April 14, 2021

College Application Crunch Time

Thanksgiving vacation and, if you’ve got a high school senior, have I got an “App” for you!  How about a “College App” as in those 8 or 10 or 12 college applications that must be completed right down to the last “Club participation”,  and 925 character essay on  “Why do you think the journey to be oneself seems the riskiest of all journeys?”

If you are lucky enough to be at one of those great private high schools that makes it their mission to step every student through the college application process to completion, go right now and thumb through those cancelled tuition checks with an attitude of gratitude.  If you’re the parent of a child enrolled in an exceptionally rare public school with a well-staffed, well-trained guidance office that actually focusses on something other than truancy and getting everyone to graduate, get on your knees and thank your Lord.  You still have some work to do on the college application front but you are in better shape than most.

Now for the rest of us, supporters of public education in all its permutations, its time to move “college stuff” to the top of our priority list.  You may have made a good effort so far to keep up on ACT test dates, SAT Subject Tests, college nights and all the rest.  But unless you have a 4′ x 8′ spread sheet on the kitchen wall with a dry erase marker keeping track of due dates, scholarship apps, essay prompts and reference letters, you need to step it up.

College Application Process Got Complicated

When you applied to college just a few short decades ago, it went like this:  Guidance counselor “helps” you pick 3 schools.  You send away for catalog and application.  You fill out application in blue ballpoint, including your 2 SAT scores and a short blurb on why you want to go to their college.  Counselor writes a recommendation. Parent writes a check.  Into the envelope.  Apply stamp.  Mail and wait for your acceptance letter.

It’s NOTHING like that now.  You’ve figured out that your kid has taken 16 tests in 6 different sittings which, thankfully, have been auto-sent to the schools your child listed. Make sure you’ve updated this list at collegeboard.com, to reflect the latest short list of schools. You’ve also used the database at collegeboard.com to find out which schools use the Common Application, which require supplemental information and essays, and which have their own application.  You’re putting all this on the spreadsheet, right?

Letters of Recommendation and Transcripts

You’ve noted which schools require Letters of Recommendation and which of those must be from a teacher, from a counselor, from both or from either.  Get these going RIGHT NOW if you haven’t already.  They take a minimum of 2 weeks to turn around, longer as the deadlines get closer.  Your child might have a “Brag Sheet” in the bottom of their “bookpurse” which should be filled out and given to the recommender, along with stamped addressed envelopes to every school that requires one. Many schools have a form for the recommender to fill out.  Include that.  Mark on your spreadsheet when you gave the stuff to the teacher and follow up before they are due.

Your student needs to get their official transcripts, including class rank, from your high school registrar.  They will come to you in a sealed envelope and will be sent with each application.

The College Application ESSAY

Finally, the dreaded essay.  You want to cruise through all 6 or 8 or 11 applications/supplements and cut and paste the essay prompts and instructions into a document that you can print out.  With this overview, you’ll be able to see where topics overlap and you may be able to rework a couple of essays a couple of times to get the job done.  

College Application Deadlines

Not entirely sure why the early decision/early action movement came about.  To end the suspense?  Save money on unnecessary applications?  Our college planner likes to avoid the whole “early” business all together, for a very interesting reason:  the awarding of scholarships and aid is really a negotiable process.  Who knew?  I certainly didn’t a few years ago when my son was doing all this.  I thought you hope and pray they accept you and then you gratefully accept whatever money they choose to give you.  Not so.  Financial Aid offices regularly negotiate aid to pull in good students who might be courted by other schools.  Early action/decision tells them you are VERY interested and might weaken you just a bit next spring when you are negotiating your financial aid.  Something to consider.



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