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Key Things To Know About The College Application Process For The Parent Who Knows NOTHING

My daughter is a junior in high school and I only recently started to look at what we have to do as a family to get her into her prospective favorites. After a week of intense reading, I realized how unprepared I was for the entire process.

Things To Know About The College Application Process Parent

I know I’m not the only one in this boat, floating along on black water in the middle of the night. While my friends all seem to have it figured out, already securing prestigious summer internships (huh – what are those?) and aligning their extracurricular activities with their intended majors, we’ve just been living the fat life.

So, here’s what I learned. Because I feel like the college entry process is a secret club filled with tips that are only told to you after it’s too late to benefit your child.

Before I get into this post, I have a few disclaimers:

  • I am not a professional advisor. Don’t take anything I say to heart. Do your own research.
  • You might be five steps ahead of me and laugh off the things I write about. Good for you. This post isn’t for you then.
  • Every child is different. Every child needs different things. That’s what makes the world go ’round.
college application

Different Types Of Admissions

Let’s start talking about the different types of college admission applications you can opt for while going through the process.

  • Early decision (November 1st deadline) – ONE SCHOOL. You will sign a binding agreement – an ACTUAL contract – that states IF your child gets into the college THEN you will enroll them. This is regardless of financial aid. So, you better be able to afford your choice. Some say it is the BEST opportunity for ADMISSION. Use this decision for the school you absolutely want to get into. Some schools even offer ‘early decision 2’ which has a January deadline. Look out for that on their indivudial websites.
  • Early action – You will have no contract and you can submit to multiple locations. There will be nobody forcing you to commit if you get accepted under early action which means less stress.
  • Regular decision – Self explainatory
  • Rolling decision – Colleges that don’t have a specific deadline. You can apply throughout the year. It should be noted that these colleges are usually the least selective.
out of state applications

Out Of State Thought Starters

So, your child wants to go to an out-of-state school, huh? Cool! Well, the acceptance rate that the school posts online doesn’t really apply to you. You have to dig a bit deeper. Out-of-state applicants have to worry about legislation. Most schools have caps for these applicants.

For example, the University of Georgia only allows 15% of out-of-state students to enroll every year. Do your research and decide whether that application fee is worth it.

perfect student

Most Information You Will Find Online Is Geared Towards The SUPER Student

This has been my FAVORITE part about diving into this process. Every YouTube video, forum, Facebook group, and Discord channel all sound like a broken record.

“Help! My son has a 5.6 GPA and a 1550 on the SAT. He flew to Mars over the summer and raised 8 million dollars for starving chihuahuas. We don’t think we are going to make it into any schools!”

And the funny thing is… he won’t because that’s how crazy the IVY league game is! I happened to catch several forum chats dedicated to children confessing their acceptance and rejection rates and most posts are so SAD.

And while there is a place for the 4.0 students, what about the 3.0 students? I happen to have both. I don’t talk about him much, but I have BOTH a 4.0 student and a 3.0 student. I know my son will get into whatever school he wants… because we only want him to go to a SUNY. I’m not spending 80,000 a year on anything. I have less stress over my son’s college path than I do my daughter. My daughter is where I need the most guidance and it DOESN’T EXIST ONLINE. I swear I want to start a BLOG – OMG.

Liam does well in school, tests well, plays sports, is active in his community. I think we are going to be fine. Natalie and school just don’t gel. So, this is why I’m stressed out.

I know there are parents out there like me. Kudos to the parents who have a niche, an angle, a hook. But I know the largest bucket of families – the REGULAR KIDS – are being underserved online with support. Virtual hugs around the globe.

Related: 7 Things Parents Should Never Do During The College Application Process

Online College Forums I Suggest You Check Out

When you are just dipping your toes into the college sand, please do yourself a favor and BOOKMARK these properties:

There’s something about being able to read through another parent’s perspective that is soothing. I also found the Applying to College forum particularly helpful when trying to get an understanding of what extracurricular activities other children were placing on their resumes. Mind you, these kids are the top .05% of the world. So, their activities are WILD, but seeing their top ten lists has certainly expanded my mind.

We are currently developing two different websites for my kids to work on as passion projects for their college resumes and both ideas came from that forum. So, keep reading.

cost calculator

Cost Calculators On Every Website

You might not know this, but you can pretty much figure out how much merit/ aid you will get RIGHT NOW by using the cost calculator that’s available on your college of choice’s website. BY LAW, this calculator has to be within 2-5% accuracy!

