Preparing Your Student for College Applications

Your role as a family member or mentor is crucial in supporting your student through college applications. Once they create a college application list based on fit and match, it is time to prepare for college application season. Here are five actions you can do to support your student. In doing so, you will equip your student to make informed college decisions.

Visit the Campuses

The fit and feel of a college campus matters, so  visiting in person is the best way to gauge that.  Nothing replaces walking the buildings and outdoor spaces to see how it feels. If possible, we recommend traveling. If travel isn’t feasible, there are other opportunities for virtual engagement. Virtual tours and online events will teach your student more about the culture on campus. . The college’s Admission Office can also set up any of these types of visits, both in person and virtual.We encourage you to be part of these experiences! It will allow for you to debrief with your student and be a sounding board for their processing.

Build A Relationship with Colleges

Your student should reach  out to the members of the college campus community that reflect their needs and priorities. This may be  a faculty member from their intended major or the staff member in charge of the activity. It could also include  an organization they want to be involved in, a student that is part of a community they hope to join, and so on.  This can feel intimidating though, so encourage your student to first connect with the Admissions Office and establish  relationships with those teams. The Admissions Office role is not only to review applications for decisions, but also to support students in determining if their college or university is actually the best decision.

Begin on Application Expectations

Once the college application list is narrowed and balanced, support your student in researching the application expectations. Each school’s application requirements can be a little different when it comes to test scores, transcripts, letters or recommendation, and more. Support your student in drafting  their brag sheet, for this will help them reflect on their high school career. Brag sheets should detail key experiences that your student will note within their college applications. They also help teachers write strong letters of recommendation.

Connect with the School Counselor

Not only is it important for your student to be aware and tracking college’s expectations, but also their high school’s expectations. High schools have their own procedures for the college application process. (Especially when it comes to letters of recommendation and transcript requests). Encourage your student to meet with their counselor. and as a family member or mentor, you can be present to learn more about your expected role, too. Being aware of your role on this journey will benefit your student as they apply to college and graduate high school.

Take Part in an American College Application Campaign Event in the Fall

If your student’s school participates in the American College Application Campaign, be sure your student attends one of these events. These experiences are organized to support students through the application process. Your school or community might call these Application Nights.” Or they may celebrate college Application Week or Month.

Typically, college admission applications open on or near August 1 of a student’s senior year of high school. While we recommend starting early, your student does not need to submit on the first day an application opens. Encourage them to track  deadlines, but also take the time to be thoughtful about the college application. They want to make sure it is complete and represents them well. As your student’s family member or mentor, you know your student well and can support them in their college application readiness.

Supporting Your Student In Determining If College Is Right for Them

You want what is best for your student. You might also be feeling overwhelmed by what life after high school holds for them and what your influence in that time will (or should) be. We’re here to help break this down into steps so that you feel empowered and able to be an important influencer in these conversations. A good first step is to talk about if college is the right path for them after high school. Here are five questions that can help you participate in that conversation:

What is college?

Popular culture often showcases a monolith experience of college, but the reality is that there are so many choices. Overall, college is any degree-earning formal education after high school. Depending on the type of college, the experience might be different but the results are the same types of credentials.

What are the types of colleges?

There are more than 4,000 degree-granting post-secondary institutions in the United States. That can feel overwhelming, but there are some key-types of institutions that these can be sorted into. Typically, we would sort institutions by types of credential offered. A community and/or technical college will offer Certificates and Associates (or “a two-year degree”). There are also 4-year institutions that offer Bachelor’s degrees, often in addition to Associate’s degrees. Layered within this, there are also institutions tailored to serve certain demographics of students: Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), or Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs).  The ways we can segment schools can go on and on – based on size, location, funding sources, and more – but starting with type of degree and type of community served can help narrow the conversation in meaningful ways.

What college is needed for your student’s career goals?

