As a parent, it can be hard to believe that your child is not only growing up, but will soon be graduating high school and embarking upon an exciting future. Whether your teen is interested in going to community college, a trade school, or a four-year college or university, you can help them prepare for the application process and set them up for success. Share with your student the following helpful tips to make the journey towards higher education less stressful on everyone.

Decide what’s right for you

Many teens aren’t sure what they want to do in the future, or just assume that they’ll go to the same school their parents or siblings went to. And that’s fine. But remember – this is your future. Decide the path you want to take, your priorities for your education, and then explore the types of schools that can get you there. Check out What You Need to Know to Finalize that College List to help you narrow down your options and ensure you have the best chance of getting into a school that you love.

Know what to expect

Make sure you have a general understanding of all the things that you’ll need to do to get into the school of your choice. Get familiar with the Common Application, which many colleges use. Find out what tests are required (such as the SAT or ACT) and when you can take them, check to make sure everything is lined up with your high school graduation (and you aren’t missing any credits), and talk to your parents about what you can afford and if you’ll need to get financial aid. If you set your expectations up front, the whole process can seem much less intimidating.

Give yourself plenty of time

The college application process is time consuming, and the last thing you want is to be rushing around at the last minute. You should start learning about the whole process during your junior year. Ideally, you want to take your SAT/ACT exam as early as possible, so if your test results aren’t as good as you hoped, you have the time to retake the test. Likewise, you want to get your applications in to your selected schools early to beat the rush. Look at our Deadline Cheat Sheet and make yourself a calendar that has all important milestones and deadlines so you always know what’s coming and you don’t miss anything.

Make your application and essay stand out

When filling out your application(s), take your time, complete each section, and double-check and proofread everything. Be sure to be honest, include any extracurricular activities, and write a clear and concise essay that’s creative, sincere and authentic. Avoid “fluff”, clichés or the temptation to “try to sound smart” and instead write from the heart.

Forget anything?

Go back and review your application requirements and make sure you’ve included everything you need including your high school transcript, exam scores, essay, letters of recommendation, financial aid application/documentation, etc. Be methodical and organized about the application process, and hopefully soon you’ll be receiving letters welcoming you into the school of your choice.

This post is the fourth in a series, entitled: Parents’ Guide to Graduation and Beyond. We’ve designed this blog series to help parents navigate the challenges their children will face as they pursue educational and training opportunities beyond high school and enter the workforce. Please check back here for additional installments.

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