College Search Resources You Should Be Using

ChecklistThere are so many resources available to parents and students during the college search process that it can become very overwhelming.  One of the main reasons I started My Kid’s College Choice is to point parents and students in the right direction to find the best college search resources.

The College Search Resources You Should Be Using and Why

  1. A college search spreadsheet to track your potential schools – This helps you stay organized when it comes to schools to visit, schools to apply to and more.  Use my free college search spreadsheet template or create your own.
  2. A good college search website/search engine – This helps you identify potential schools that meet the criteria you are looking for.  I have done a comparison of 14 sites and the criteria you can search on each.  My personal favorites are CollegeData, Big Future, and Noodle.
  3. If you don’t have time to create your own college list, check out the DIY College Rankings College Search Spreadsheet.  Michelle Kretzschmar has done the work for you and you just filter to find what you want.
  4. FAFSA4caster – Make sure you know what your expected family contribution is estimated to be.  The FAFSA4caster gives you an initial idea of what colleges will expect you to pay out of pocket for your kid’s college education.
  5. College websites – Explore the websites for your student’s potential schools to narrow down whether a school is really a viable option.  You can find information on merit scholarships, admission criteria, statistics on who usually gets admitted, college visit options, majors offered and more.  Make sure to look for the school’s net price calculator so you can see what this school may offer in financial aid based on your student’s circumstances.  The best net price calculators also estimate merit aid based on your student’s GPA and test scores.

As a parent navigating through the college search process, the key things you need to know are:

  • What schools might be right for my student?
  • How much is college going to cost me?
  • What will it take for my student to be admitted?

The right college search resources can help you answer those questions.  Then you need a place to keep track of all those answers.  That’s where the college search spreadsheet comes in.

If you stick to these basic college search resources, and maybe throw in a few articles/opinions on what to look for in a college, it can make the college search process much easier to navigate.

College Search

Competing for Full-Ride Scholarships

1317230_29811116The majority of full-ride scholarships and full-tuition scholarships offered directly by colleges are competitive, meaning they aren’t automatically offered to all students meeting certain GPA and ACT/SAT criteria.  On my Full Scholarship List, almost 300 of the current 440 scholarships listed are competitive.  So, how does a student have a chance competing for full-ride scholarships?  There is no sure thing, no “absolutely how to win a scholarship tip.” If anyone tells you that there is, they are just trying to sell you something.  However, there are some common sense, important steps that will increase your student’s chances.

Tips on Competing for Full-Ride Scholarships:

