The Parent’s Guide To College

The idea of helping your teen through the college admissions process can be stressful. Parents often ask me questions about when to start and what to do when.

As a parent, how do you stay on top of important deadlines, and know which ones are most important right now? How do you learn which program/college is the right fit for your teen?

Beyond having the right college information, how do you balance “nagging” your teen, while allowing them to own the process? It’s indeed a lot to navigate.

Here’s your checklist to keep your family sane and your student on track!

9th Grade

Help your Teen adjust to high school life

High school will be different from middle school both academically and socially. You can support your teen with the increased academic demands by making sure they set a reasonable study plan to stay on top of their coursework. (This can go a long way with their confidence as well.) The social adjustment may be even more challenging. You can support your teen by encouraging them to get involved in 1-2 activities. I suggest limiting the number of activities so that your freshman can develop their time management skills.

Encourage your teen to self-advocate

Making the most of high school will require your teen to take responsibility and mature. 9th grade is a great time for your teen to learn how to self-advocate. Self-advocating may be meeting with a teacher to clarify concepts from class or making decisions about their own learning needs and interests.

Sometimes, it may feel like your teen isn’t “mature” enough to make certain decisions or speak up, but I challenge you to at least start small and trust them with independence. High school is a safe time to start practicing self-advocacy, which will be critical in college and beyond.

Get 9th Grade Roadmap to College

This month-by-month guide includes actionable, relevant and insightful tips for you to support your teen’s success through 9th grade. The focus of the roadmap for 9th grade is making the social transition to high school and building strong organization and time-management habits.

10th Grade

Help your Teen develop more self-awareness

There are a number of interest inventories and assessments that your teen can take to figure out what they want to do later in life. Many times, a teen may take one of these inventories but not interpret the results. Parents can review the results together with their teen and discuss ways to explore their interests.

A great way for your teen to explore their interests is through a summer program after 10th grade. To find the best-fit programs and meet any application deadlines, you should start researching potential programs in December/January.

Compare ACT vs SAT scores

Spring of sophomore year is a good time for your teen to take an unofficial ACT and SAT. An “unofficial” test will not be reported to colleges and will allow your teen to learn which is their better test. Colleges will take either ACT or SAT so it’s not necessary to pay for, prep and take both tests!

Once your teen knows which test they will focus on then you can determine the best test prep plan and the timeline for when tests will be taken during junior year.

Get 10th Grade Roadmap to College

This month-by-month guide includes actionable, relevant and insightful tips for you to support your teen’s success through 10th grade. The focus of the roadmap for 10th grade is exploring interests both in and outside of school and avoiding the “sophomore slump”.

11th Grade

Develop college list

The first step to developing a college list is knowing why you want to go to college. After answering their “why”, then the next step is for your teen to do some research. Your teen can research colleges through their websites, online databases, and campus visits. As their parent, you can certainly research the colleges and visit campuses with your teen. However, I would caution you against doing more work than your teen. Especially by junior year, your teen must own the college admissions process, which translates to doing the work themselves.

Nurture teacher relationships

It’s highly likely that your teen will ask teachers from junior year to write recommendations for college applications. Nurturing these important relationships means getting to know their teachers, making an effort to meet outside of class when possible, asking questions in class, and participating in productive classroom discussions.

Get 11th Grade Roadmap to College

This month-by-month guide includes actionable, relevant and insightful tips for you to support your teen’s success through 11th grade. The focus of the roadmap for 11th grade is owning the college admissions process with discipline and purpose.

12th Grade

Write essays that stand out

While academic essays are from the head, college application essays are from the heart! So please encourage your teen to write about what matters to them and not a boring five-paragraph essay that they think an admissions officer wants to hear.

If your teen wants to get input from several others (including you), please suggest it’s limited to one or two people who give verbal suggestions only. What you want to avoid is having too many people making written comments on your teen’s essay, to the point that it sounds like everyone else but your teen.

The college application essay should be compelling and in your teen’s own voice to really stand out.

Apply for financial aid

Sure, you can use every calculator online and determine that your family does not qualify for financial aid. That’s all well and good but I still highly recommend that you apply for financial aid. You should complete the FAFSA and CSS Profile, if required. It may take time to complete the forms but all they can do is say “No”.

Each year, there are parents who are surprised that they qualify for some financial aid. Last year, one of my students was awarded $12,000 for completing the FAFSA . . . . Not bad for 20 minutes of his mom’s time.

Get 12th Grade Roadmap to College

You want to start senior year with our monthly guide which will keep you and your teen on top of the many fast approaching deadlines during 12th grade. The focus of the roadmap for this year is applying to college and scholarships mindfully, with less stress and anxiety.

10th Grade

Final note

College planning can be stressful in and of itself . . . but it doesn’t have to be. I encourage you to communicate with your teen regularly and give ownership of the process to them, sooner than later. (I’ve never heard from a parent that they wish they started later. 🙂 )

My hope is that your teen will make the most of high school while developing resilience and reaching their best potential.

The suggestions outlined here are adapted from my book, “What to Know Before They Go: College Edition.”