As a parent, it’s important to be aware of the latest college admissions trends and how they may affect your child’s educational prospects. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, colleges have been scrambling to adjust alongside the rest of the world’s highly-selective institutions. From adopting test-optional admissions policies and issuing longer college waitlists to offering remote and hybrid classes, the college admissions landscape has experienced drastic changes in recent years. 

However, preparing to submit college applications remains largely unaffected. The more competitive colleges have the requirements. In this article, we will discuss the financial realities of sending your child to college, in addition to everyday ways you can encourage and guide your child throughout their high school and college planning struggles.

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Financial planning for college students

It’s no secret that college costs have dramatically increased. Average tuition in the U.S. in 2022-23 is about $22,953 for public out-of-state colleges, $10,423 in-state, and $39,723 for private colleges, up more than 30% from 2010. This does not include the cost of housing, food, and textbooks. 

Engaging in college financial planning early will help ease the process of sending your child to college. There are lots of saving tips, financial aid, and scholarship options for you to consider when you start searching for colleges. In fact, many competitive colleges are willing to meet 100% of demonstrated needs if your child is accepted.

You should start saving as early as possible by putting your money in a college savings plan. Options such as 529 college savings accounts, Coverdell Education Saving Accounts, Roth IRAs, savings bonds, and custodial accounts will allow you to securely set aside money for your child’s education. Each option comes with distinct advantages and there is likely one that will suit your situation best. The most common is a 529 savings plan which is sponsored by state agencies and educational institutions. There are two types of 529 college savings plans: prepaid tuition plans and education savings plans. Most parents choose to open 529 accounts before their child is in high school.

Talking about the financial reality of going to college is an important conversation to have with your child. This is because most high schoolers struggle to grasp the true expense of going to college without having worked to pay living expenses. Be open about what your finances regarding college are and what your experience with paying for education was. Have honest conversations about what you are willing and able to give your child and what expenses would fall on them to cover. If scholarships don’t cover the full cost, do they understand how loans work? If there are significant financial barriers perhaps a two-year college or trade school would be a better fit. 

Even if your family’s finances are tight, college is not necessarily out of reach. However, it should be a reminder that the more competitive they are as a student, the more financial options they will have moving forward. In other words, a student with high standardized test scores and a high GPA will be more likely to receive need-based and merit-based financial aid.

How to help your child prepare for college while in high school

From advice for high school freshmen to advice for high school seniors, there are lots of ways to support your child while they are in high school. In the following sections, we will review key ways to help your child prepare for college and the college application process. So if you have questions about how to plan for college in high school, read on for further insights. 

Extracurricular activities, volunteer hours, and more

It’s important to realize that more colleges are taking on the holistic college admissions approach. This means that college admissions officers review your child’s entire application — beyond just their GPA and SAT or ACT scores. Not only does this help personalize the college admissions process but it also helps the college admissions board select a diverse incoming student body. Extracurricular activities demonstrated interest, and volunteer hours are important college application factors. Encourage your child to start exploring different clubs, organizations, and clubs as early as their freshman year.

Not only will joining clubs and organizations help your child make friends and explore their interests, but it may also help them to start thinking about their future career goals. Knowing how to help your child choose a college major can be difficult. The best way to help guide them is to encourage them to explore different interests and activities through extracurriculars, volunteerism, internships, and job shadowing opportunities.  

College admissions officers like to see a student’s consistency. In other words, it’s okay — good even — for students to drop the activities they did not enjoy and stick to the ones they did throughout all four years of college. Once your child begins honing down on activities, they can begin to take on larger roles. 

For instance, if your child loves volunteering at the animal shelter, encourage them to organize a fundraiser event at their school. Taking initiative and pioneering events for a cause can give them a leg up in the applicant pool, especially if your child is interested in attending an Ivy League college or a top liberal arts college.   

In addition to helping guide your child through high school extracurricular activities, consider what your child could accomplish during the summer. Summer is a great time to volunteer, gain experience, and participate in the kind of extracurricular activities they enjoy. Look into summer programs for high school students or local non-profit organizations whose mission your child appreciates. Summers are also a good time to encourage your child to seek out internships and job shadowing opportunities.  

