With the current school year underway, it’s a perfect time to do a family check-in regarding your college application process. If you’re like most families, you have loads of items on your daily to-do list and the college recruiting journey can feel like it’s competing for your attention. Although it can be tempting to put things off, do your future self a favor by taking a moment to assess the progress you’ve made and then sit down with your family and put together an action plan to address the following components.
Letters of Recommendation
The sooner you ask teachers, mentors, and even coaches for a letter of recommendation, the better. Many students wait until the last minute to do this, which is a critical error. College admissions officers rely on these letters to give them a better sense of who the applicant is as a human being beyond test scores, GPAs and transcripts. Waiting until the deadline is looming prevents your mentors from having ample time to write thoughtfully and specifically; you could even end up with a generic reference form letter that they have on file!
Student tip: High school freshmen should focus on proving their diligence, effort, and organization in classes and forming meaningful relationships with teachers and staff. By the start of junior year, students should have a list of whom they may want to have pen a letter of recommendation, and by spring break they should start to ask these individuals. Follow up a few weeks later and secure these letters by the start of summer.
There’s no rule that says you can’t begin drafting your application essay until your senior year. As with most things in life, the earlier you do this, the better! The New York Times offers some guidance each year on how to write a statement that will stand out from the rest and even publishes exemplary ones to further support soon-to-be-applicants. Choose to focus on something you’re passionate about and remember that this is your “megaphone moment” – use this essay as an opportunity to bring your application to life. What should admissions officers know that isn’t communicated already on your application? Why would offering you an enrollment spot diversify and strengthen their community?
Outreach to Universities
Few students do this, but reaching out to colleges you’re interested in is a really smart idea. You can engage in thoughtful discussions on their online Q&As and webinars, attend a college fair and connect personally with a representative, or seek out an alum for insight and advice. This kind of engagement is smart for a few reasons. One, you’re being proactive in your interest in the school and forming potentially helpful contacts and referrals. And two, you’re able to gather information that can help ensure a school is truly right for you. Fancy websites and glossy brochures are a dime a dozen; speaking with alumni and those in the know will paint a more realistic picture of what life on campus will be like academically, athletically and socially.
As your college list narrows, make sure to have family conversations about your remaining options and how realistic they are from a financial standpoint. Parents and guardians should complete FAFSA, the federal student aid application, to get an idea of how much money they may be eligible to receive. Additionally, many colleges offer a financial aid calculator on their websites to help families determine their probable financial aid packages should they be accepted. Use these tools to help decide which of the schools can stay on your list based on your family’s finances and don’t forget to research scholarships to apply to as well.
While these items may seem like a lot to add to your plate, they are critical steps that will help you avoid last minute mayhem and unfortunate surprises. Making the time now to complete the items on this list will go a long way towards ensuring a smooth and manageable process later on.
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Katie Giberson is an educator, a coach, and a former professional athlete whose own college soccer journey provides valuable perspective when advising clients in her role as CBW Soccer Elite's Head of Recruiting. You can reach her at email@example.com.