Covid-Summer College Planning

COVID-Summer College Planning—Yup, It’s a Thing!

Every year on the Fourth of July, my husband utters the same words: “Summer is almost over.” I always shake my head—“It’s only the first week in July.” This has been a long-running joke between us. But, oddly enough, the weeks do slip by, and, before we know it, we’re getting our boys ready to head back to school.

In a few short weeks, our rising senior will return to his studies. We already know that his high school will be running a “hybrid” model, meaning that he will be learning from home fifty percent of the time and attending in-person classes the other half of the time. And while the last few months were not exactly academically challenging for him (or any of our kids, for that matter), he now understands that grades are coming back and, more importantly, he will have to focus on his college applications.

So, with our summer filled with COVID-cancellations and a future rife with uncertainty, what can our rising high school seniors do to stay on top of their college applications? Quite a bit, actually!

Here are some college planning essentials you and your rising senior can take care of during this COVID summer.

1. Make a College List (If They Don’t Already Have One).

Although most of us would have normally visited campuses over the spring, we cannot let this lack of accessibility stop us from creating a college list. It’s important to narrow down the criteria that are important to your child and family. Some things to consider include:

  • Academic fit
  • School size
  • Campus atmosphere
  • Location
  • Financial fit
  • Study abroad
  • Internship programs
  • Program of study (major)
  • Sports (DI, DII, or DIII)
  • Clubs & organizations

As tedious as it is to hammer one out, a well-researched college list saves you time and money. None of us would make a $150k-$250k investment without doing our due diligence. Letting our kids “just figure it out” on their own is a financially dangerous move—they just don’t have the life experience to weigh the risks (e.g., a costly transfer, overpaying for a degree, and excessive loan debt). Working one-on-one with your school counselor or a professional college consultant is invaluable.

2. Start Your Common Application Now

Although the Common App launches a new application annually on (or near) August 1st, your account will roll over to the next cycle. So, if you’re looking to get ahead, don’t wait for the new application to open, as any information your child enters into their account before August will be saved.

3. Begin The Main Essay

Gone are the days when you only had to write one essay to apply to college. Today, students are not only required to write one Main Essay (of about 650 words) but also numerous supplemental essays (supplements), all of which vary in amount and length from college to college. Some schools will ask students to write supplements in addition to their Main Essay, while others will not.

The good news is that the Common App prompts for the Main Essay requirement typically remain the same year after year. This means your rising senior can get started on their Main Essay now—something that we recommend all our clients tackle over the summer, as a solid Main Essay often requires several rounds of editing. And, let’s face it, no teenager wants extra work dumped on their plate in September of their senior year.

Students should begin by reading through the Main Essay questions and narrow down a few ideas about which they would like to write. If English is not your forte, parents should consider hiring an essay coach or college consultant to help them brainstorm and edit their Main Essay and supplements. Having someone other than a parent involved in the writing and planning process can fend off a lot of headaches.

4. Virtual, Virtual, Virtual!!

Have your son or daughter participate in virtual tours, information sessions, and interviews to get a better understanding of the schools that they are interested in. You can also have them reach out to admissions counselors directly to get a handle on all the details they’ll need to know before applying.

It’s important to remember that every college has an admissions representative (or reader) who is assigned to review all the applications from a given geographic area or, in some instances, high school. And, more importantly, you are absolutely allowed to contact this representative and ask them any questions you like.

5. Financial Aid & Cost Analysis

Most families wait until the fall or winter of their child’s senior year to have serious conversations about college finances. Although the last thing any of us needs right now is extra stress, coming to terms with the reality of your financial situation will be far easier now than later on—remember, once your senior gets accepted, most schools only give you about three months to make a $150k-$250k decision. (YIKES!)

And while they might be knowledgeable about either the FAFSA or general process of applying for financial aid, high school counselors aren’t financial aid professionals—why would they be? Financial aid consulting and student counseling are two totally separate occupations. Believe it or not, there are multiple state and national organizations for professional financial aid administrators. They understand how the various aspects of the aid process work and stay up-to-date on their ever-changing policies.

So how can you get your financial-aid ducks in a row? Speak with a professional financial aid consultant now. They will outline how the process works and, more importantly, how your individual situation will most likely play out. Our company, Vested Academics, helps families perform cost analyses that not only put things into perspective for the short term (i.e., scholarships, payment plans, and out-of-pocket costs) but also for the long term (e.g., loan comparisons and repayment strategies). You can learn more about Vested Academics’ financial aid consulting services HERE.

What Happens In September?

Given how things went this spring, we’re probably in for another bumpy ride. The takeaway here is that you don’t have to wait until September to get started on your rising senior’s college planning needs. Get to work now, before the summer is over.

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Jennifer Gallagher is a college consultant at Vested Academics. She offers her clients expert advice in all aspects of the early college planning, college search, and application processes.

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