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Checklist for Parents of High Schoolers

As the number of high school years wane for your student, preparation for the next step should be picking up. Use these checklists to help your child plan for college.

Infographic: All information presented in graphic is repeated in article.

Sophomore Year of High School

  • Start visiting colleges. Even if your student isnt sure of major or career goal, visits to a variety of campuses will help him or her focus on the type and size of college, surrounding community and distance from home that is most desirable.

    Tip: Incorporate campus visits with other trips to see campuses further from home. Mix a few formal visit days with more informal walks through other campuses.

  • Explore college costs. Understand the net price, as opposed to sticker price, of different colleges. Use online net price calculators for an estimate of what your family may be expected to contribute, as well as financial and merit aid options for your student.

    Tip: Search for the college name and “net price calculator” in your internet browser.

  • Prepare for standardized tests. Both the ACT and SAT offer free practice tests online, and more robust preparation is available on those sites and from other test prep providers for a fee. Practice tests will help your student determine weaker areas that need extra attention.

    Tip: High school sophomores may take the PSAT10 to get a baseline score for the PSAT given to juniors. Use the results to prepare for the PSAT. Each states highest scorers on the PSAT qualify for significant merit scholarships from some colleges.

  • Explore career options. Most students are familiar with a limited range of career options and it may be hard for them to choose something they want to do for a daily job. Tools like our Return on College Investment tool and the Bureau of Labor Standards Occupational Outlook Handbook can help students get an idea of options and salaries.

    Tip: Help your child understand how salary is connected to the cost to earn a degree: Students should plan to take on no more college debt than they can expect to earn their first year after college.

  • Encourage reading and awareness of world events. These activities broaden perspective and can ignite a passion in your student. Search online for a list of recommended books to read before college and make thoughtful discussion of global, national and local occurrences a regular topic.

    Tip: News podcasts are often appealing to high school students and you can listen together during daily commutes.

  • Help your child be involved. Extracurriculars, from school clubs and honorary societies to youth groups and part-time jobs, play an integral role in preparing your child for college and beyond. Many colleges also consider involvement and leadership during the application process.

    Tip: Rather than being involved marginally in a lot of activities, encourage your child to become more deeply involved in a limited number of the activities he or she likes most.

  • Plan high school coursework. Help your student work with school counselors to ensure high school graduation, and college admission, requirements will be met within the next two years. Consider whether your student is taking the most academically rigorous classes he or she can manage well.

    Tip: Many high schools offer opportunities for Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or dual enrollment classes that may allow your student to earn college credit during high school.

Junior Year of High School

  • Understand the financial aid process. Although you and your student wont complete the Free Application for Financial Aid until the fall before college, its wise to understand how grants, scholarships, work-study and loans work together to cover college costs.

    Tip: Help your student understand what your family may contribute to college costs and how that impacts the schools your student considers.

  • Take standardized tests. Put last years prep to good use by scheduling ACT or SAT exams on dates that fit well into the family schedule. This way, your student will be able to fit in preparation around classes, extracurriculars and needed sleep. Plan for your student to take either the ACT or SAT more than once as many colleges "superscore," or accept the best subscores from multiple sittings.

    Tip: Some students perform better on the ACT, while others score higher on the SAT. Colleges accept either test, so use scores from practice tests and first sittings to help your student decide whether to take only one or both tests.

  • Get serious about the college search. School websites can provide valuable information about cost, the student body and academics. College fairs allow families to learn about many schools in a single day. More targeted visits are also in order during the winter and spring of junior year. Many college applications open by late summer or early fall of senior year, so help your child narrow the list of potential applications.

    Tip: Some families get more out of scheduled visit days that cater to juniors; others prefer individual visits designed around their students needs. Try a couple of each type early on to help focus later visits to the most desirable colleges.

  • Explore scholarship opportunities. Help your student search for and learn about scholarship opportunities from the schools he or she is interested in, community organizations and online scholarship searches. Knowing the requirements will help your student prepare to be in the running.

    Tip: Many colleges apply merit aid, or scholarships awarded based on academic merit, to reduce awarded financial aid, allowing your student to take out fewer loans.

  • Encourage writing. Essays, personal statements and short-answer responses are integral to the college application process. Help your student prepare by exploring the standards of good writing and talking about his or her accomplishments, goals and thoughts.

    Tip: A composition, language or English teacher may be willing to work with your student to perfect writing.

  • Compile a resume. Help your student think about activities, awards, accomplishments, academics, work and community efforts from the beginning of high school. Sometimes called a brag sheet, this document will become a resource for college and scholarship applications, as well as those your student asks to write letters of recommendation.

    Tip: Show your student how professionals use action words, short phrases and descriptions of results to create their resumes. These strategies will help your student prepare to fill in limited-character online college application forms.

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