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How‘s It Going? Help for Parents with Rising Seniors

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Robyn Stewart College Finance Expert

Written by Robyn Stewarton August 18th, 2023

Prior to joining College Coach, I was a financial aid officer at the College of the Holy Cross and an education advisor at two TRIO program locations. I work with the Massachusetts Education Finance Authority (MEFA) to present paying for college workshops to hundreds of families across the state. I'm a graduate of UMass Amherst and have a master in counseling from Northeastern University.
Learn More About Robyn
by Robyn Stewart, former financial aid officer at College of the Holy Cross It’s go time if you have a rising senior. This thought occurs to me multiple times a day. And not just because my job is to help families through the college finance process. Now I am the one with a rising senior, and things feel different when it is your own child. If I ask her if she’s researched colleges, I am quickly shot down with, “It’s summer and I want to hang out with my friends.” Or, when I bring up working on her college essay, I am met with, “I am doing it. Let me handle it.” My perfectly reasonable teen has become super secretive about anything related to the college process. Sound familiar? Here are some tips for those parents who want to help but are not sure how. Designate a College Discussion Time Once your student has reached senior year, the college application process will take on a life of its own. Your student is hearing about college at home and at school, and they are overwhelmed. Determine a specific time when it is safe to bring up college-related topics so that these conversations don’t take over your life. One hour a week to review all of the moving parts of SAT registration, application deadlines, etc., will keep your student moving along. Set Expectations Set expectations on how you will measure progress. My daughter has an application tracker where she is supposed to record her thoughts on a college: why she likes that school, which of their majors interest her, what sort of activities she can become involved in, etc. She has shared this document with me so I can view her progress. Determine Your Bottom Line It’s important for families to get a sense of their finances before the fall. Have you considered how much college you can afford? What have you saved? What can you contribute from your income? Are you able and willing to borrow loans to cover any shortfalls? In order to determine if a college is a financial fit for your family, you need to know what your bottom line is. Don’t Feel the Need to Visit Every School We visited a few schools early on so my daughter could see different types of campuses. At this point, we have made a conscious effort to put a hold on college tours. I am a parent who likes to cross things off lists, but this just seemed like one more thing to cram in during an already busy summer. There is a cost associated with visits and, of course, the investment of your time. Students can research schools online; there are wonderful ways to connect with admissions offices via virtual information sessions and virtual campus tours. Look for Private Scholarships We encourage students to look for private scholarships to help cover college expenses. And while we advise beginning the search as early as 9th grade, if your student has yet to use a scholarship search engine, they can still start now on sites such as GoingMerry and Note, however, that seniors will likely have the best luck with awards offered at the local level, so hit up the school counseling office to see if they have a list of scholarships specific to your town or region. Acknowledge Veto Power The families who are the most successful in this process are those who create guidelines for their student. Whether it’s about distance from home, choice of major, or the ultimate cost to attend a particular school, it’s best to be upfront with what is allowed and will meet your family’s priorities. Get Organized Creating a central place to house all the information you need (application materials, financial aid links, deadlines, notes on programs) will allow your student to hit the ground running come the fall. You don’t want to be on the wrong side of any deadlines in this process. Enjoy the Ride Remember, as bumpy as the process may be, it will be over at some point. Your student will get accepted to a college, make their final decision, and buy that college sweatshirt. Enjoy this exploration process together before your child launches on to their next stage of life.

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