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How Your Parents Can Help You Prepare for College

By Thomas Broderick

As a college-bound high school student, you certainly have plenty of work to do to get ready for the transition to college. There are essays to write, recommendation letters to ask for, and test scores to improve. However, you’re not alone in this. Besides your peers who are going through the same thing, your teachers are there to help, along with your guidance counselor. Most importantly, you have your parents.

Every family is different when it comes to the help they can or want to give their child during this time. In my case, my parents were glad to help. However, my mom was as ignorant about the process as I was, as she never went to college. My dad did go to college, but the application process had become so much more complicated since his college days. All three of us felt stumped. However, they did help out a lot, which means that even parents inexperienced with the process can help you apply.

In this article, we’ll look at some practical ways your parents can become involved in your college application journey.

Ask About Finances

At the very minimum, you need to discuss with your parents what they are willing to pay to finance your college education. Every family is different, so I don’t want you assuming anything. This is a conversation you need to have as soon as possible, as their answer will dramatically change the makeup of your list of potential colleges.

Now, that’s not to say that you have to write off colleges that cost too much to attend completely. Scholarships may close the financial gap. One thing you do not want to do under any circumstances is put yourself in a situation where you need to take out student loans. Yes, you’ll be 18 then, a legal adult who can take out a loan. But trust me, the VAST MAJORITY of 18-year-olds who take out student loans do not comprehend their long-term impact.

Tutors

Are you struggling with a subject or standardized test prep? You may need a tutor. If that’s the case, it never hurts to ask your parents for financial help paying for a tutor. After all, you can always spin it this way: “Every dollar invested now will result in $100 of scholarships when I improve my grades!”

Choosing Colleges

Besides money, your parents can help you in the college-selection process. Maybe one of your parents wants you to attend their alma mater. Even if you don’t care for the college, play nice and go on a tour to make your mom or dad happy. It’s the least you can do to show gratefulness for raising you.

Besides that, your parents can help a lot when it comes to the piles of colleges letters you’ll likely receive during your sophomore year of high school. These letters, though quite official looking, are nothing more than flashy advertisements. Your parents can help you sort through them, selecting those that best align with your interests. After all, your parents know you better than anyone else (hopefully).

Finally, parents come in handy during college tours. Besides giving you a ride or buying a plane ticket, here are some other ways they can help you during a tour:

  • Thinking up questions to ask the tour guide
  • After the tour, they’re a good sounding board for your first impressions about the college

Applications

So it’s finally time to apply to college. First and foremost, your parents can teach you essential organizational skills. From essays to letters of recommendation, there is a lot of material to keep organized. Just as important as materials is time. Everything has a different deadline, so ask your parents to buy you a calendar – a real one where you can look up and see what’s coming up over the next few weeks.

College essays, as an essential component of any college application, need to be at their best if they’re going to wow college admissions counselors. That’s why you need an editor. Hopefully, one of your parents may be able to fill that role. Remember that they shouldn’t write the essay for you, but provide feedback on each of your drafts.

Deciding Which College to Attend

If you’ve done everything in this article, this last part shouldn’t be TOO difficult. However, you may be blessed with a pile of acceptance letters and scholarships come April, and you’ll have to make the difficult decision of where to spend the next four years of your life.

Ultimately, it’s your decision where to attend college, and that can cause a lot of stress, anxiety, and plenty of other emotions that your not yet fully developed brain can handle. So that’s where your parents can help. Have a heart-to-heart: share your worries with him and listen to what they have to say.

Even after making your decision, you’ll still have feelings of ‘what if,’ doubts, and even some regret about not choosing a particular college. That’s a big part of growing up – making big decisions that involve trade offs.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to getting ready for college, just about everything falls on you, the future college student. But that doesn’t mean that your parents can’t still lend a helping hand. If they’re willing to act as your mentor on this journey, don’t turn it down. Everything helps.

Negotiating for Financial Aid. Does it Work to Call the FA Office?

By Kendell Shaffer

I woke up this morning in a cold sweat. I’d just had a nightmare about calling the financial aid office of my daughter’s top school. In reality, I have not made the call yet. But I plan to and I am strategizing just how to do that.

In talking to other parents who have gone through this before me, I’ve learned the following tips: When dealing with financial aid officers, etiquette applies. Always be polite.  Always express your excitement that your student was accepted to their school. Always thank the school for the aid they have already offered.

Introduce comparative offers. Ask if the school could consider matching the offers. If there are no other offers to compare to, then ask if they can offer more aid which might entail explaining your financial situation.

Other advise I have received is to have your child write and call the financial aid office first. If the desire for more aid comes from the student, the school sees the student’s commitment. The parent should also call and email the financial aid office too because most likely the financial aid is based on the parents income and tax return which might need explanation.

Sometimes it’s necessary to have your child’s college counselor email or call on your child’s behalf. You might need as many advocates as possible if a lot of need is required.

The biggest tip I’ve learned is being to leverage offers. In other words, if your child received $5,000 in aid from their first choice school and $25,000 aid from their second choice school, the idea is to call the first choice school and tell them that your child very much wants to attend their college, that it’s the first choice, but they have received a better offer from another school. Then ask if the first school can match that offer. In some cases they may ask you to forward the other offer to them. They may match the offer or up their offer or just leave their offer untouched.

It’s hard enough to get through the application process and the emotion of offers coming in or being denied, but throwing the financial aid into the mix for me is the hardest part.

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