  1. Communication – The beauty of competing for full-ride scholarships offered by schools, instead of private scholarships is that the student has a chance to establish a relationship with the school first.  The people reviewing scholarship applications may or may not be the same ones granting admissions, but applicants are building a personal file with the school.  “Demonstrated interest” may go a long way in the scholarship process.   This means the student should be in touch with the admissions office early and often to express his or her interest in the school and interest in any scholarships offered.  A question like “What can I do to increase my chances for merit scholarships?” is a great one to start with.  Many of the full-ride scholarships require admissions counselors to invite prospective students to compete.  The more a counselor knows about a particular student and his or her interest in the school and the competition, the more likely that student will be invited (assuming he or she meets all qualifications) to compete for full-ride scholarships.
  2. Scholarship Qualifications – Your student will have a much better chance at winning full-ride scholarships, or any other scholarships, when he or she exceeds the basic scholarship qualifications.  If the scholarship qualifications include a specific minimum ACT or SAT score, scores above the minimum will naturally look more impressive.  If the scholarship qualifications include “demonstration of leadership skills,” the depth of experience will be much more important than the breadth.  Many articles have been written regarding what college admissions offices look for in extracurricular activities.  The consensus is quality over quantity.  With leadership, the schools are looking for students who really made a difference.  If your student doesn’t have a great defining experience to talk about, he or she may not be qualified for a full-ride scholarship looking for more than just a great GPA and test score.  There will be a lot of students who meet or exceed basic scholarship qualifications.  The students who stand out from the crowd will be the ones who win.
  3. Preparation -  In researching full-ride scholarships for the Full Scholarship List, I found two ways students are competing for these scholarships.  Some schools just use the admissions application or require a separate scholarship application and select the winners from there.  For this type of competition, the student needs to nail the essay or personal statement and establish great communication with the school.  If the school offers admissions interviews, even if they are optional, students interested in scholarships should schedule one.  Other schools invite students to an in-person competition.  This is the student’s chance to really stand out.  Most in-person competitions require at least an interview and many also have a writing component.  Your student should make the following preparations for in-person scholarship competitions:
  • Know what to expect - if you didn’t get materials explaining what is involved in the competition, ask.  Things to know include – time limit for essay writing and potential types of topics, how many people will be interviewing you, are they one candidate at a time interviews.  You may not be given all the answers, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.  It shows that you are really interested in doing a good job.
  • Dress like you are going on an important job interview – neat and polished clothing and shoes, conservative hair and makeup, and well-manicured nails are in order for most colleges.  A parent, counselor, teacher or other adult mentor should be able to help you look your best.
  • Practice the art of essay writing – this is the time to put those five-paragraph essay skills from high school to practice.  A proper intro paragraph with a good “hook,” well-formed transitions and a solid conclusion will be important.  Practice writing on a variety of topics with a time limit.
  • Practice interview skills – Read up on what makes a good interview, how to answer questions well and how to appear poised and professional.  Do some mock interviewing with a parent, friend or mentor so you are ready for the real thing.

There are many full-ride scholarships out there and most of them are competitive.  Don’t let your student shy away from these for fear of competing.  Think of it like a really important job interview.  At the very least, it will be great practice for similar opportunities your student will face in the future.

Top students all of the country will be competing for opportunities like the ones I have listed on my Full Scholarship List.  If you don’t know how to find these opportunities, I have done the work for you by compiling almost 300 competitive full-ride scholarships and full-tuition scholarships on my list.  I’m sure there are more out there and I am constantly adding new ones as I find them.  If you don’t have a copy of the Full Scholarship List, you can use the link above to order your copy.


Rising Juniors – Summer College Search Checklist

blue-flip-flops-mdLast week I talked about what rising high school seniors should be doing over the summer to prep for college applications in the fall.  This week, I am focusing on what rising high school juniors should do over the summer to further the college search process.

Rising high school juniors are entering a critical point in the college search process where prep work should happen for the college application process.  Staying on track junior year avoids scramble senior year and will help your future high school senior focus on college applications and scholarship applications.

Some of the key college search activities for junior year are:

  • PSAT test and ACT or SAT tests
  • College visits
  • High school activity/award resume building
  • Getting great grades
  • Creating a college list
  • Developing teacher and mentor relationships

These are the things your rising high school junior can be doing this summer to prepare for these activities:

  • Test Prep – There are great and inexpensive test prep resources for PSAT, SAT and ACT.  If your student plans on taking the ACT, check out my list of ACT Prep Resources.  Similar resources exist for PSAT and SAT.  For PSAT, you may just want to pick up a PSAT Prep Guide.  Amazon or your local bookstore will have several good options.
  • Start the College List – I offer a great free tool for keeping track of the colleges your students wants to visit and/or explore further, College Search Spreadsheet.  One first step for the college search spreadsheet is to decide what information you want to track for each school.  You can edit the columns on the spreadsheet to include these things.
  • College Visits – This summer is a good time for initial college visits.  Read The Summer College Visit for more information on the pros and cons of doing summer visits.  In addition, it’s a good time to look up visit days for the schools that are on your initial college list.  You can find these visit days on the college’s website.  Add these to your college search spreadsheet and start blocking off your calendar to accommodate them.
  • College Search Homework – Summer is a great time to read up on preparing for college applications.  The more your student understands what the expectations are, the less stressful it will be later on.  A book that I found tremendously helpful is B+ Grades, A+ College Application.  It is meant to be read by students, but will be very helpful for parents as well.  Parents, also check out my Start Here page for tips on what to read to be well-informed.

