College. It is where “grown up” life officially begins and things really start to matter. From the time my students walk in the classroom until the last day of school when I bid farewell to seniors who are ready to embark on their life’s journey, part of my mission as an English teacher is to help teens grow and realize their ultimate goals. These goals and dreams most often include college or even vocational school.
For many teens, college is a priority from the time they start high school to when they are given their GPA, class rank and SAT or ACT scores. Every detail plays a large and influential part in the application process. Because it can be an overwhelming, time-consuming and tedious process, it is important for students and parents to understand the ins and outs of applying for college.
In an effort to make things less stressful as teens begin this process, getting all of their ducks in a row early and in an organized fashion is the best plan to keep things as stress-free as possible! Frisco students are admittedly well taken care of as they are under the care and direction of a knowledgeable and hardworking group of Frisco ISD counselors. They are there to help students every step of the way! From the time students enter eighth grade until their last semester of high school, counselors meet with students in both group and individual settings to ensure they are doing what is necessary to reach their goals. Counselors help keep students on track to graduate and successfully get into the college of their choice. Barbra Berry, the FISD’s director of guidance and counseling services, explains, “The FISD has some of the best high school counselors in North Texas, and they work diligently to provide guidance on the college application process. In order to better educate students and parents, our counselors present evening informational sessions for students and parents, hosting events like Financial Aid Night, College Fair, Just for Juniors, Eighth Grade Parent Night, Collin College Night and Advanced Placement Information Night.”
Each one of these informational programs and sessions allows for students to better understand the processes and learn what requirements they need to meet in order to be successfully admitted to the college they would like to attend. Dawn Ventre of Frisco’s American Eagle Academy of Mathematics and Science explains further, saying, “The process is long and can sometimes feel tedious. From reviewing college information online, visiting the campus, gathering all of your letters of recommendation and so forth, it can feel overwhelming. Remember to go through everything, take your time and be detailed.”
Lone Star High School’s lead counselor, Abby Cole, encourages parents and students to simply breathe during the application process, adding, “It is not all going to be done over night. It is a lengthy process, but taking a little step at a time helps. You cannot expect to do it all in one night.” Ms. Cole continues, “Though every step of the process is important, narrowing down choices of where to apply is the first big step. Students need to decide if they want a large school verses a small school, whether they want to stay in state or go out of state, what they want to study, etc.”
The FISD counselors recommend that students and parents begin discussing college plans as early as September of their junior year of high school. Doing so allows students to ease into the process and plan accordingly based on information they find and receive. Over the course of a student’s junior year, he or she should plan to attend the financial aid workshop, request catalogs from prospective colleges and talk with college students who may be home for the holidays (to gain perspective). Students should plan and register for the SAT and ACT tests in late spring or early summer and begin filling out college applications between their junior and senior year. “Usually, applications open at the beginning of August. Deadlines are different for each college or university and some have early application deadlines and regular application deadlines. I would recommend applying as early as possible,” Ms. Cole says.
In the midst of all of the fun of their last year of high school, seniors need to stay on top of the application process by acquiring applications, catalogs and financial aid information in September of their senior year. Seniors must also register for the ACT and/or the SAT if they have not already taken it. They need to visit college campuses to get a realistic feel for schools and begin to prepare a resume for teachers they will ask to write letters of recommendation. By October, seniors should take the SAT and/or the ACT, if they have not already done so. They also need to ask teachers or their counselor to write letters of recommendation. It is vital that they begin searching for information on scholarships and financial aid, apply for on-campus housing (if necessary) and begin the application process. Between November and January, seniors should research and apply for scholarships and complete and send any financial aid forms or documents. From January until their graduation date, seniors should consider admission and financial aid offers, apply for local scholarships, turn in all necessary documents, request a final transcript and (most importantly) graduate!
To help both students and parents with the process, Ms. Ventre suggests keeping a calendar and setting deadlines. Keep an organized folder on your computer and in your email account so you have records of documents and communications.
