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If you are new to my site, this is the best place to start.  There are lots of articles and links to help you and your college-bound kid at every stage of the college choice process. Read the categories below to determine what applies to you.

Before you start the college choice process:

  1. Read 5 Things You Need to Do Before Your Kid’s College Search
  2. Use FAFSA4caster to get an idea of what schools will expect you to pay out of pocket.  This can be done as early as possible so that you have a rough idea.  Junior high or freshman year of high school is not too early.

Starting the college choice process:

  1. Read Starting the College Search – This post describes how to start searching for schools.  You should track colleges under consideration on a spreadsheet.  There are two ways to do this:
    A) Start your own spreadsheet.  I have a ready-to-use template for this:  College Search Spreadsheet.  This post will give you tips on how to use the spreadsheet effectively:  Organize Your College Search.
    B) Use a prepared spreadsheet of colleges and narrow it down to suit your needs.  Michelle Kretzschmar offers a great tool that you can purchase:  DIY College Rankings College Search Spreadsheet.  She wrote a great guest post for me on why using her spreadsheet makes sense:  Simplify Your College Search.
  2. Use a college search engine to find schools or get a more in-depth look at the schools you have already found.  I have a spreadsheet comparing different search engines available online based on the criteria you want to search for:  College Search Engines.  Here’s a post I wrote about choosing a college search website:  How to Choose a College Search Website.
  3. Select schools that will minimize your cost.  Read Minimize Your Out-of-Pocket College Cost – Part 2.
  4. Find great college search resources online and use them regularly!  Here’s a great list to start with:  My Top 10 College Search Information Websites.

Narrowing down the college list:

  1. Use Net Price Calculators to get a better idea of what each school on your student’s college search list might expect you to pay out of pocket.  You should be able to find these on each school’s website, under Admissions and/or Financial Aid.
  2. Schedule college visits.  These visits will be critical in determining what your student likes and doesn’t like.  I especially like a 2-part post Michelle Kretzschmar wrote on DIY College Rankings about the three different types of college visits you should do: visits to decide what kind of colleges your student likes, visits to decide where to apply, and visits to decide which college to accept.  Once you schedule visits, make sure you are prepared with this 3-part list:  The ABCs of College Visits.
  3. Look for colleges that offer great deals – Finding the Best Deals on Colleges.  Many schools offer merit scholarships to reduce the cost.  Learn how to find these schools in Finding Great Merit Scholarships.  If your student is exceptional, he or she could qualify for a full-ride, but there aren’t many opportunities for this.  I talk about these opportunities here:  Can My Kid Get a Full-Ride Scholarship?

Applying to colleges:

  1. Understand what colleges are looking for in applicants – What Do College Admissions Offices Look for in Applicants?
  2. Learn about the Common Application and what schools accept it by going to the Common App website.
  3. Find tips for your child to write great application essays.  Visit the Essay Hell website.  There are lots of great articles about writing application essays on Huff Post College.
  4. Find out how to get the best recommendation letters.  This article by Marjorie Hansen Shaevitz has very helpful tips:  Letters of Recommendation: The Real Icing on Your College Admissions Cake.

Choosing a college:

  1. What factors should come into play when your student is choosing a college?  Read Making the Final College Choice.
  2. How to make a final decision between two colleges – The Final College Choice – Choosing Between Two Colleges.

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