High school juniors will have a very busy and exciting year – lots of extra-curricular activities, difficult classes, standardized tests, college visits, and more.  Help your student stay organized now and be ready for a great year by doing some summer college search preparation.

College Search, High School Preparation

Rising Seniors Summer Check-In – Prepare for College Apps

beach-chair-and-umbrella-mdIn my area, school has already been out for over a month and mid-August will mark the start of the new school year.  For rising seniors, that means time to start college applications is right around the corner.  It’s a good time to do a summer check-in to make sure your rising senior is on track to start college applications this fall.

I have compiled a list of the things I recommend checking in with your rising senior on this summer.  Either have a conversation with them or print these as things that need to be “checked off” this summer.

Rising Seniors Summer Checklist:

  • Recommendation letters – Pick 2 or 3 teachers to write recommendation letters and start thinking about what these teachers need to know to write a good recommendation for you.  These recommendations will be important both for college applications and scholarship applications.
  • High school resume – Start a high school resume of extra-curricular activities, jobs and honors/awards or update your current one.  This will also be used for college applications and scholarship applications.
  • College list – Start finalizing the list of colleges to apply to.  These days, 3 – 10 schools is pretty typical.  If you don’t have a way to track these schools, download my free college search spreadsheet.
  • College visits – Make a list of schools that need another visit for determining whether or not to apply (or schools you haven’t gotten to yet).  Start planning when those visits can happen.  Summer visits are fine for first visits, but for making a final decision on whether a school should be on or off your list, it’s best to visit during the school year.
  • ACT/SAT plan – Are you satisfied with your current scores or do you want to take the test one more time in the fall?  My oldest daughter was glad she took the ACT one more time her senior year because she had her best composite score.  It gets really hectic trying to juggle this in with everything else going on senior year, but it is often worth giving it a shot for potentially qualifying for more merit scholarship money or very selective admissions.
  • College application essay – Summer is a great time to start thinking about college application essay topics.  A great website to help you start brainstorming is Essay Hell.
  • Interviews – Do any of the colleges on your list require or recommend interviews?  If so, now is a great time to get these scheduled.
  • College contact – Do the schools you are going to apply to know you are interested?  If not, start making contact.  Find out who your admissions officer will be and start by emailing him or her to express your interest in the school and ask what he or she recommends you do to be ready to apply.
  • Common App – The Common App for next year’s applications will be available August 1.  If you are applying to any schools that use the Common App, create an account and start looking at the application in August.

Once senior year starts, it’s going to get pretty crazy fitting college applications and preparation in with everything else going on.  Doing some summer preparation now will help avoid stress later.

Applying to Colleges, High School Preparation

Best College Search Resources

search-thAs a parent starting the college search with your high school student, how do you find the best college search resources? It’s a difficult quest in a world full of opinions and the millions of results that will display in your online search.

Here are some of the best college search resources I have found:

  1. CollegeData website – This site has a robust college search function that is very data based.  You can include things like “freshman satisfaction” rate, graduation rate, percent of financial need met, and percent of students receiving merit aid.  CollegeData provides detailed statistics for each school.  Especially helpful are the Admissions and Money Matters statistics.  You can see how many students with financial need have their need fully met and the average percentage of need that is met.  This will be especially helpful for families who know that they should be eligible for at least some financial aid.  You can assess your student’s chance of being offered a substantial amount of aid by a particular school.  For example, if a school shows that the average percent of need met is 50% and you are counting on financial aid to send your student to college, that might not be a college you can count on.  On the other hand, if a school shows average percent of need met is 95%, that’s pretty encouraging.  CollegeData includes lots of other statistics regarding financial aid and merit aid, what is important for admission, and more.  Go to CollegeData when your student is building a potential list of colleges to get a good overall picture of whether or not a school will meet your family’s requirements.  Also, go to CollegeData for help building an initial list of schools.
  2. Niche College Prowler - The best thing about this site is the college reviews by students.  It is always interesting to hear what current students have to say about their school.  Of course you need to look at these in aggregate and not take any one person’s comments too seriously.  As with most “user reviews,” there will be a wide variety from lovers to haters and everything in between.  Both you and your student will enjoy reading the college reviews on Niche College Prowler.
  3. Cutting the Cost of College – This is an online class offered by Lynn O’Shaughnessy of The College SolutionIt will teach you how to find the best deals on colleges.  I participated in the pilot of this class and found the information extremely helpful for any parents worried about finding affordable schools.  It is taught in a very interactive way and you will learn from Lynn as well as other parents in the class.

