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How to Prepare for College Applications

How to Prepare for College Applications
Mom and daughter looking at college applications

You and your teenager have been preparing for how to prepare for college applications since the start of high school. And, this year, high school comes with additional challenges and anxiety, thanks to COVID-19. From adapting to the pandemic with remote learning or face to face school days wearing their masks and keeping social distance in check, the anxiety of college prep can be a lot for you and your teenager. While there are a ton of resources at your fingertips from guidance counselors to online resources and more, here are a few tips that my daughter and I found very helpful when we were going through this process.

By Wanda Lopez, My Sweet Zepol

Your Teenager’s College Resume

Now, it seems earlier and earlier that college prep gets more serious. Each year of high school is important and starting to think about college starts as early as freshman year. A few considerations for the high school years, to set up for success at application time, and to help you prepare for college applications:

Freshman year

Focus on learning, getting good grades, building friend groups and community, investing in extracurricular activities – and documenting along the way. A yearly recap during high school makes it easier to write a strong resume later.

Sophomore year

We as parents partner with guidance counselors to ensure that our kids right admissions requirements are being filled. Usually, it’s when you would determine if your teenager should take the PSAT – Preliminary Standard Aptitude Test. Testing isn’t everyone’s thing – so if it’s beneficial for a dry run, taking the PSAT might be helpful. Additionally, it’s a good time to start creating a checklist of decision-making criteria, which could be anything from diversity, to athletic programs, to class size, or even location etc. There are so many considerations, knowing what’s important to your teenager’s collegiate experience is critical. Know that sometimes these conversations aren’t always easy! But, well worth it.

Junior year

Tests, Tests, Tests: according to the College Board, juniors tend to have taken the PSAT in the fall and the SAT or ACT in the spring. There are also subject tests e.g. SAT II, not mandatory, but can be taken in Junior or Senior year. While it’s a critical year for taking all tests required for applications and admissions, it’s also important to find out if there are any other qualifying tests required – finding out you’re missing a qualification while in the application process is a tough pill to swallow!

Additionally, start to think about:

  • Interests, majors, minors, etc. The CollegeBoard is a great resource as it allows you to make comparisons by filtering and accessing more than 2,000 colleges.
  • Study hard because Junior year grades are the most important – and the admissions office is looking at applications before Senior year grades are available. If applicable, Honors classes, AP, IB, etc. are all encouraged as another way to build a strong resume.
  • Get a sense of the environment. Social media has been a game changer, but most colleges have their own social media channels sharing insight on student affairs. Sign up for college mailing lists, follow their social media handles, and learn about the experience.

Senior Year

Stay the course! Help keep your senior focused — “senioritis” – we’ve all been there! But, it’s important for seniors to maintain their grades as they finalize how to prepare for college applications. College applications are time consuming and energy consuming. Start as early as possible so you won’t feel overwhelmed and can enjoy the process. You’ll be glad you did when you look back into this day years from now. And remember to do your best during your senior high school year, finals and all. Colleges are still watching. Here are some tips for studying for your finals and finish strong.

One of the bigger dinner table conversations – if it hasn’t been a part of earlier high school conversations, is budget. So, while discussing money is unlikely to be a favorite dinner topic, it’s important to identify a budget, for both the application process, as well as whatever financial support you intend and can provide. Understanding financial guardrails will be part of the discussion on finding the right fit.

  • Application Budget: Fee for college applications, you will notice this vary and can add up quickly. The average cost of a college application fee is approximately $43, according to a study by US News, and the most common fee is $50 for a college admissions application. Stanford University application fees reached $90 in the most recent analysis, with at least 50 Ivy League schools charging $75 per application.
  • Tuition Budget: Another conversation that’s important to the application process and determining the full financial picture. Whether it’s what you’re contributing or, helping organize and fill out paperwork for scholarships or financial aid, etc. Knowing what financial guardrails there are is helpful to prioritize where to consider applying. There is a pretty big tuition range, the average public two year college is $3,440 as compared to the average private four year college, which tuition & fees alone is $32,410.
  • Financial assistance: There are many scholarships and grants available: Your school college advisor is the best person to assist you by providing you with a list of scholarships you can apply and with their due dates, or there are resources online directly at the schools websites and/or online
  • Don’t forget to include other college costs including room & board, books, meals, distance if traveling back and forth, cell phone plan, campus events & activities and any miscellaneous costs the student will incur

Once senior year starts, it’s generally a good idea to start thinking about the application process. So, here are a few tips for how to prepare for college applications during senior year:

1. Start early

Start as soon as possible. Most colleges and universities submissions are due for submission in the month of November. Provide at least two weeks per college application, as leaving college applications for the last minute will not only add stress to “your” already senior high school year, but it will limit your time to focus on your application process and stand out. There are multiple steps to consider:

  • Not every college application is formatted the same. For example; some colleges or universities may require short questions and others may not. Consider the time those short questions may take you
  • Personal essays are a requirement for 90% of colleges/universities. Consider your topic ahead of time
  • Consider the number of college applications you are planning on apply for. Each takes its own time

2. Lists 

Make a list and check it twice! With all the parts to a college, it can get easy to feel lost fast. I’ve always loved making lists and I have found them to be perfect for decisions like this. College is one of the first big decisions a young person has to make in their life, so it is key to try and stay as organized as possible. My daughter created a “college scrapbook” with each page dedicated to a college she was interested in and all its information and requirements.

Mother and daughter on tablet looking at college applications

3. Research, research, research

The biggest key in preparation for college applications is research. I recommend finding at least 8 colleges and start digging! Look into their GPA requirements, SAT/ACT requirements, application deadline, and if a personal essay is required. College applications deadline varies from college to college. Some are due by November when others may not be due until Spring semester.

4. Partner up

Although the first instinct may be to clam up and keep everything a secret, you should know that not everything has to be kept to yourself. Yes, of course, keep your college essay topic or composition as private as possible to prevent any repeated content being submitted to the same college. But most other things don’t have to be, and it can be better if it’s not. For example, help guide each other in the organization of extracurriculars and prioritizing college deadlines. We have found it very relaxing and actually a bit fun to do it with a group instead of all alone in the challenging world known as college applications. 

5. Remember your school’s college advisor

Grab two (or so) friends along whenever you would meet up with the college advisor from your school and ask questions about the same challenging sections of the application you may have. Someone from your group may have a question that hasn’t occurred to you or vice versa and the answer from the college advisor may be beneficial to all. 

Once you have narrowed down the list of colleges to apply for and have college applications ready, signed and delivered it’s time to relax. In the meantime, look into some college décor and organization for their new room. Good luck on helping your Senior through their college application process – once you break down the process, it isn’t hard to find your own “how” in preparing for college applications.

About The Author

Wanda Lopez

Wanda Lopez a blogger at heart and shares her insight on all things food, recipes, home décor, travel and more at She’s a passionate content editor and contributor for household brands such as Kraft, Publix, Ford, Best Buy and more--all while balancing work, motherhood and all things in between. An educator and avid photographer, she is in love with design, food and the outdoors.

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