Every college has one. So, you can seriously sit down and go over as many colleges as you’d like and figure out whether or not you can actually afford to attend these establishments KNOWING exactly what you would receive based on last year’s TAX RETURNS. You have to fill in maybe 20 questions? It takes 5 minutes. A HUGE HELP.

As a reminder, every single college MUST have this on their website BY LAW and it has to be within 2-5% accurate to the actual deal you’d get based on your financials. Don’t sleep on this.

How To Get Organzied

There are a few things I’ve done so far that has helped me get my thoughts in order when it comes to college applications and admissions.

organized folders
  • I started a physical folder for each of my children. I keep community service hours, transcript print outs, college fair expo QR codes, and information sent to me from their counselor. ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING I NEED IN ONE PLACE. I call it their hub. This has been life changing.
  • I downloaded the COZI calendar app and my family hates me for it, but I don’t care. We used to use Google Calendar and still do because it all links together. BUT with Cozi, I can have TO-Do lists for each of the kids and update it as needed. I add in YouTube videos for them to watch, set reminders for them to go to college meetings in school, counselor events, tutoring etc. Anything that used to get lost in text now has a place to live with COZI. There is no escaping me. We use the free version.
  • is a great website to help you keep track of ESSAY TOPICS for every school and their deadlines. With this aggregator, you won’t have to check all the different websites looking for this information. It’s all in ONE PLACE. This is GREAT.
  • I also would note that if your school has NAVIANCE, you are very lucky. This is my favorite college tool in my tool kit. Call your counselor and see if they have a school login. It’s amazing. They have plot graphs that show you where your child sits compared to every other child that has applied from your school. So, you can really CHANCE them statistically.
  • Another nod to
ap classes

Honors And AP Classes If You Can Swing It

This is the part of the post where I will embarrass myself. I thought that AP classes were created to save you money in college. You earn credits in high school so you can shave off your tuition in college? Right? Wrong. I kept telling my daughter not to worry about any AP classes because I wanted her to go to school for the full four years! Have fun, live her life!

Now, before you say anything – I am a first-generation American and both of my parents did not go to college. I don’t think either technically graduated high school!!! So, I had no support when I was younger and I somehow made it through life that way. I did NOT know.

Fast forward to my FIRST counselor meeting last month and I learned that AP classes show the colleges that you are the type of student who pushes themselves. You put in the work. They are weighted more on scales and really give you a leg up. WHUT? That makes so much sense, but if you are like me – a child who literally never had anyone help her with her homework and got through school by the skin of her teeth, it came as a shock.

I wasn’t in any AP classes. I skated through school and then forgot about it. It wasn’t a priority when I was younger for anyone in my house and I guess that stayed with me. I was not equipped and I thought I knew. A deadly combination.

End result – if your child CAN, get them in HONORS and AP classes every year of high school when applicable. Push them but not to the point of breaking. If they can’t handle the load, push back. You don’t want children getting C’s and D’s in AP classes. That’s not worth it.

And before your friends tell you that there are no AP classes in freshman or sophomore year, that’s not true. Your children can take AP electives! You have to look through your coursebook and find what is available for your child’s track. Another piece of information that isn’t properly shared. They are speaking about CORE classes. Yes, there are no AP CORE classes in 9th or 10th grade, but don’t stop trying to squeeze in a few electives when you can.

**UPDATE ** I’ve had friends say that in TEXAS, children are allowed to take AP classes in freshman year which leads me to believe that every region is different. Just because my high school doesn’t allow children to take AP CORE classes until junior year, doesn’t mean yours doesn’t. This will have to be viewed on a case by case basis.

summer internships

Summer Internships

This is the part of the post where I wish I could help you more, but I can’t. The only thing I will tell you is that children do summer internships and they apply to them very early in the school year. You have to start actively looking for these opportunities very early in the game.

Few notes:

  • The internships where you get SELECTED are the most respected. If you are paying $5,000 to be part of a program, it won’t have the same SPUNK as if you were chosen to enter a free leadership group. College Admission folk can tell the difference.
  • Your internship should have something to do with what your intended major is. Think about that.
  • If you can’t figure out an internship, then consider getting a summer job or starting a passion project during your junior year. Do not just let that season go by without working on something.
  • There are plenty of resources available for students who EXCEL or for underprivlidged communities. It’s harder if you hover in the middle. You really have to do some leg work. Talk to your counselor to get started.
benefits of joining an after school group

Joining After School Groups

There are plenty of organizations to join that can easily fill up your child’s resume. But I watched a video the other day from a college admission officer and she really changed my perspective on school clubs. She said that if you are joining a club where you just have to sign your name at the door to be considered an active member, it’s a very low priority mark on your resume.