I know from experience that it is easy to get overwhelmed with the amount of information out there pertaining to the college search.  These are just a few of the best college search resources I have found.  For a broader list of sites you may want to check out, go to the list of My Top 10 College Search Information Websites.

College Search ,

Why SAT and ACT Tutoring Makes Sense, Even for Smart Students

Standardized TestThis post is a reprint from Danh Le of Underground Academy.  Underground Academy specializes in individual online PSAT, SAT and ACT tutoring.  I think this approach makes sense and I am going to try it for my middle daughter.  As Danh mentions, high scores can increase the possibility of full-tuition / full-ride scholarships.  Check out my Full Scholarship List to see many of these great opportunities and check out Underground Academy for more information on this great tutoring option.

Why You Need a SAT and ACT Tutor Even if Your Child is “Smart”

A common question I get from parents is
“I have a bright child.  Why should I still get tutoring?”Up until a few years ago, I didn’t think tutoring was that valuable. Growing up, I never had a tutor, and I was fine self-studying. However, I finally realized I had something I rarely find in students I tutor: well-defined goals and lots of intrinsic (inner) motivation.  Also I did not have too many extracurricular activities to distract me or take up my time. These things allowed me to get away with not having a tutor.

Well-Defined Goals and Motivation Within

I wanted to get an 800 or as high as possible due to several reasons:1) Increased options where I could go to college
2) I understood the math behind the loans and debt of college, so wanted increased scholarship chances.
3) Possibilities of getting full-tuition/ full-ride scholarships just due to 2 numbers: test scores and gpa.  I hate essay writing, participated in only in a few clubs (none leadership positions), and knew the SAT and ACT tests gave me the most efficient way to get this free money
4) I’ve always been a straight A student, so it bugged my ego that I couldn’t score high my first couple times with this test.

These goals pushed me to succeed and find out as much as I could about the test and do all the things that a regular smart student wouldn’t do.

The Problem With Smart Students

Smart students think their good school scores automatically translate over to  high test scores and so are lackadaisical the first one or two times they take the test.  The truth is a good GPA rarely translates over to high test scores the first time the test is taken.  The SAT and ACT test different things from a normal high school curriculum, and students need to learn the skill of beating the test.  Unfortunately, most parents are too late in the preparation (which is primarily the fault of the school system) that by the time students take this once or twice, it’s already the end of junior year and the low scores are worrisome

How Tutoring Fixes the Problem

So tutoring makes the entire process more efficient regardless of what level the student is at.  I know exactly what materials to use, how to use them, and where to find extra FREE help outside of tutoring and other free resources, thus saving a lot of time.  I pinpoint the errors that a student is making and show the steps needed to correct it.  Having regular meetings also helps the student be accountable to doing her work on a strict schedule.I try to go one step further by discussing and teaching life skills such as goal setting, stress management, better study habits, and improved productivity.

The thing I or anyone else in the world can’t do is get the student to open the book and do the work when I’m not around.  Score increases are 20% the tutor, 80% the student.  As you can see, the potential downside of tutoring is if the student thinks having a tutor automatically guarantees score increases and thus doesn’t work as hard as she should because she thinks the tutor will bail her out.  Even in these situations the score with tutoring should be better than without tutoring. How much so, unfortunately, I couldn’t tell you since it has too many other factors.

