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Leaping Into Your Kid's College Applications

There's no question that the college application process can be stressful for many high school students and their parents. After all, it's easy to feel overwhelmed while trying to manage numerous applications, each with varying deadlines and requirements. And if this is your first child preparing to leave the nest, the emotional stakes may seem especially high. So if your child is applying to college, here are some things to keep in mind before you get started.

Application timeline

For students applying under the regular decision process, college applications are generally submitted in the late fall or winter of your child's senior year of high school, with acceptance or rejection letters arriving in the spring. While application timelines vary, many colleges open their application process by the first week of September. In addition, a growing number of colleges offer "rolling" admission, which typically provides notice of acceptance a few weeks after an application is submitted.


"It's a good idea to encourage your child to begin working on the personal essay well in advance of submitting their applications..."


Students can also take advantage of the early application process in which they apply early to a college and find out whether they are accepted before regular applicants. Early application deadlines are usually in October or November. There are two main early application options--early action and early decision. With early action, your child can apply to several schools and has until the normal deadline (typically May 1) to decide which one to attend. With early decision, your child applies to only one college and, if accepted, must commit to attending immediately. Check with each of your target schools' admissions offices for details, since not every college offers early action or early decision.

Application requirements

Each college has its own application requirements. Download documents from each institution's admissions office and organize separate folders for each school your child intends to apply. In general, most colleges use what's called the Common Application, which includes:

  • Your child's high school transcript

  • SAT/ACT scores

  • Biographical and family information

  • List of extracurricular activities, hobbies, and interests

  • Letters of recommendation (from teachers, typically, but sometimes community leaders)

  • The much-dreaded personal essay

  • An application fee

While most application requirements are not open to interpretation, your child does have the chance to stand out with recommendation letters and their personal essay. It's a good idea to encourage your child to begin working on the personal essay well in advance of submitting their applications, soliciting early feedback from you, and his or her teachers or guidance counselor. Recommendation letters and the personal essay really help the admissions team distinguish your child from the large number of other applicants.


"...Teach your child how important advance planning is to reaching their goals..."


Staying organized

One of the most important things you and your child can do during the college application process is to stay organized. You'll want to keep track of the various application deadlines on one centralized calendar that both of you can access. It's also a good idea to create a separate filing system to organize the applications and correspondence for each college. With proper thought and preparation, you can use the college application process as an opportunity to teach your child how important advance planning is to reaching their goals -- a lesson that will not only help them succeed in college, but throughout their lives.

See Disclosures.

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