Sure, anyone and everyone can join the pep rally club, but what is that really doing for you? For the school? For your peers? You need to join clubs where you play an active role (debate team) or where you show leadership (head editor of the newspaper). Bonus points if you start your own chapter in your school.

Furthermore, she said if you are a swimmer, but you have terrible time… stop swimming. Go and find something else that you will excel in. They need to see how you stand out in what you do. Long gone are the days where you can just write you are a member of ‘club A’ without any additional accolades attached. Again, take that with a grain of salt. That was one woman on YouTube. Who knows?

She also said that she’d much rather see you be in more AP classes than you be a member of the fashion club. Use your time wisely. If you are spending an hour a day going to fluff clubs, use it to study for harder classes. I thought THAT was sound advice.

Make Friends With Your Counselor

Don’t be afraid to email your child’s counselor… a lot. It’s their literal job. Me and Katie are about to become REAL tight over the next few years, she just doesn’t know it yet. I had my first personal call with her yesterday and I had a list of ten questions to answer. She is working on a few things for me including making me a list of all SUNY schools that specialize in early education. USE THEM! They have superpowers.

is community service worth it

The Community Service Debate

I saw a very controversial video from an admissions counselor saying community service is a low-priority activity and to not spend a lot of time working in your community. She said this activity is outdated and since everyone needs to meet some sort of hour commitment to graduate, colleges don’t really care if you are overly active in service.

Her comment section exploded. Thousands of comments were screaming that she was DEAD wrong! That they all got into their choice schools with plenty of community service hours listed. But… I can’t help but wonder if what she is saying is true? Yes, we do need to have some indication that we served our community, but I think what she was trying to say is that we don’t have to worry about donating time to EVERY cause just for a bullet point on the application.

Here comes the contradiction though – I watched countless videos from college students saying they believed rounding up 300-500 hours absolutely helped their chances with top-tier schools. So, I guess the old saying is true – go big or go home.

High Test Scores And Full Rides

You will have to do your own research, but there are certain schools that have publicized what grades they are looking for on the ACT or SAT to qualify for sizable merit scholarships. Places like Ohio State and Alabama seek out students with specific scores for standardized tests and generously reward them for their hard work.

Do your homework and make a list of all schools that offer sizable scholarships if you know you have a great test-taker on your hands. If you are going test-optional, then this doesn’t apply to you.

high school passion project

Have A Passion And Stick To It

This has been reiterated over and over again. Long gone are the days when children are allowed to live free and well-rounded lives. Today, it seems that admission officers are looking for a passion and commitment towards that passion.

So, for example, if you like soccer:

  • Your community service hours should be towards raising money to buy equipment for underprivileged children.
  • Your passion project could be self publishing a YA book revolving around soccer competitions and challenges.
  • Your leadership role could be the head of the soccer team.
  • Your afterschool job is teaching younger kids drills via soccer clinics.

You catch my drift – soccer, soccer, soccer. I LOVE SOCCER!

I LITERALLY HATE THIS IDEA. This is so SAD for our kids. What if my kid likes to play the guitar, play soccer, and be a part of the robotics team? Is he considered fickle now? What is HAPPENING?

I can only pray that the few people (and there were a NUMBER OF PEOPLE) that said this in articles, webinars, and YouTube videos are wrong. The only people who truly know are the men and women who are behind closed doors accepting and rejecting our children.

small college campus

Make Your College List And Be Realistic About It

When you want to start touring, it can be expensive. That’s why it’s important to really think about what schools are feasible, within budget, and meet the rest of the criteria you set for your family. There are a LOT of questions that you need to ask yourself, but think about:

  • Do you want to stay in-state?
  • How many hours is the max you are willing to let your child drive home?
  • Do you want a small school or a large one?
  • Do you like the feel of a city or something more quiet?
  • What about a party town feel? Have you looked into what the neighboring areas offer?
  • How much snow / rain / heat, does the region get?
  • Do they have your intended major?
  • Are most classes taught by professors or teaching assistants?
  • What are the dorms like?
  • What clubs are available?
  • What is the average class size of introductory courses?

Again, there are so many more questions to consider, but you have to start somewhere!

touring university at albany

When To Tour If You Don’t Want To Spend A Million Dollars

Cha-ching! Touring is expensive y’all! We did one round upstate and then canceled everything else on the books because I could not imagine having to literally book multiple hotels over and over again.