A Prescription for a Better SAT and ACT Score

So the best thing to do would be to cultivate intrinsic motivation + tutoring.  That would allow for the biggest score increases.  I’m okay with extrinsic motivation but if I were really good I’d be charging a lot more.  But no matter how good the outside motivation is, if the student doesn’t want it bad enough, she won’t get her highest potential score. Cultivating intrinsic motivation requires tinkering with the 4 reasons I mentioned above to suit your child’s personality and wants.  If your child doesn’t understand how much money will be automatically deducted from her paycheck month after month for years after college, show her some calculations. (Make sure to translate it to something they understand, like actual hours of work.) Perhaps your child wants to travel or wants a car.  If she studies hard enough to get a huge scholarship, I think that’d save you enough money to get her something nice that she wants.2nd best thing is probably just cultivating intrinsic motivation.  If you believe your child has the will, find some SAT or ACT materials and books off or from the library.  Alternatively, for a fee, I can set a student up with all the tools I use, so she can go through them at her own pace.

3rd best would be tutoring alone.

Whatever you do, it’s a smart decision to act earlier rather than later (that is, 2nd semester of junior year when AP time is around and end of year projects, finals, etc consume a ton of a student’s time)

Best of luck

You can find more information about SAT and ACT tutoring on the Underground Academy website.

ACT/SAT Tests ,

The Summer College Visit

beach-chair-and-umbrella-mdLast weekend, we took our middle daughter on her first official college visit.  She is going to be a high school junior in the fall and she was anxious to kick off her college search.  She had decided she wanted to do a summer college visit to Loyola University Chicago.

A summer college visit can be a useful step in the college search process if you do it for the right reasons.  Summer college visits are helpful in the early stages of the college search, but are not very helpful when you are trying to narrow down to the final college choice.

Benefits of Summer College Visits

  • You get to see what the campus looks like
  • You don’t have to fight traffic on campus (car and/or foot)
  • You get a feel for the size and layout of the campus
  • The atmosphere is more relaxed
  • Your family probably has greater availability for visits
  • Tour groups are usually smaller
  • The weather may be more conducive to a walk around campus
  • You can check out the surrounding neighborhoods

Drawbacks of Summer College Visits

  • You don’t experience the “feel” of the campus when school is in full swing
  • There is not an opportunity for your student to sit in on classes
  • Many department heads and others your student may be interested in talking to may not be around
  • The only college students you get to interact with are the tour guides
  • Many buildings may not be open for tours
  • You probably won’t see a “lived in” dorm room.  Schools usually just have a room set up with the basics to show for the tour.

Our visit to Loyola University Chicago included a full campus tour and an admissions presentation.  There were probably 30 – 50 families or groups visiting that day.  The school had plenty of tour guides and divided us up into small groups for the tour.  It was our family along with another dad and son.  The campus was beautiful.  Of course, a sunny day in early June is a great time to visit a campus along the Lake Michigan shore in Chicago!  Too bad Chicago weather is not like that all year!  We went inside several buildings, but did not get to see a classroom or any actual study areas.  We did see the student union and the inside of one of the dining halls.  Loyola University Chicago is currently undergoing a lot of construction to renovate their fitness center and create more green space on campus.  This, of course, does not have anything to do with the learning aspect of college.  It is intended to make the student experience more enjoyable.  You could easily debate whether this is an unnecessary cost, but colleges have tended to focus a lot on amenities the last few years to attract more students.  One of the great things about Loyola is city access.  Loyola has its own elevated (el) train stop offering easy access to the whole city of Chicago.  In fact, tuition includes “free” el train and bus transportation throughout the city.

The admissions presentation did not drag on forever and was kept light and engaging.  Overall, a great first visit for my daughter.

What was she able to learn from a summer college visit?  Well, she did express concern that the campus might be too large for her.  Loyola has about 10,000 undergraduates plus a couple thousand graduate students.  She said she would need to visit again during the school year to determine whether the size worked for her.  Classifying this as a medium-sized campus, she would now like to visit a large state school and a small campus for comparison.

