The key to helping your junior get in and get money for college

Parents of juniors…I want college admissions to be a stress-free process for your teen. Don’t see how that’s possible? Let me share some intentional things you can do to support your teen’s success to help them (and you!) avoid stressing out. The key is to approach the process in a way that makes sense for your teen, beginning with ownership. 

Own the Process 

First off, having your junior own the process (being engaged, responsible and accountable) will take a lot of pressure off you as a parent. But it goes deeper than that. I know from the research, and from experience with my own children that when your teen takes ownership of the process, they:

  • are much more successful in the college admissions process and more likely to get into the top colleges on their ist
  • can be sure they are a good fit for the college, and as a result, 
  • end up getting scholarship money. 

 

The key takeaway is to be sure your teen is in charge so that they are owning the process

 

Now that we’ve established that, where can you and your teen start with finding money for college?

 

External Scholarship Opportunities 

Let’s talk about external scholarships, which are scholarships that are not from the colleges, but from external sources. Oftentimes families are unaware of the other resources that are out there. This year especially, you want to be intentional around external scholarships. Here are five in particular that you may not have considered. 

 

1. Scholarships from Companies

Many companies, including law firms, major restaurants and retail companies offer scholarships. One widely-known example is the Coca-Cola scholarship for seniors which is a very large scholarship. However, your junior can position themselves to compete for that scholarship going into senior year. Also look at some of the companies in your own community that offer scholarships, which you can often find on their websites.

 

2. Scholarships from Civic Organizations 

Another great resource is civic organizations and foundations. Sometimes they are need-based (which require you to provide proof of need) while others involve a contest, where you complete an application with an essay to qualify. Now is a good time to research the civic organizations in your community that offer scholarships.

 

3. Scholarships from Credit Unions 

Credit unions are wonderful community neighbors, and they often will have scholarships as well. Sometimes, there are additional offerings for members of that credit union. If you’re a member of a credit union, definitely check that out! I recommend that you look into these opportunities in junior year; some of the requirements are junior-year specific.  Another note regarding credit unions: if you know that there is a credit union that offers a scholarship and you’re not a member, now is the time to become a member. If you plan ahead your teen can position themselves for that particular award now. 

 

4. Scholarships from Your Employer 

There are a lot of employers that offer scholarships. I believe that NiSource, the energy company here in Columbus, offers scholarships. See if your employer offers scholarships as well. Again, junior year is the time to look into the criteria. 

 

5. National Merit Scholarship Program 

Most students take the PSAT in junior year and their score will determine whether they qualify for national merit. One thing to know regarding the PSAT, is that it is not really considered for college admission. However, when your junior takes the PSAT and scores in the 99th percentile, then they qualify for a national merit scholarship. Have your teen research the criteria for the National Merit scholarship. 

 

Who Can Apply for External Scholarships?

Although you have a junior, be aware that you can apply for an external scholarship beginning at age 13 (keep that in mind if you have younger children as well). If your child wins a scholarship, that money is held and then sent to the college when they enroll. I encourage families with younger teens to apply for scholarships. Not only does it develop their resilience, it also helps to instill that growth mindset that we want our students to have. Plus, they will be adding to their portfolio of writing samples as well.

How The Different College Application Deadlines Can Impact Your Student and Financial Aid

College application deadlines are not the most exciting topic to consider as your teen prepares for college during high school, but it’s a very important topic one. It’s important because it can make a big difference in terms of what you pay for college as well as impact your student’s chances on getting admitted.

Each year there are different application deadlines that your teen can use for their applications for college. They sound similar, so it can be confusing to understand how they are different. I’ll explain how they can impact your teen and their college future.

One of the deadlines is simply the regular decision deadline that happens every year,  usually around January. The thing to remember is that application deadlines are very unforgiving, so your teen needs to make sure that they meet that deadline.

Regular decision is a standard deadline, and another deadline you may hear about is the “rolling deadline”. The rolling deadline means that your teen can submit their application at any time. Usually they’ll get a notice back of a decision about three or four weeks later (but sometimes it could be sooner, depending on the time of year).

The rolling deadline is one that doesn’t have a specific date. So, it could start perhaps as soon as October and keep going until the final deadline, which means that all the applications have to be in by that time. Or it can be set to go as late as the spring of senior year.

Now that we’ve covered standard and rolling deadlines, I want to review two other deadlines that can be a bit confusing because they start with the same word. One of these deadlines is the “early action deadline”. Early action is non-binding, which means that your teen can apply to an early action deadline and usually they’ll find out the decision perhaps around December. It gives them a little bit of ease, especially if they do get admitted, because they’ll know pretty much where their application stands. Then, if they want to apply to some additional colleges, they still have time to do that under the regular deadline.

The fourth deadline I want to talk about also starts with early, and it’s called “early decision deadline”. Early decision is more strict because this deadline is binding. Every year, there are a lot of families that will apply under the early decision deadline. With the early decision deadline, because it’s binding, you cannot apply to any other colleges that have any type of restrictive deadlines. You want to make sure that you read the fine print on that.