On one of my tours, I realized that a VAST majority of people that were touring were ALREADY ACCEPTED into the colleges. At first, I scoffed and thought, “too little too late! why are you here NOW?” But after three days of touring, I realized that was the move.

You tour only the colleges you are really serious about and ONLY when you get accepted. That’s the best economical bet.

Here’s what you really need to figure out. Book a trip to a location and set up as many tours. The point will be just to learn whether or not your child wants a LARGE or SMALL school. That is the lesson.

Do they want to go to a school that has 3,000 students or 14,000 students? It’s a big difference! Their personality will answer that question pretty quickly. Once they see a few large and small campuses, they will know right away and then you can go home and only apply to those types of colleges.

THEN, when you get all your acceptance letters, TOUR AWAY. Travel all over the country and spend that SHMONEY! But it will be money well spent because those schools will be ACTUAL options.

If you go and see 25 schools in 6 different states before applying, you are just going on vacation. That’s ok to admit. It’s fun. If you have that kind of money – go girl! But we all know it’s not needed.

Hire An Essay Writing Assistant

Yes, they do exist. I’m actually talking to one right now and will report back once I know more. There are people available that will help your child hone in on the right topic and guide them in the right direction. With over a dozen essays to write, it can’t hurt to have an extra set of eyes on their work.

But you don’t have to pay, of course! You can help edit their work or get someone from their school’s writing center. Both are FREE options.

Still, I wanted you to know that people are HIRING college aides to help their kids. I didn’t know this and I want you to know this. Children should also start writing their essays at the end of junior year. Do not wait until senior year to begin this process. If your child is applying to 10-15 schools, they have to write just as many essays.

I’ve had discussions with friends around the country and their SCHOOLS are having their children write the common app essay in CLASS during the school year. This enables kids to receive additional assistance for this task which is FREE. People, why isn’t this UNIVERSAL? I am so upset we aren’t doing this in my school.

There are also college advisors that literally do all the college applications for you, but I think they cost thousands of dollars? I don’t know. I haven’t looked into that service. Someone yesterday told me that her advisor was $10,000! They did everything though – soup to nuts – for their kid. HOLY HELL. Don’t get me started. No comment.

So, I can’t tell you much about this area as well, but I can tell you to search on TikTok and YouTube for more information. There are plenty of people who will take over the entire process for you.

Formal And Informal Recommendations

Your child should be thinking about who she wants to write his/her letters while in sophomore or junior year. Schools are really looking to hear from CORE class teachers, but you can reach out to other classes if they are aligned with your intended major.

These matter. You have to really imprint the idea that it is important to foster strong relationships with leadership in school. What does this mean? Stand out, do the best they can at all times, show initiative, go to after-school help if they need it, and demonstrate a willingness to learn. It is also important to show growth for students who don’t do well in school. Did you not start out strong? That’s ok! Kick it into high gear and prove that you are the underdog everyone wants to root for. Give these teachers something to write about.

Get Your Fees Waived If You Tour

A little heads up, if you tour a school that you later submit an application for, there is a chance that you can get the application fee waived! Not all schools offer this, but it’s worth researching. If a school has a $75 fee and you’ve toured them, why not inquire about getting that money refunded? A quick search of their website should show you if you qualify and BOY, who doesn’t need extra money in their pocket these days?

college essay writing

Conclusion And Takeaways

We are screwed. No, I’m kidding. My daughter will get into a school. I know this. I’m not stupid. I just have ADD and cannot process when information is all over the place and unstructured. For me to find everything I wrote here… girl. It took me a full week. Now, like I said, I am sure you knew a lot of this, but I knew NOTHING. So, I had to start from scratch.

I hope this at least makes you feel a little equipped. I hope this post gets your brain thinking about what you have to do today for your child. Your takeaways:

  • Set up a meeting with your counselor to talk about increasing the challenge level of your child’s schedule.
  • Create a folder to store all important information.
  • Join the multiple forums and websites I suggested.
  • Think about after school activities your child can do that’s related to their intended major.
  • Speak to your child about a passion project. Have them develop something interesting and related to their major.
  • Check the calculators on the college websites you are interested in and decide if those are even options.
  • Have your child start to look at the essay questions (that are already posted for next year) and brainstorm ideas about what they want to write).
  • Breathe.

I will update this post every time I learn something new. 🙂 Thanks for sticking around until the end.


Thursday 24th of March 2022

Great tips, love the “passion “ part. My son loved Math & working with his hands, he went to college through the apprenticeship with IBEW (electrician) . Paid Apprenticeships with college work well for some.

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