The College Search Process – Execution Phase

Published by Wendy Nelson on

Rocket LaunchThis week we are focusing on the Execution Phase of the college search process.  This is where all the prep work comes together and students start applying to colleges.  For the incoming high school senior class, the Execution Phase starts now!

Things to Do in the Execution Phase of the College Search

  •  Have your student find all of the important college application information for each college he or she is planning to apply to.  I like to track this in a spreadsheet.  Some of the critical information to track prior to starting college applications includes:
    • Type of application required – Common App, school-specific app, either?
    • Is there a specific date when the application is first available?
    • Application deadline
    • Application decision date (will depend on whether your student will apply early or during the regular admission period)
    • Essay requirements
    • What recommendation letters are required?
    • Is an interview required?
    • Is there an application fee?
    • What test scores do you need to send?
  • Make sure your student starts requesting recommendation letters early
  • Have your student prepare an Activity Resume
  • Talk to your student about early action and early decision deadlines for college applications, if these are offered.  (An easy way to remember the difference:  Early Action just requires you to take action earlier; Early Decision requires you to make a final decision earlier)
  • Encourage your student to start thinking of essay topics early and use helpful resources like and
  • Understand your student’s chances for merit aid.  This one is a little tricky, but here are some pointers:
    • Compare your student’s ACT or SAT score to the school’s published mid-50% range for accepted students.  The higher your student’s score is, the greater the chance of merit aid being offered.  The top end of the mid-50% range or higher than the mid-50% range would be what I would call the “merit aid comfort zone”.  (Of course not all schools offer merit aid at all.)
    • Check out how generous the school is with merit aid. is a great place to look for this.  Look up the school and go to the Money Matters tab.
    • Use the school’s Net Price Calculator to get an idea of financial aid.  The best Net Price Calculators ask about GPA and ACT/SAT scores so they can estimate merit aid.
    • Check out to easily find merit aid offered by colleges around the United States.  You can search for merit aid several different ways.

Parents, How Can You Help?

  • Keep your student organized – Keep a spreadsheet of everything, put important dates on calendars, set reminders, etc
  • Manage the process of sending test scores to colleges – For any colleges that weren’t part of the original list of colleges to send ACT/SAT scores to, you will need to go online and request to have the scores sent and pay a fee.  Managing this process is an easy way to help out your student.
  • Offer to proofread applications and essays
  • Offer to schedule any last college visits
  • Be there for encouragement and support – Of course pep talks are better than nagging, but some students will require a little nagging as deadlines approach!

High school senior year is naturally stressful.  Add in everything that goes with the college search process and turning in college applications and you have a recipe for meltdowns and family arguments.

All the planning you have helped your student do is finally paying off as he or she walks through the Execution Phase of the college search process.  Students will all be a little different in this part of the process.  Some will jump in and complete everything early, some will try to wait until the very last minute, and some will be somewhere in the middle.  If your student isn’t already in the first group, figure out how to nudge him or her a little more to the early side.  Waiting until the last minute is never a good idea in the college application process.

Next week, we will jump into the Closure phase of the college search process.

1 Comment

The College Search Process - Closure Phase | My Kid's College Choice · September 5, 2016 at 8:12 pm

[…] the college search process is the Closure Phase.  As I write this, it is the time of year for the Execution Phase, which was the topic of last week’s post.  However, it is helpful to look ahead to learn […]

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