for teens and their parents, check out the January issue of UnMazed Magazine.
As admission decisions continue to roll in, some students are celebrating while others are unfortunately beginning to panic. What has become clear so far this year is that most if not all 'upper level' schools are increasingly difficult to get into and the number of early applications has once again significantly jumped. The unpredictability of it all has become more evident than ever. Highly qualified students are shocked to find out they did not get into their colleges and are beginning to worry that they will not get in to any that they want. While it is perfectly normal and reasonable for the students to be concerned about not getting into their favorite schools, there is a lot which can be done to get these students into a more stable situation during this confusing college application season.
Recently, colleges have become more aware of the increase in mental and physical health issues among their students and have drastically improved the services and resources available to them. With nearly one third of all students having a diagnosable mental health issue at some point during their freshman year, these resources are invaluable. However, despite the plethora of resources available to them, at least 40% of the students experiencing mental health issues are not getting the help the need. The main problem is not the lack of resources, but rather the student not taking the initiative to seek them out.
One thing students should do early is inform themselves on the campus resources available to them while on tour and considering which schools to add to their list. Once accepted, students should make it a point to get even more familiar with the mental and academic counseling options their college provides - many offer both right on campus. In fact, many schools actually have trained mental health professionals and psychologists on staff and they usually have walk-in hours as well as appointments. From support groups to tutoring or private counseling sessions, many forms of help are available.
Students need to understand they can get counseling for nearly any issue ranging from sinking grades, eating disorders, test anxiety, and sleeplessness to roommate problems, depression, and alcohol and drugs. No issue is too small and it is better to seek help before the problem develops further and continues to disrupt life. The common rule of thumb is if it has been a disturbance for more than two weeks, seek help. Students should never hesitate to give either the academic or mental health counseling offices a call and set up an appointment or just walk in to discuss their options.
In cases of emergency or after-hours, students can call campus emergency numbers, local community agencies, 911, or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and even text the Crisis Text Line for help. They should make a list of these important resources to have on hand.
Whether it is an academic advisor, career counselor, tutor, or roommate, students should also find someone they are comfortable speaking with and not be ashamed of discussing their issues. While these people may not be the proper ones to help, it is always better to talk to someone about problems than to keep them to yourself. At the very least, this person can advise them to seek help where appropriate or get them help when they are concerned.
If students have mental health issues before entering college, it is particularly important that they establish a plan and know where to go when they will need help. It may even be worth considering establishing a relationship with a mental health professional on campus or locally before the stress of freshman year begins.
Whether or not students think they will need some sort of counseling, they should learn about their options and understand that there is no shame in seeking help. Adapting to college life and adulthood is challenging and at one point or another, we could all use some help.
As parents and educators, teaching students to self advocate and take advantage of the resources available to them is an important part of preparing them for college and beyond. We need to make sure our students are comfortable with asking for help when needed and that they know where to go for that help.
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As the admissions decisions are rolling in, students could be faced with several different responses. It is important that you weigh your options and make a decision you are happy with. While you may be disappointed with some of the responses you receive, remember that there is a college for you! This is why you created a 'list you love' to start with.
After applications are submitted and the giant feeling of relief has subsided, most students begin to wonder what to do next. Each school has their own timeline for when they will inform applicants of their admissions decision. In general, schools which have rolling admissions take 2-3 weeks, schools with Nov. 1 EA will inform you between mid December and end of January, and schools with RD in January will inform you by end of February or March. So what do you while you wait?
As college application season is fully underway, it is important to learn about the primary financial aid applications and types of aid your student could receive. The two most common applications used by colleges across the US are the FAFSA and CSS PROFILE, and they need to be filed prior to each year the student plans on attending college.
The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is the standard form used by all schools to determine the amount of federal aid a student will receive. The application opens on October 1 each year and closes the following June 30. The FAFSA calculates the EFC (Expected Family Contribution), what the government considers a reasonable amount the family should be able to contribute to the student's educational costs whether or not a parent wants to contribute to their child's education.