A Comprehensive Parent’s Guide to Navigating the College Application Process

Your Ultimate 6-Week Application Navigator

Week 1: A Comprehensive Parent’s Guide to Navigating the College Application Process

As a college counselor, I understand the excitement and challenges of the college application process. High school students usually have many questions as they begin to think about their college applications. Below are the most common questions I see.

What do I need to get ready before I apply to college?

Understanding the College Landscape: Before students dive into the application process, they need to explore the different types of colleges available. Encourage them to consider factors like location, size, majors offered, and campus culture to help narrow down their options.

What schools should I apply to?

Building a Strong College List: Assist your student in creating a well-rounded college list that includes schools that admit most of their applicants. I call these institutions the “High Admission Percentage” schools. How many “High Admission,” “Medium Admission,” and “Low Admission” Percentage schools should a student have? That depends on the many factors that matter to your student. However, all of the schools on their balanced college list must be ones they would attend if admitted. In other words, the student should have “fallen in love” with their list of schools because they understand the majors offered, the cost, the social opportunities, and any other factors that are highly important to them.

Do I need to take the SAT or the ACT?

Preparing for Standardized Tests: Standardized tests like the SAT or ACT can play a role in college admissions. While many colleges remain test-optional for admission purposes, they may consider test scores for scholarship purposes, direct entry programs, or honors colleges. Help your student understand the testing requirements and benefits of their schools and guide them through effective test preparation strategies to maximize their performance.

How can I make sure my college application stands out?

Crafting a Compelling Application:

  1. Guide your student in presenting themselves effectively through their application materials.
  2. Encourage them to write a compelling personal statement that highlights their unique experiences, interests, and goals while emphasizing authenticity and showcasing their achievements.
  3. Help them revise their activities and awards list to make sure it is complete and showcases all of their involvement.

Encourage them to start their application early in the summer to prevent any last-minute mistakes.

Do I need letters of recommendation from teachers or can they be from other people?

Gathering Strong Letters of Recommendation: Letters of recommendation provide valuable insights into a student’s character and abilities. Advise your student to choose recommenders who know them well and can speak to their strengths. They should approach teachers early in the application cycle and ask if there is any documentation they need to make the process easier. Also, remind your 12th-grader of proper etiquette; a “Thank You” note is important.

How much is college going to cost?

Navigating Financial Aid: Understanding the financial aid process is crucial for many families. Help your student explore the cost of attendance (including direct and indirect costs), whether merit scholarships are available, how they are awarded, and whether the school only provides need-based aid. Encourage your student to complete the FAFSA and any additional financial aid forms required by their target colleges.

How can I keep track of my college applications?

Managing Deadlines: Staying organized and meeting deadlines is key throughout the application process. Create a timeline with your student, outlining important dates such as test registration, application submission, and financial aid deadlines to ensure they stay on track.


By providing guidance on building a strong college list, preparing for standardized tests, crafting compelling applications, gathering strong letters of recommendation, understanding financial aid options, and managing deadlines, you can help your 12th grader make informed decisions and confidently pursue their higher education goals. Remember, each student’s journey is unique, and personalized guidance is essential for their success. With a straightforward and helpful approach, you can assist families in navigating this exciting time in a student’s life.


“Sylvia is a phenomenal college counselor. She is patient, kind, organized, and extremely knowledgeable about the college application process." - Susie

Recent posts