The summer college visit can be a great opportunity early on in the college search process during a time of year when life doesn’t tend to be so hectic for your student and the rest of the family.  Your student will probably be more relaxed and well-rested, able to give more attention to trying to picture himself or herself on campus.  Just don’t expect too much from a summer college visit.  Realize that you will probably be going back during the school year, unless your student rules out the school based on the initial look and feel.

College Visits

How to Find Full Ride Scholarships

Money in handFull ride scholarships pay the full price of attending a college.  This usually includes tuition, fees, and room and board.  Some full ride scholarships go even farther and throw in stipends for books, study abroad, yearly spending money and even a laptop computer.

Often people think of athletic full ride scholarships, but there are also many academic full ride scholarships offered.  These are the ones I am focusing on here.  These scholarships are usually based on high school GPA and SAT or ACT score.  Many also take leadership, extracurricular activities and community service into account.  There are also some academic full rides reserved for National Merit Finalists and Semi-Finalists.

The largest source of academic full rides are the colleges themselves.  Colleges around the country offer academic full rides in order to attract top students.  If you have a student who is eligible, this can take away most or all of the burden of paying for college.  However, you have to know where to look.

Ivy league and other most competitive colleges do not usually offer academic full rides because they don’t need to.  If you look at the percentage of applicants admitted at these schools each year, you will see why.  They attract so many students on reputation alone that they do not need to offer full ride scholarships to get the students they want.

Most academic full ride scholarships are offered by lesser known schools.  It is possible to find them at well known state schools like University of Kentucky, University of Alabama, UCLA, University of Connecticut, and University of Pittsburgh.  It is also possible to find a few at highly ranked private colleges like Tulane and Wake Forest, but the majority are found at lesser known private colleges and non-flagship state schools.

How Do You Find Full Ride Scholarships?

Here are the most effective ways I have found to search for these academic full rides:

  1. Individual college websites -  Anytime I go to a college’s website, I check out their scholarship offerings.  These can usually be found under Financial Aid or separately under the Admissions area of the website.  You have to look through all the scholarships offered to find any that are full rides.
  2. – This site lists scholarships offered at schools around the country, but you have to search by school.  You can either enter a school name or go to a state and you will see all the schools in that state that have scholarships listed.  Again, you have to look through all the scholarships listed for a school to see if there are any full rides.
  3. Other scholarship websites – Some other scholarship websites like and list private scholarships and scholarships offered directly by the schools.  These are hard to find here also and are mixed in with smaller scholarships offered by a school.
  4. Full Scholarship List – This is a tool I have created to help families find full ride scholarships around the country.  I was frustrated because it was so hard to find these academic full rides.  It also lists academic scholarships that pay full tuition, but not room and board or other additional costs.  It is offered in a downloadable spreadsheet format.  There are currently 406 scholarships listed on the spreadsheet and you can sort and filter to find what you want.  You can read more about it here:  Full Scholarship List – Praise from a Parent.

If your high school student has good grades and good ACT/SAT scores, or has a shot at being a National Merit Finalist or Semi-Finalist, it is worth checking into academic full ride scholarships.  Imagine how much money you could save if your child was offered one.

Paying for College, Scholarships

The Importance of Testing

Today’s post is a guest post from Joan Girkins.  Joan’s website,, focuses primarily on helping homeschooling parents prepare their children for college.  I love how she provides homeschool-focused guidance that isn’t readily available on most sites.  See below to learn about her exclusive DVD seminar.