If your student searches “degrees needed for [insert job or field of interest]”, the search will likely return a level of education or credential type. Knowing if and what level of education is important for a career field is important as your student embarks on their self-exploration for their future. A Certificate or Associates is typically more narrowly focused on a job or industry. A Bachelor’s allows one to gain specific field knowledge while also building your general education knowledge to help one be well-rounded. Certain professions will also call for an advanced degree like a Master’s or Doctorate, and most often cannot be earned until a Bachelor’s is completed.

What lifestyle does your student want to lead?

This is a big question, but also an important one to think about. Support your student as they envision their adult life. This will help them think about the lifestyle they hope to have and the degree needed to obtain that lifestyle. Your voice in this conversation is valuable because you have  lived experience to share. As a family member or mentor, speak of your own experience making big decisions. What do you value in your own lifestyle? How did you make decisions about it? Even if you wished you did things differently, that is still useful wisdom for your student. 

How does college fit into that lifestyle?

College – the time and money spent there – is a true investment in self and one’s future. College degree holders earn more over a lifetime than those that do not, but life is more than salary. A degree after high school can help advance career, impact lifestyle, and support goals.

There are many pathways to the same end goal, and if college can support your student in that journey, it should be strongly considered. As a family member or mentor to your student, you are poised to share your lived experience as it relates to your after high school journey. Don’t forget! Encourage is here to support you as you support their college and career planning! Encourage your student to download the app!

Supporting Your Student in Finding Their Fit

As your student navigates through the college process, it is important for them to keep match and fit in mind. For the sake of clarity, when we talk about match, we are referring to academic factors. And when we discuss fit, that’s based off non-academic factors. Both build an ecosystem of support and success for a student to not only enroll in college, but also graduate successfully.

Finding fit typically comes after the student has narrowed a college list to include schools that are matches for them. Fit factors include the non-academic pieces that are important to students and their experience in college. Here are some guiding questions that you can use with your student so you can support of process of your student finding their fit:

What do you want from a college experience?

Discuss what is motivating your student to attend college. This conversation will clarify their desires for their college experience. Do they dream of the college experience that media portrays? Do they want a smaller, more personalized experience? Are certain types of divisions of athletics important? There are many ways to cross-sector this, but this should be a fun conversation talking about their dreams of the college experience.

What do you need from a college experience?

Remind your student to think “is this college ready for me?”. Depending on your student, they should seek schools that meet their needs when it comes to academic and non-academic support. Encourage them to reflect on the types of services that may support their success in college. Feel free to engage with college admission offices to understand on-campus offerings.

What type of community are you seeking?

Wants and needs begin to build a picture of the type of college community. You can segment school communities in so many ways for students. This includes schools founded to serve certain demographics of students. For example, HBCUs, TCUs, HSIs, women’s colleges, and religiously affiliated campuses. A student should also consider what they hope for as it relates to the types of students that attend the schools being considered. A college community will ideally surround your student for 2 or 4 years depending on the degree being sought.

What is your financial situation to ensure the college is affordable?

College is an investment, but one worth making in a smart way. It is important for your student to reflect on their financial situation when considering affordability. While you might not know every piece of what a college will offer you, a college’s cost calculator can start to build a picture of affordability for you. Also, insider tip: it is not always true that your final cost at a private school will be more expensive than a public school. So, don’t discount any school type based on what you believe to be true about the affordability. Typically, the lowest tuition rates will be at community and technical colleges. Meanwhile, the highest will be private schools. Remember that the types of financial aid and scholarships offered at these schools vary widely. Do the research so you can make an informed choice!

What is the importance of different factors?

Not every factor that we discussed will have equal weight. Encourage your student to consider what is most-to-least important and understand what is non-negotiable. This can look different for every student, but ultimately will support the student in finalizing a great college application list and making a final selection following admission decisions.

As your student’s family member or mentor, you know your student well and have context to help them in this self-exploration and decision making. Within Encourage, your student can explore key characteristics of college like size, location, and majors and  understand important financial aspects of the experience like the cost of tuition, room and board, and other expenses.