Submitting applications and rounding up recommendation letters can be a daunting task, so make it as painless and stress-free as possible. Ms. Ventre suggests that students take their time and remain honest when filling out applications. Keep in mind that an application essay gives students the opportunity to bring various components of their application together in a single document, so use this to highlight their unique skills! It is also helpful to make a list of potential references for recommendation letters such as teachers, tutors, volunteer supervisors, employers, mentors and pastors.
Four-year colleges and universities require that applicants submit either SAT or ACT scores, while junior colleges and community colleges do not. The ACT is an achievement test, measuring what a student has learned in school, while the SAT is more of an aptitude test, testing reasoning and verbal abilities. “We recommend that students take the SAT and/or the ACT for the first time during the spring of their junior year,” Ms. Cole says. “That way, you have time to get both scores. Additionally, students need to be aware of test dates and testing sites and make sure they know the registration deadlines and late registration deadlines. You could have to pay more money if you are late registering.”
Another great aspect of the FISD is that it offers SAT and ACT test preparation through Family Connection workshops. Students can hear audio explanations of test questions, access strategy guides for each test, complete full-length practice tests, receive hundreds of practice questions, read easy explanations to every question, track their strengths on each test, receive valuable test taking tips, take practice quizzes and access their courses on an unlimited basis. FISD provides the SAT and ACT method free of charge to students.
Paying for college is a big stressor for both students and parents. Education and awareness of how to tackle this monster task are the keys to refraining from pulling your hair out in the process. “Start by reviewing your college savings and comparing it to tuition at the colleges you are applying to. Remember to take into consideration the cost of room and board, books, food and so forth. Once you have an idea of where you stand, look into options for loans, financial aid and scholarships,” Ms. Ventre recommends.
If financial aid and/or loans are part of the plan, Ms. Cole urges students and parents to begin applying for the Free Application of Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), a program that provides grants, loans and work study funds to students attending college or career school starting January 1. “The sooner you apply for financial aid, the better package you are awarded,” she adds. “Start applying for scholarships as soon as you return from summer break. Apply for as many as you can. There are a lot of them out there, and some take time to apply for since they usually have essays. The Frisco Education Foundation is a wonderful way FISD students can earn scholarship money.”
For some graduating seniors, a four-year university or college is not in the plan. Some students seek to begin their journey to adulthood at a community college or junior college. Ms. Berry explains, “It is important that families discuss this as an individual option. For some students, it is highly beneficial to start at a community college depending on a number of factors such as maturity, financial situation, academic readiness and specific post-secondary plans.” She continues, “We are very fortunate to have Collin College in our community, as it is an excellent college with connections to top universities that make it easy for students to transfer credits from Collin College to their university of choice.” Ms. Cole agrees, pointing out that starting at a community college is cheaper and can benefit those who might not be able to afford a four-year university. She adds, “Some students are not socially or emotionally ready or mature enough yet to move out on their own, so this is a good alternative until they really have a grasp on what they would like to study after high school.”
The entire process of applying for college is easily tackled when done methodically and systematically. Ms. Cole strongly advises that students complete as much of the process as possible themselves and not have their parent fill out their information and write essays for them. “Many college admissions counselors have told us they can tell when Mom or Dad writes an essay,” she recalls. To parents, Ms. Cole says, “When a student receives that acceptance or rejection letter, just be there for them and know that everyone is where they are supposed to end up.” She adds, “We like to tell our students to make sure they attend college for the right reasons. Do not go just because your parents went there, because they have a good football team or because your boyfriend or girlfriend is attending that institution.”
As students move into this exciting time that is full of fun, responsibility and decision-making, help them remain diligent in noting deadlines, applying for as many scholarships as possible and utilizing resources that will help them be successful.
Visit the FISD’s website, friscoisd.org, to find helpful information and tips regarding the college application process. Visit americaneagleacademytx.com to learn more about the American Eagle Academy of Mathematics and Science, their tutoring services and their test preparation classes coming in 2016.