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These are the college planning tips parents need to know for their teens

When the time arrives, these tips will come in handy

High school student looking at colleges
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If you’re the parent of a high school student, the college years aren’t as far away as you may think. When teens are freshmen, most of the focus is on helping kids adjust to the demands of high school. By the end of sophomore year, it’s time to start thinking about college.

While it might seem early, it’s actually not. Senior year will be here before you know it. As a parent of a teen, it can be difficult to know when to start prepping for the SATs or when to book those college visits. Planning for college is a stressful process for parents and teens. Having college planning tips helps make the undertaking less daunting, especially if this is your first child in high school. College planning also keeps you and your high schooler on track.

These are useful college planning tips to keep in mind when navigating the unfamiliar waters of getting ready for the post-high school years.

High school students getting ready to check out colleges
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College planning tips for parents

College planning is certainly stressful, especially with the eyebrow-raising cost of tuition. It can be an exciting time too, though. Taking trips to see campuses can be a fun bonding time with your high schooler, who will soon be heading off to college.

Of course, not all teens know what they want to major in. Some know from an early age they want to be a teacher or a doctor, while others struggle to find a field of interest. Planning for college involves a lot of different levels, from encouraging your teen to get involved in extracurriculars to preparing for standardized tests. These are the important points to keep in mind if your child is in or about to enter high school.

Participate in high school extracurricular activities

It’s not a secret that getting into college is extremely competitive. Colleges like students to have a well-rounded background. Having good grades is important, but getting involved outside of the classroom is too. Taking part in high school activities like sports, theater, music, clubs, and student government are things teens can put on their college application, but extracurriculars are also a way to help teens discover their passion. This can be especially important when teens are unsure of what they want to do after high school.

Be involved in activities outside of school

Being a part of the high school community helps teens develop a solid application and may point them in the direction of a possible major. Getting involved in sports and other endeavors outside of school is as well. Volunteering, having a part-time job, and participating in the arts or athletics are great ways to help teens build a balanced application while encouraging them to explore different fields. Community involvement helps teens find potential areas of interest, too.

Standardized tests

While the SATs and ACTs were optional for many colleges during and after the pandemic, some schools will once again be requiring a standardized test score. Most high school students take the PSATs sophomore year. How your child scores on the PSATs can be an indicator of how much prep work they may need. Another way is to have your teen take the SATs the summer before junior year without any prep. The resulting score will let you know whether an SAT or ACT prep class or tutor will be necessary. There are free online prep options for high school students to use. It’s a good idea to wrap up the standardized testing process before the start of senior year. That way, teens can focus on applying for colleges and scholarships.

Deciding whether to take the SATs or the ACTs depends on the colleges your teen is interested in. Some colleges will accept either, while others may not want any at all. Keep in mind that financial aid and merit-based scholarships do require a SAT or ACT score. So, if your teen is interested in schools not requiring standardized test scores, they will still need to take one in order to take advantage of aid opportunities.

When to start looking at colleges

Sophomore year or the summer before junior year is the ideal time for teens to begin exploring colleges they may be interested in applying to. A few may already know where they want to go, but most are unsure. Have your teen start looking at colleges online. Most offer virtual tours. A virtual tour gives teens a good idea if they want to plan an in-person visit.

Use the summer before junior year and school vacation times to book college tours. In-person tours do fill up. If there are schools high on your teen’s list, book the tours as soon as possible. August is a prime month for college tours. In order to see if a college is a good fit for your teen, it’s important to visit.

How many colleges should teens apply to

College applications do come with a fee. There are also fees involved in sending SAT, ACT, and high school transcripts. So, you don’t want your teen applying to an excessive number of colleges. Of course, there isn’t a set amount, but between four to eight colleges is recommended by the College Board.

When to start applying

When applications can be accepted for particular colleges vary. Most applications open up around August 1. Teens should get started on applying to the schools they’re interested in as soon as the applications open up. Encourage your teen to reach out to teachers soon after senior year starts for letters of recommendation. Teachers get inundated with requests, and the early bird catches the worm, as the saying goes. Guidance counselors also get busy with transcript requests. Students should try to get those in quickly to avoid delays that could impact acceptances.

It may seem like you were just dropping your child off for the first day of kindergarten, and now it’s time for high school. Looming after high school is college. While not all high schoolers may want to attend a four-year college, many do. If your child is interested in a four-year college, don’t wait until senior year to start exploring options.

College planning should begin as your child enters high school. Building a solid application starts freshman year and helps teens figure out what fields of study or possible careers they’re interested in. Those dreaded SATs are also a big component of the process. College planning doesn’t have to be overwhelming, though. It can be time well spent bonding with your soon-to-be college student. Use these college planning tips to help make the process less stressful for you and your teen.

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Dawn Miller
Dawn Miller began her professional life as an elementary school teacher before returning to her first love, writing. In…
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