Steps to Complete the FAFSA

Fall is once again around the corner, and that means back to school! In this week’s episode of Getting In: A College Coach Conversation, host Elizabeth Heaton addresses a topic that is sure to be on the minds of many parents who are getting ready to send their children off to college: how to let go. Also in this episode: your listener questions answered.

Letting Go

Even though this show focuses on “getting in” to college, today Beth and guest Amy Alexander shift gears slightly—to provide advice for parents of students who have already gotten in, and are about to head off to their first year of college. Amy, a former admissions officer at Yale University, is also a parent who has recently sent two of her own children off to college. She shares her own experiences and emotions as a parent going through this process. She also provides six comprehensive tips for parents who are struggling with letting go, to help the transition go more smoothly:

  1. Separation is not rejection. Relinquishing control gives both you and your child a newfound sense of independence. Just because your student is heading off to college doesn’t mean your job as a parent is done—your child still needs you, they just need you differently.
  2. Provide guidance. Sharing your values about issues such as drugs and alcohol is important to do before your child heads off to college.
  3. Set boundaries for contact with your child. Agree on regular times for calls, texts, etc. Remain respectful of their privacy, even as you stay connected.
  4. Communicate educational goals and expectations beforehand. Be respectful of your student’s own interests and style (even if they differ from your own).
  5. Maintain good planning and organization. Put things into place prior to departure: communicating future roommates about what to pack, setting up checking accounts, etc.
  6. And probably the most important tip: Redirect the time and energy that you previously focused on your child. Go back to your own personal interests, or use this transition as an opportunity to find new ones. The goal is to take care of yourself, and let your child learn to take care of themselves as well.

Listener Questions

For the rest of the show, Beth and guest Kathy Ruby (former financial aid officer at St. Olaf College) answer questions from listeners about admissions and financial aid. They cover the following:

  • I’m remarried and my child’s father is also remarried. Should I file my taxes as married/filing separately so my spouse’s income isn’t included on the FAFSA?
  • Will colleges see my senior year classes and grades? Do they matter? And do colleges care about my middle school activities? If not, why?
  • Are retirement accounts considered when a school is calculating a family’s ability to pay?
  • My 11th grade son is interested in highly selective colleges. His 9th and 10th grade curriculum was standard college prep courses. After 10th grade, he found his passion and now has more depth in his curriculum and activities. How does this type of student look to admission officers?
  • Can I use a Roth IRA to pay for college?
  • I understand that the most highly selective colleges generally want four years of foreign language in high school, but if a student started a language in middles school, is it OK to drop language in senior year in favor of another challenging elective?
  • Can I withdraw funds from my 401K to pay for college?
  • My high school includes 8th grade Math, Spanish and Earth Science grades on my transcript, and uses those grades in calculating the GPA. Will highly selective colleges consider this 8th grade performance when it’s included in the GPA?

For the answers to these questions, download the episode and have a listen! Have your own question that you’d like us to answer?  Submit it here, and we’ll include it in a future episode.

And don’t miss next week’s show, when host Ian Fisher covers the downside of overpackaging yourself in your applications, financial eligibility and academic progress, and how to highlight extracurricular activities in your supplemental essays.


Written by Julia Jones
Julia Jones is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions consultants. Julia previously worked as a senior admissions officer at Brandeis University and was the director of admissions at Chapel Hill-Chauncy Hall School. Visit our website to learn more about Julia Jones.