ParentClick Santa Barbara

Preparing for College – start early & make it a family activity


This has been a year of learning for us as parents… I was out last night with some of my original PEP moms and it seemed like a lifetime ago that we were talking about diaper rashes and pacifiers. We have watched our children grow up together. Last night’s discussion covered everything from the teen party scene, to which driving school our daughters are using, and finally to comparing our research at the college preparation process.

This past summer during our vacation back East, we visited 5 schools with our daughters who just started their junior year (see the list of notes and tips below). At some of the schools, we did an orientation and at others, we did the formal tour and for a few, we just walked through the campuses. The experience was great for all of us (even their 12 year old sister). Our daughters had the opportunity to see how many choices are available to them beyond the ten schools they hear their friends and teammates discussing.  They were also able to get a sense of college life at each campus seeing the differences between the architecture of the buildings, the physical setting of the schools, campus activities, the Greek system and the dorm and apartment set-up. I think it motivated them going into their junior year and gave them a sense of what they are working towards.

As parents, we learned so much in the orientations about how to support them in the process this next two years. It is similar to what we experienced when we were their age however the competitiveness and the emphasis on where they should focus on their college applications has changed. It was exciting to hear how much the classes and programs have evolved on the campuses. There are such amazing opportunities for cross-disciplinary programs, internships and other things that will develop their interests and experience outside just academics in the classroom.

I encourage parents and students starting at the sophomore age to be proactive in this process whether your child plans to go to a four year university, a community college or even if they are planning to take time off when they graduate. We have told our daughters when we are dragging them to the college fairs at their high school, you get to make the decision your senior year and we will support whatever that decision is but prior to that, we want you to be aware of all the choices that are available to you so you can make an informed decision.

There is often repetition in the information we are hearing however each time there is something new that we learn that makes everything we have attended worthwhile. It is a process, but it is actually an exciting one to share with your children. Below are a few things we have learned…



  • Early decision plans are BINDING — a student who is accepted as an ED applicant must attend the college. You can apply to only one early decision college. If the college accepts you and offers you enough financial aid, you must go to that college.
  • Early action plans are NONBINDING — students receive an early response to their application but do not have to commit to the college until the normal reply date of May 1. You can apply to more than one early action college. If you’re accepted, you can say yes right away or wait until spring to decide. You can also decline the offer.

This is not the best avenue to take for everyone so consider the following…  Do you want time to compare admission and financial aid offers from several colleges? Would you benefit from having another semester of high school work to show colleges? If so, you may want to wait to apply.

  • TEACHERS… Start cultivating relationships with teachers… you will want to have a couple teachers you can reach out to for letters of recommendation for both the college application process as well as scholarship applications.
  • COUNSELORS… Meet with your school guidance counselors… they can help you with the process starting your freshman year choosing the appropriate classes, guiding you on which tests to take, as well as schools to research. They are also a resource for the college and can give the admissions officer a better sense of each student and the level of rigor they are capable of.
  • FINANCIAL AID… There is need based and merit based financial aid or the combination of both. There are also scholarships, grants and loans.
  • The financial aid you receive can often be influenced by your grades so the better you do, the more you will receive. Your job in high school is to go to your classes and get the best grades you can.
  • COLLEGE FEES… Tuition, housing, dining, books, supplies, transportation, parking and eating out.
  • RESEARCHING COLLEGES, things to think about…
    Class Sizes —  Areas of Interest (ability to declare your major) — Location — Cost
  • OUT OF STATE TUITION… Out of state tuition is often much more expensive however there are some schools in their recruiting who waive the out of state fees in order to encourage more balance.
    Set up a PROFESSION EMAIL address. (You will be using this for all your communications throughout the admissions process – you do not want your email address to give the wrong impression of you are as a student)
    Take the PSAT
    Apply for scholarships
    Tour college campuses
    Get on the email lists for admissions at these schools.


The essays are how the admissions counselors set you apart after they have defined your ability to succeed academically. How will you impact a classroom in their school? How will you influence or impact your roommate?

Make sure you make the essay about YOU. Even if the essay question asks about who influenced you in your life, the admissions officer want to learn about you so make sure to tie in the question so that the essay is a reflection of who you are. They look at this essay as if it was their personal interview with you.

If you are asked, why do you want to attend this school? Answer this directly and show your commitment in the essay. Show the level of engagement you have had in the process such has having toured the college, or having a special major unique to that school. Connect yourself and your interests with what the school offers.

EXTRA CURRICULAR PROGRAMS… Admissions counselors weigh about fifty percent on your GPA, course rigor and test scores. The other fifty percent is on what you are doing outside of the classroom.  It is not important what you did…  What is important is, why you did it. Don’t just pad your application with a list of accomplishments or a list of places you volunteered. The admissions counselor is more interested in the things that were important to you. They want to see your level of involvement and your follow through to completion. They want to see something that shows your depth of involvement. You can also write about something that has kept you from being involved (ie: lack of transportation to be able to do an internship).

When you are choosing your high school CLASSES, consider that a B in a rigorous course versus an A in college prep will be looked on more favorably.


Spring (Junior Year) & Summer (before Senior Year)

  • Visit colleges! Find out about their financial aid packages and the costs of attending.
  • Start working on College Essays.
  • Volunteer & Intern… find meaningful volunteer opportunities (start your Freshman year).


  • Start working on applications.
  • Start preparing for SAT.
  • Go to financial aid workshops in your community. Find out about application deadlines.
  • Research Scholarship opportunities. Find out about deadlines. The DEADLINE for the Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara is JANUARY 31st.
  • Attend college fairs in your community or at your high school.


  • Contact financial aid offices to find out options available. (Non-federal financial aid:
  • Work on your essay.
  • SAT Testing [PSAT for Juniors]


  • Talk to teachers about sending in letter of recommendation.
  • Apply for scholarships and grants


  • Finish essays and send them in. (Xerox a copy to keep.)
  • SAT testing.
  • Send standardized test scores to your college at or by phone, 800.sat.score.


  • Start filing for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
    Information at: or
  • Send midyear report to colleges that require it.
  • SAT testing.
  • Consider hiring a college guidance counselor to assist you in the process (Juniors).

February & March

  • Look at and for ideas for scholarships.
  • Visit colleges during your Spring Break.


  • Attend admitted students’ weekends at college campuses.
  • Send in acceptance letters to chosen school with your deposit.
  • Decline other offers of admission.
  • SAT & ACT testing (Juniors)


  • AP exams. Send in AP grade report to your college.
  • Fill out housing preference forms.
  • Deadline for notifying colleges of your decision.


  • Send in final high school transcript.
  • Final deadline to submit FAFSA.
  • Look at for info on competing in Division I or II college sports.

July & August

  • Go to to learn more about students at your school.
  • Set-up bank accounts, credit cards, health insurance, cell phones, etc.
  • Choose Fall classes.
  • Look at or for internships and paid positions.

September 25, 2014

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One comment

  1. Patty Palmer says:

    Wow! This is an excellent resource for all parents who are going through the process. Having two kids already in college I know how overwhelming it can be if you place all the timeline responsibility on yourself so make sure your student does most of the heavy lifting! It’ll go a long way in how prepared they are for living and studying on their own.
    I’m going to print out your amazing chart and stick it on my sophomore’s door!