Parents: how to help navigate the road to college

As your student prepares to head to college, where do you fit in? They’ll likely need your help and guidance, but may also want to do some of the planning on their own.

One approach is to take on the role of “coach” when it comes to college planning. Offer guidance and suggestions, but let your student do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to seeking scholarships, submitting college applications and applying for financial aid.
How can you help?

Staying on track for college applications
The college application process involves a number of different steps and many different deadlines. Help your student stay on track with these tips:
• Help your student manage multiple college application deadlines
• Talk about handling letters of recommendation: who to reach out to, giving them enough time, thanking those who write letters
• Discuss essay-writing: creating timelines for completion, asking for a teacher or mentor to review it

College prep
The summer before college is a busy time. You can help your student map out a game plan for getting everything done.

Here’s a list to get you both started:
• Plan to attend college orientation with your student, and discuss who to meet with when you’re there.
• Talk with your student about banking options during college and set up any accounts he or she may need.
• Discuss good money management tips and banking habits with your child.
• Have your student make a college packing list early in the summer.
• Purchase items over the summer months to help spread out the cost.

Researching financial aid
For many families, figuring out how to pay for college is probably one of your top priorities. As talk about college gets more serious, here are some tips for discussing the financial details with your student:

• Discuss how much money your family plans to contribute toward your student’s college education.
• Discuss choosing a school that will both meet your student’s needs and be within budget.
• Talk early and often about options to pay for college, including grants and scholarships.
• Attend a financial aid night together with your student.
• Encourage planning ahead for deadlines to complete tasks like college and scholarship applications.

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Stay on top of deadlines

It’s senior year, and the clock is ticking.   It seems that your final year of high school is all about deadlines. While you can’t control the timeline you’re under to complete paperwork and applications, you can manage your deadlines and stay on track.

A master calendar is key. Start by creating a master calendar of all your deadlines and commitments. Build it out as far as you know it and include everything, such as: scholarship application deadlines, college application deadlines, financial aid nights, and financial aid application deadlines. Use this same calendar to plug in important dates for all your school and extra-curricular activities. Using a single calendar will help you notice if you have an important scholarship application due the same weekend that you’ll be traveling for a sports tournament. Seeing all your commitments in one place can give you a sense of control and understanding of how to budget your time.

Share your calendar. Once you create your master calendar, consider sharing it with your parents. It will help them get a better understanding of what you’ve got going on, and it allows them to help you manage your deadlines and plan family activities accordingly. Plus, some things on your calendar should be on theirs as well, including financial aid nights and financial aid application deadlines.

Set mini-deadlines. If you know you’ve got a deadline looming a month or more away, set mini-deadlines for yourself, to stay on track. For instance, if you need to have a scholarship application essay ready to go at the end of December, set a deadline for completing an outline, and another for completing a first-draft. Large tasks aren’t nearly as overwhelming if you break them up into smaller tasks, but setting—and honoring—those deadlines is key.

Reward yourself. There’s a lot of work to be done during your senior year, so be sure to build in rewards for yourself along the way. Keep yourself committed to those deadlines you’ve set by planning treats for yourself. Did you finish a draft of that college application essay? Check. Head to a movie with your friends! Rewards will help keep you focused and ensure that you build in some fun along the way.

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College Hacks: Soda Bottle Speakers

Soda bottle speaker
Sometimes you need a sixty-second dance party during a study break. But your phone’s dinky little speaker isn’t going to cut it. What will cut it is a 2-liter soda bottle. Cut a slot for your phone, cut off the top, and hit “Play.” Instant smooth jams, as loud as you want them.
Soda bottle speaker in use
Studying, like dancing, is often more fun with other people. Check out the benefits of studying with friends.

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College Hacks: Easy Bookshelves

Easy Bookshelves
Don’t chuck those handy plastic moving crates in the trash when you’re done moving into your college living space. And don’t worry about having no place to store them. Tie those crates together with a few zip ties and boom: instant bookshelf. A good way to organize the space.
Easy Bookshelves
Speaking of packing for college: here are 9 things you don’t need to worry about packing.

