“If college is supposed to prepare young people for the real world, the college admission process is quickly becoming a precursor to the rat-race of adulthood.”  Nathan Bierma.

This the first of a two-installment commentary about the college entrance gantlet.  This week we’ll focus in what parents and high school students need to do in preparation for college.  Next week we’ll look into how to go about choosing the “right” college or university.

The following has been abstracted from Education Today, conversations with past presidents of the National Association of College Admissions Counselors and other college admissions officers.

Freshman year of high school:  A student is far too young to begin fretting about college, but it’s not too soon to begin identifying talents, interests, strengths and weaknesses.  Parents and students need to be aware that college admissions officers like to see four years of English, Math, History, Foreign Languages and Science; if these happen to be honors classes that’s all the better.  They also look for extracurricular activities.

Parents at this stage should start a scrapbook of accomplishments in academic, athletic and social fields.  Parents should inquire into college core courses and create a summer reading list.

Sophomore year:  students should continue to focus on core courses (we called them college prep) and participate in school clubs, athletic programs, and engage in community events.  Parents need to maintain the achievement scrapbook.  Begin looking into various financial aid plans and check out college pamphlets and websites.  Explore summer school programs and update the summer reading list.

Junior year:  Parents must keep in mind that young people will focus on college when they are ready, and it’s unfair to overburden them at this time.  However, both parents and students should keep in mind that within a year and a half, the entire selection, application, financial aid, and acceptance process will be complete.

November—February; begin the college search; attend college fairs, collect catalogs, check out the college Websites, begin looking at the options in a serious manner.  Book visits to college campuses, and treat your visit like a job interview—it is!  Ask your guidance counselor to help you to prepare a list of questions.  Ask your parents to accompany you if at all possible.

Students and parents must be aware of schedules for the SAT and ACT tests.  (Also, beginning in 2005, the SAT and ACT will require a written component, once again emphasizing the need for four years of English.)  The test schedule is usually between March and June.  However, the tests are curriculum based so it may be in the student’s best interest to take them closer to the end of the term.

March—June: meet with your counselor, review senior classes that indicate college preparation, visit colleges during spring break if at all possible and certainly during the summer.  You’ll need an ‘activities list’ by senior year so parents should dust off the student’s high school scrapbook and students should begin preparing the activities list now.  Find a real job or attend summer school.  Update the summer reading list.

Senior Year: Reality-check and avoid senioritis!

September—continue meeting with your counselor and attending college fairs.  Begin gathering scholarship and financial information.

October—is the best time to retake the SAT or ACT, check websites that offer advice on test taking.  (A quick word of caution; while the SAT can be taken more than once, all previous scores are now released to prospective colleges, students no longer have the option of using only their best score.)  Begin work on your essays, winnow your list of schools to between three and eight.  Ascertain your high school’s application timeline and begin requesting letters of recommendation from teachers, coaches and counselors.

November—Avoid procrastination in mailing out applications.  By all means they should be posted prior to Christmas break.  Fine tune your essays and seek help if necessary.

December—January—FASFA forms (student financial aid) can be found on-line.  Parents should complete their income returns as quickly as possible because much of the information on the parents’ tax return is required on the FASFA forms.  Seek assistance from guidance counselors in filling these out properly.

January—April: complete the FASFA and other financial aid forms.  Priority is given to financial aid forms received by March 15th.  Ensure your school has sent your transcripts and recommendations.  Really avoid senioritis, don’t freak out waiting to be accepted to a college, and continue looking for scholarships.  Review the financial aid packages and revisit your primary choices.

Note, as soon as the student is accepted to a college, it’s wise to send in housing deposits whether in January or May.  However, housing deposits are not always refundable, but better to lose a $50 deposit than lose out on a room in the dorm.  Housing is usually first come first serve, so don’t procrastinate.  Decide on your college by May 1st.

June & July:  Get a real job or internship and enjoy the summer!

August:  Make a list of items necessary for the dorm.  Ask if the dorms have refrigerators, microwaves, how is laundry handled.  Are cell phones essential?  Unfortunately, laptops seem to “grow legs” during freshman year in the dorm, so a PC may be a better choice.  Talk to other students who have just completed their freshman year.

Parents:  After you shed a few tears, pour yourself a tall one and breathe a hearty sigh of relief.