Every parent is interested in obtaining the highest value scholarships for their children; did you know that some of the highest value scholarships are based upon test scores and high school GPA’s? In many cases these high value scholarships do not need a separate application but they are applied automatically once your student is accepted at the college or university.
So, here is a suggested testing plan for your high school student:

  1. 9th Grade: Take the PSAT; the score will not count however the test is only $14 so it is an inexpensive test to take; this test is only offered in the fall so be sure to go online and register early
  2. 10th Grade: Take the PSAT again
  3. 11th Grade: Fall: Take the PSAT again; the score will count this time and will be evaluated for a possible National Merit Scholarship
  4. 11th Grade: Spring: Around February, take the SAT test; take the ACT test shortly after taking the SAT

What is a “good” test score? Every college is different however, the following are some typical test scores required for the highest academic scholarships:

  • A composite SAT score of at least 1860 or a combined Math and Critical Reading score of 1300
  • An ACT score of at least 28-30
  • Minimum High school GPA of 3.75-3.8

So, if your child follows the schedule listed above and achieves the scores needed to obtain the academic scholarship, then there is no reason for them to take the test again. However, if your student did not achieve the desired score there is still time for them to register for the next SAT or ACT test. Check the college or university website that your child wants to attend and type “Scholarships” into the sites’ search engine; sometimes the information is also listed under the “Financial Aid” tab of the website.

I have created a DVD titled “Preparing Your Children for College Seminar.” This seminar will present unique strategies to help parents prepare their children for college. A variety of topics will be covered, such as:

  • NEW! Common Core & Standardized Testing
  • How to develop a 4 year High School Plan
  • Record Keeping~How to create Lesson Plans, Report Cards, Transcripts, etc.
  • Should my child take Dual Credit, CLEP or AP Courses?
  • Why Community College? Why not?
  • Online Classes vs. Classroom Courses
  • Scholarships~How do you find them?
  • And much more!

For more information, please visit my website at: and click on “Store” to order!

My husband and I have been homeschooling for over 19 years. We have 4 children, 3 of whom are enrolled in college; our last child will graduate this year. In the course of planning for our children to attend college, we have learned much. My desire is to pass along to other homeschooling parents the information that we have learned so that you can prepare your children for college.  ~Joan Girkins

Joan Girkins


High School Preparation

Starting the College Search

11971018181388374865dstankie_Birthday_cake.svg.medMy middle daughter turns 16 today and yesterday was the last day of her sophomore year.  I guess that officially makes her a high school junior!  We are ready to officially kick off her college search.  She will be going on her first planned college visit next weekend to Loyola University Chicago.  She thinks she wants to go to college in a big city.  She attended many college visits with her older sister, but says she is not interested in any of those schools.  That means we will be doing a totally new and different college search this time around.

First Steps in the College Search

I have already done a few of the most essential first steps in the college search.  These are things I suggest that all parents do when starting the college search.  A full list can be found here – Parents: Do This Before Your Student Starts the College Search.  I have done the following:

  • Evaluated my daughter’s college savings account and the planned contributions over the next two years until she starts college
  • Ran the FAFSA4caster to see the difference in expected family contribution for the years my middle daughter is in college.  I will have two kids in college the first year and two kids in college the last year.  Although we won’t qualify for any financial aid at most schools the two middle years, when she is the only one in college, we will potentially qualify for some the first and last year with two kids in college.  I am not counting on this, but it is at least something I want to look into further.  Most parents won’t be expected to foot the entire college sticker price for two (or more) kids at the same time.
  • Determined a target amount for tuition that will be affordable out of my daughter’s college fund.  My husband and I have committed to all three girls to fully pay room and board out of cash flow except for the years we have two in college at the same time.  We have told our oldest daughter that she needs to save earnings over the first three years of college so that she can at least partially pay for room and board her senior year. 
  • Started a college search spreadsheet of schools that may be affordable.  I am determining these based on my daughter’s college savings and the amount of merit aid offered by the schools.  I don’t want my daughter to get her heart set on any schools that will not be affordable.  As she starts college visits, we will expand and refine the list of schools on the college search spreadsheet according to what she thinks she wants in a school.

The college search can be an enormously complicated process.  My main tips for parents starting the college search are these:

  • Determine your ability to pay for college early
  • Start college visits early – late sophomore year or early junior year
  • Limit your college search and college visits to schools that are affordable, including potential merit aid and/or need-based aid

Next week, I will talk about what your student can start working on over the summer – preparing for standardized testing.

College Search