What parents need to know about the SAT and ACT

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, many colleges and universities have moved toward a test-optional policy. This refers to SAT and ACT scores being considered, only if the student chooses to submit them. However, if your child chooses to not submit their test scores to an institution, it won’t be held against their application or admission.

Standardized testing is a point of stress for a lot of students. As a parent, you can help keep track of SAT and ACT test dates and locations, as well as provide additional resources to help them prepare for the test. There are plenty of SAT tutoring programs to consider. You may also choose to help them design and commit to an SAT study plan and schedule

If your child is struggling with the ACT and SAT even after studying, you may want to explore additional resources available to you. Here at Prepory, we have the resources to help your child succeed, whether that entails knowing the best way to study for the SATs, how to prepare for college interviews, or how to properly research colleges.  

AP, IB, and AICE: What parents need to know about advanced classes

One of the best ways you can help your child stay on track is to be aware of the academic opportunities available to them. Does your child’s high school offer honors, AP, IB, and AICE classes? Learn about what the school offers and how it is weighed in your child’s GPA. Encourage your child to take advanced classes in subjects they have proven to excel in. You want to make sure you’re setting the tone for rigor and challenge. As colleges become increasingly competitive, it’s important to start off on the right foot and be prepared for college-level coursework. 

College admissions officers value students who excel in their classes while taking challenging course loads. That said, it’s important not to overwhelm your child by insisting they take more AP classes than they can reasonably balance. Discuss how many AP classes should your child be taking with your child, as well as your child’s guidance counselor and teachers. 

Consistently check in with your child about their classes. If you feel like your child is struggling, reach out to their teachers to see how you can best assist them. 

Helping your high schooler make a college list & visiting college campuses

Ideally, your child should start thinking about colleges they may want to go to by the end of their sophomore year. That said, making a college list can feel overwhelming, especially since there are currently over 4,000 colleges in the US. 

If your child is struggling to know where to apply to college, help them find a college that is right for them. Talk with your child about the benefits of a liberal arts education, out-of-state opportunities, research universities, specialized universities, state universities, and more. You may also want to discuss the difference between rural, city, and suburban settings. 

You’ll also want to keep an eye out for when your high school hosts a college fair. This is a great event for you to attend with your child. You will meet with college admission officers, and have the opportunity to ask plenty of questions about tuition, financial aid, culture, clubs, dorms, and more.

Visit the colleges on your child’s list during the summer of their sophomore or junior year. Talk with your child about what colleges are top of the list and devise a route to visit them over the summer. Your child will live in or near this campus for 4 years, so it is important for them to see the campus and experience what the culture is like. If finances are an issue, reach out to your child’s school counselor on opportunities for cheap or free college visits. 

College counseling opportunities

The college admissions process is long and complicated. Students often express their feelings of stress, confusion, and being overwhelmed. Motivate your child to stay on track and hold them accountable. One way you can help with this is to encourage your child to build a relationship with their school guidance counselor. 

Depending on your child’s goals for college, you may want to consider hiring a college counselor. A college counselor can help your child present themselves and their high school experiences in the most compelling way possible. As colleges are becoming increasingly competitive, many ambitious students with the financial means will work with college counselors to help them gain admission to their top choice colleges. 

If you are considering hiring a professional, know that there are lots of college counseling services out there. This is why you must know what to look for and what questions to ask before hiring a college counselor. Here at Prepory, not only do we advise high school students with high aspirations, but we also provide expert guidance throughout the entire college application process. 

Key takeaways and moving forward

Preparing for college can be an overwhelming process, for students and parents alike. Especially if your child has high aspirations, with their sights set on attending an Ivy League college or a top liberal arts college. From navigating financial aid to making choices about early action and early decision, the college application process can be incredibly complex. 

Thankfully, there are lots of resources available to help you understand holistic college admissions and what will be expected of students and their families moving forward. If you feel like your child could benefit from professional guidance throughout the college application process, reach out to learn more about our services. Here at Prepory, we have the expertise to help your child reach their full potential, by compiling a compelling and competitive college application.