Dr. Kent Ingle: Applying to college – 7 tips to help parents, students make the right choice

Relish every moment of the process and celebrate milestones along the way

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College classes just started back up this fall, and now it’s time for future students to start applying for the 2022-23 year. Applications for next year already went live with many early decision deadlines approaching near the end of October.  

If you have a senior in high school, you most likely have been looking into colleges for your student to attend. You may have even started the application process. For parents with students who just started high school, it’s not too early to consider college.  

Here are seven tips for helping your student apply to colleges.   

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Determine a budget – Finances can be a big factor in determining where your student can go to college. It’s important that you discuss who is going to pay for it before they start applying. A Sallie Mae and Ipsos survey found that 54% of parents are paying for college. If you plan to pay for your child’s education, be sure they know how much you will contribute and if you expect them to contribute to any additional expenses.  

Set out a budget for what four years of college will cost and decide which schools fit that budget. The budget should include tuition, living expenses (like housing and food) and textbooks. Be sure to allow for extra costs, knowing that college tuition could increase and there might be expenses you didn’t anticipate. 

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Research colleges together – Start researching colleges now. Some criteria you need to keep in mind are the distance from home, degree programs of interest, cost of tuition, scholarships available and campus life. Is your student wanting to attend a public or private university? Do they want to attend a school that aligns with their beliefs? It doesn’t hurt to create a list of different colleges that include the criteria mentioned above. While you are researching, consider looking for colleges that are known for your child’s degree program and have high job placement rates after graduation.  

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Visit campuses before you apply – Although the college might look great online, you need to make sure your child visits the school in person. By visiting the campus, you will get a better feel for the area the college is located in and what the campus life is like. Don’t be afraid to stop current students and ask them what they like about going to school there. At Southeastern University (where I serve as president), we have one-day events where students can participate in on-campus activities (such as athletic events), eat in the campus restaurant and attend classes. Events like these will give your student a good idea of what the college’s culture is like.  

Decide what’s important – Does your student want to be involved in certain clubs? Do they plan to play sports? Do they want to experience a new state or stay close to home? There are several aspects of campus life that you want to consider before they apply. Ask them to make a list of their top priorities and have them be realistic. Not everything they want will be there, but they should at least make sure their top priorities are met. In addition to visiting the college campus, be sure to check out each university’s social media and website to get a good feel for the college experience.  

The best step you can take as a parent is to let your child decide where they go to college. It’s important that they have ownership of the process as this will be a huge milestone in their lives.

Create a schedule to meet deadlines – As you find colleges that your student is interested in applying to, make sure to write down important deadlines. Although you want your child to take responsibility for meeting deadlines, check in with them to see how it’s going. Encourage them to add deadlines to their phone or use a paper calendar. You can assist them in creating a plan to complete the application steps before the deadline, so they aren’t stressed or rushed.  

Let them make the decision – The best step you can take as a parent is to let your child decide where they go to college. It’s important that they have ownership of the process as this will be a huge milestone in their lives. The last thing you want is to be known as a helicopter parent. Although you need to have discussions with your student beforehand (talk about the pros and cons of each school), let them make the final decision.  

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Help them manage their expectations – Waiting for an acceptance or rejection letter can be nerve-wracking. It can start to feel like the day will never come, especially if their friends receive letters before they do. Make sure they understand that it’s OK if they don’t get into their first-choice school. Yes, you want them to dream, but you also have to be realistic. This is one reason it’s important that your student has options of different schools they may want to attend. And, once they receive their acceptance letter, remember to celebrate with them!  

A year may feel far away, but it will be here before you know it. It’s important that you relish every moment of the application process and celebrate milestones along the way. Although your student may be eager to attend college, encourage them to be fully present to enjoy every moment of their final year in high school.  

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