The early decision deadline is one that the parents have to sign off on. Also, the school counselor will be notified as well. The key thing with the early decision deadline is that it means that if your teen is admitted, they must go to that college, regardless of financial aid. This is where sometimes I will see families who decide to do the early decision deadline, because that’s the only one that a particular college offers for them (either early decision or regular).

Generally with the earlier application rounds, the admissions rate is a bit more favorable. Families that want to make sure that their teen has the best shot in terms of admissions will often go ahead and exercise that option to use the early decision deadline. But soon after, if the decision comes back positive in December, you have a short window of time to withdraw all of your other applications and to submit your deposit to hold your space.

That’s a really serious deadline. Sometimes families will say, “Oh, I didn’t know. I thought we would be eligible for financial aid.” They get a surprise that they don’t get any additional aid and then it’s trying to figure out, “Okay, how do we pay for it?”

It’s a deadline that I wouldn’t take lightly. It’s certainly your family’s choice if you decide to do the early decision round, but know that it means that your teen will be going if they get admitted, regardless of what the financial aid is.

At least with the early action option, you have a chance to look through the financial aid offers from other colleges as well. On the flipside, some colleges will offer only the early decision deadline, and then others may have an early action, or they can also have an early decision as well. So you want to be sure you know the deadlines for your student’s college of choice when they begin applying!

One thing I will add about the very late regular decision deadlines is that sometimes colleges will say the deadline is June 1st. They will be filling those seats before then,  so for colleges that may have a very late regular decision deadline doesn’t mean that you can apply on May 31st still find seats available. It’s a point to keep that in mind when your student is scheduling when to submit applications.

Do you have questions about application deadlines and helping your student get into their dream school? Application deadlines can make a big difference in terms of what you could end up paying. In some cases, it can also make a difference as to where your teen gets admitted. I look forward to hearing from you if you have any questions or thought about the process!

If you’re a parent of a high school student preparing for college, I have created a free online training class that answers the most common questions I get from parents: “How to Find The Right College.” It offers insight into the college application process as well as how to get money for college. You can check it out and register for it HERE.

Should my teen study for the PSAT?

psat

Each fall, parents with 9th, 10th and 11th graders ask me about the PSAT and whether their teen should study for the PSAT. As with most things in college readiness, it depends.

Let’s start with a general description of the PSAT to make sure we’re all on the same page. It’s considered a preliminary SAT exam and students often take it to get an unofficial look at the SAT. “Unofficial” means that this test is “off the record” for college admissions purposes. It’s rare that students would submit these scores for consideration in college admissions.

PSAT for 9th graders
Most high schools do not offer the option for 9th graders to take the PSAT. Although I have seen it offered at several independent schools.

Typically, I do not recommend that students take the PSAT in 9th grade. It adds too much unnecessary pressure and anxiety. The 9th grade is such a transitional period that the year is better spent acclimating to the new school environment, making friends, and getting to know teachers.


PSAT for 10th graders
Taking the PSAT in 10th grade can be a good idea, if your high school offers that option. 10th graders who take the PSAT can get familiar with the format and determine their own level of comfort with the question types. The results would also closely project SAT scores.

In addition to the PSAT in sophomore year of high school, I would highly recommend that students also consider taking the pre-ACT. The pre-ACT is an unofficial preview of the ACT. Again, taking the pre-ACT would be an opportunity for sophomores to get familiar the ACT format and determine their level of comfort with the question types.

The results of the PSAT and pre-ACT can then be compared, using an SAT-ACT comparison tool to determine if a student should take the SAT or ACT in junior year. It’s a waste of time and money to take both tests, so I highly recommend that students stick with one test . . . either the SAT or ACT!

Sophomore year is an important year for students to discover their interests and further their academic preparation. Spending time to study for the PSAT or pre-ACT is not a good use of their time. Certainly, students may look at practice questions, if they like, but I would not suggest prioritizing PSAT and/or pre-ACT test prep over homework assignments and reading for pleasure.

PSAT for 11th graders
The majority of high schools in the US require that high school juniors take the PSAT. The PSAT is used in junior year as the qualifying exam for National Merit Scholarships. Even when students take the PSAT in junior year, they must still take the SAT or ACT to meet college admissions requirements.

I have recommended that my students study for the PSAT in only a few cases. When I recommended that my students study in junior year, they met these criteria:

1. Had taken the PSAT in sophomore year
2. Had scored in the 99%ile on the PSAT in sophomore year (Each state has their own National Merit Scholarship baseline so be sure to look it up for your state.)

Those students were in striking distance of qualifying for National Merit Scholarship so it made sense for them to study for the PSAT in advance. Their study plan often included completion of two or more practice tests before the test date and thorough reviews of reading, writing, and math.

Rule of thumb: Test prep should never take precedence over maintaining a strong transcript whether a student is 9th, 10th or 11th grader.

Please let me know your thoughts and/or comments on this topic.