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Connect with your school counselor

As a high school senior, you have a busy year ahead with many decisions to make about college. Your school counselor is a great person to help guide you through this important time in your life.

Even if you’ve never visited with your school counselor before, take some time to connect soon. Below are a few topics to help get you started with your discussion, but don’t expect to cover all these in one session. Plan to stay in regular touch with your school counselor throughout your senior year and be sure to come prepared with any materials or questions you may have about the topic at hand.

Scholarships. Get help deciding which scholarships to apply for and determining who you might ask for a recommendation, if needed. Your school counselor may have knowledge of local scholarships that are available, as well as tips on how to conduct an online search for scholarship opportunities. Ask questions about how to organize your scholarship search and manage deadlines if you’re concerned about the process.

College choice. Your school counselor can help you narrow down your list of schools and get started on your applications. As with scholarships, your school counselor may have some ideas about who to contact about letters of recommendation. Be sure to come prepared with a list of schools you’re considering, what you like about each one and any questions or concerns you have about your college search. Be open to ideas your school counselor may have about additional schools to consider.

SAT/ACT scores. Hopefully you’ve already taken the SAT or ACT test at least once. Discuss your score(s) with your school counselor, and what they mean to your college and scholarship application process. If your score(s) were higher than you anticipated, perhaps it may open the door to a college you hadn’t previously considered. On the flip side, if your score(s) are not quite as high as you would have hoped, your school counselor may have some advice about how to maximize your options.

Academic progress. Talk with your school counselor about your grades and class ranking. Find out whether either of these will impact the colleges you apply to or scholarships you’re seeking. Talk with your school counselor about strategies for keeping your grades up, even after you’ve been accepted to college—many colleges will ask for a final transcript of your grades.

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College Hacks: Tablet Cinema

Tablet cinema
Watching TV with your sweetie doesn’t need a TV room. Or even a TV. Load up your tablet with whatever you want to watch, grab a few removable hooks, and you’ll be able to set up a screening anywhere you like.
Tablet cinema
Helpful way to do a date on the cheap. Read up on doing a vacation on the cheap right here.

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College Hacks: Shoebox Projector

Shoebox projector

Shoebox projector


The whole world’s your cinema, provided you’ve got a shoebox and a good blank space to project. All you’ve got to do is add a magnifying glass and your trusty smartphone and you can watch anything you want, anywhere. Don’t forget to bring the popcorn and someone to cling to if the movie gets scary.
Shoebox projector as built

Shoebox projector as built


The Shoebox Projector is one sensible way to stick to a budget. Here’s a few more tips for you to check out.

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College Hacks: Caffeine, Your Nap’s Secret Weapon

Nap's secret weapon

Nap’s secret weapon


Did you know it takes about 20 to 30 minutes for caffeine to kick in? It’s true. If you’re looking for a quick bit of shut-eye but don’t want to feel groggy after, drink some coffee and nod off – when you wake up a half hour later, you’ll get a little boost of energy and you’ll be ready to go.

Are you finding you need to schedule out every last thing, naps included? Check out these tips for assessing your extracurricular activities in college.

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College Hacks: Improvised Coffee Maker

Improvised coffee maker

Improvised coffee maker


Maybe you can’t have a coffee maker in your dorm room. Maybe your coffee maker is on the fritz. Maybe you don’t have six bucks to shell out at the local coffee joint. No problem: a disposable cup can filter your coffee just fine, with a rubber band and a little ingenuity.
Actual image of improvised coffeemaker

Actual image of improvised coffeemaker


That’s a helpful money saver. But if you’re feeling a little too tight in the wallet a little too often, here are some tips for aiding a strained budget.

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College Hacks: Soda Can Wi-Fi

Soda can Wi-Fi

Soda can Wi-Fi


Wi-Fi is life, and the data must flow. If you’re working somewhere on campus (or at a coffee shop, or in a library, or at a friend’s apartment, or…) and the Wi-Fi signal leaves something to be desired, cut open a soda can and stick your wireless connector through it. Tada: boosted signal.
As built

As built


Wi-Fi’s a lifesaver, and so are these tips for building good study habits. Check ‘em out.

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