How Students and Parents Can Prepare for College Applications

Lay the groundwork for college applications by preparing throughout high school.

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College entrance exam scores show most students aren’t prepared for college.
College entrance exam scores show most students aren’t prepared for college.

The early days of the college search can be very exciting, and all options are still on the table. When it's time to start completing college applications, however, the process can suddenly become very real.

A student can lay the groundwork for a smooth application process by keeping college applications in mind as he or she moves through high school.


No matter how much they partner with their child, parents are often sidelined when it comes time to complete college applications. That is something that the student needs to (and should) complete on his or her own.

But there are a few areas that can be of help to your student before the time comes to sit down at the computer and get the applications done. Here are some areas where parents can coach their students to success early in their high school careers.

1. Build a résumé: Encourage your student to make a note of every activity, experience, honor, or award that comes his or her way in high school. That running tally will come in handy when it's time to complete a résumé to submit as part of the college application.

It can be hard to go back and complete that list after the fact. It will require much more effort and some things might be forgotten. Keeping a list (no matter how basic) as he or she goes along is a much easier approach.

2. Brainstorm college essays: Many scholarship applications and some college admissions applications require an essay. It's often the case that the student is asked to reflect on an experience they had during the high school years.

Go over some potential essay topics before senior year so your child can be thinking like an admissions essay writer long before the time arrives to put pen to paper.

[Get more tips on writing college essays.]


Sitting down and completing college applications can be a daunting process. It can feel glamorous to simply visit colleges and hear about all the great opportunities, but actually completing a slew of applications can be a not-so-fun part of the process.

Completing college applications should be the culmination of many months of work, rather than an overwhelming one-time process. Here's how you can spread the college application process out in order to make it more manageable.

1. Make a calendar: The most important thing to remember about college applications is the deadline for each. Each college may even have more than one deadline: for early acceptance, early admittance, regular admittance, and so on.

Make a detailed calendar (or add the dates to the planner you already keep) in order to organize it all. Or, better yet, make a timeline for when you will complete each step of the application process, to avoid rushing through an entire application the night before it's due.

2. Befriend your counselor: If your school has a college counselor, take advantage of that person as a resource for the college application process. Ask if your school has any databases or literature that could be of use.

[Ask your counselor these four questions.]

Your college counselor can also put you in touch with former students who applied to and attend the schools you're considering. Those contacts can give you advice about what to aim for and what to avoid for each school's application.