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How To Apply to College Without (Mostly) Losing Your Mind: Part 1 – Getting Started

I’ve had two kids apply to college now and I will tell the truth, it’s not pretty.  It’s stressful for both students and parents alike.  But my kids survied and so did I.  And so will you with a little help from me. Parents: college admission is different from when you applied yourself.  Get ready  for a wild ride because the times, they have a-changed since the olden days.  Colleges are more competitive and the process is more complicated.  If you are a high school student or the parent of a high school student, this information about how to apply to college is for you.

How To Apply To College Part 1 – Getting Started

Students: talk to your high school alums.  Parents: talk to veteran parents at your child’s high school.  They will give you the low-down on how the high school is involved with the college application process.  Some schools are great support for the students and some schools are not.  This information will let you know if and how you need to fill in the gaps.

Sometimes, depending on the size of your high school, there may not be enough counselors to give you the attention that you deserve.   And sometimes this process proves too stressful for the parent/child relationship and an objective third party is needed for the sanity of the household.

Have a dedicated email address for college correspondence.   Students, you should use the same email address for all college correspondence and check it regularly.  This will be the main way that colleges will communicate.   And I have a surprise for you parents: the colleges will communicate with your child – not you.  Decide now as a family how communication will be shared between parents and student.

Prepare for the SAT or ACT. Parents: enroll your child in prep classes or hire a private tutor.  Students: respect this expense that your parents are paying for and really work during your tutoring sessions.   Personally I think a private tutor is worth the expense because they can tailor the sessions for the student’s weaknesses.   If you can afford it; this is the best option.  I knew my son was a good test-taker and would likely do very well; I just wanted someone to make him even stronger.

The tutor will have the student take a mock test to determine the areas where they are strong and where they need help.   Although my son only needed 5 sessions, my daughter needed tutoring for several weeks.  It’s an investment in time for the student and an investment in money for the parents, but it’s worth it.  Budget and plan for test preparation.  If a private tutor is not an option, there are many free classes online or at your local library or community center. However you study, it’s important to start early and make it a priority.

Take the SAT or ACT the junior year of high school.  Do NOT wait until senior year to take the test for the first time!   Most students take the test more than once because many schools will factor scores from different tests into their admission decision.  Often times a student will  perform better a second time simply because they are now familiar with the test. As it turned out, my son’s first test score was so high that he did not need to take the test again, but at least he had that option.

Most schools accept either the SAT or ACT and competitive schools may require 1-2 SAT subject tests.  It’s best to take the subject tests right after the student finishes that class in high school, so be familiar with the different tests and dates on Update: Standardized tests for admission are constantly changing, so check college websites for the latest information.  My hope is that one day testing will be eliminated altogether.

Research any colleges of interest.  Students: you can do this during mindless downtime, like watching TV.  Parents: this is a concrete way for you to help your student while they are working on applications and essays.  A good place to start is the official college website, but also look on independent student-rated websites and social media.  It’s never too early to start research, but you will want to update information like the cost of tuition because that information changes yearly.

Create systems to stay organized.  There will be so much information gathered in these months that if you don’t stay organized you will be overwhelmed. I created shareable spreadsheets so that everyone in my family could contribute and edit the information as needed.  You can do the same or you can download the printable PDF worksheets below ☟.   It’s everything you need to stay organized and on task and it’s FREE.

Thankfully as colleges communicate more and more through email, the postal mail has become less.  But still there will be brochures and pamphlets gathered at college fairs and on tours; create a dedicated place for them in your home.

Start the research of scholarships early.  We dropped the ball on this one.  By the time my son had applied to several schools, along with music auditions, he was fried and absolutely did not have any brain power left for scholarship essays.   He should have done this in his sophomore or junior year.  There are many books on the market to help your search as well as independent consultants to do the initial legwork work for you.

I know your head is spinning; there is just so much information!  Take a deep breath. It’s okay; I’m here to help.   In the next blog post I will discuss college visits.

 *The college landscape is always changing, but the over-all sentiment remains the same: applying to college is stressful. I hope that I made it less so.

Everything you need to know about how to apply to college (part 1). - Sherrelle

Storyteller. Travel junkie. Extroverted introvert. Very, very clever. Find me at .


  • […] in a three part series for high school students and parents.  If you missed it before, please read Part 1 – Getting Started  and Part 2 – College Visits. […]

  • *sigh* my baby girl was just born yesterday…and now she’s in 7th grade!!! We’ve been talking about college for a year or so now. I’ve already taken her on tours of Tuskegee, Spelman, Morris College (in South Carolina) and Voorhees College where she got a chance to interview the president of the school.. We’re gearing up to take the PSAT- just to give her some early practice.

    These tips are sooo very helpful. Thanks a bunch.

    • Krystal the fact that you are even thinking about it means that you are way ahead of the game!

  • […] a blog post celebrating my sorority’s 100th anniversary.  It also fits right in with the How To Apply To College series that I am posting right now.  Some of my fondest memories were made in […]


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