By Lee Binz
Are you approaching the senior year home stretch? The final year of high school includes one main task: complete those college applications. It’s not quite as simple as it sounds – it’s a time-consuming process. College applications take a lot of time to complete and every college has its own process, its own forms, and its own requirements.
The First Day
Start on the very first day of senior year (or even earlier if possible)! Double check the admission deadlines for colleges you’re interested in – some even encourage applications in July or August. Be sure to begin filling out those applications in the summer before senior year if your child is going to be taking dual enrollment classes at community college, as they may not have the time and energy to do so during the year. Some colleges award admission and scholarships on a first-come first-served basis, so being the early bird could pay off.
College applications often mean writing many self-reflective, technically perfect essays. It takes a lot of time to write, edit, get input from others, revise, and rewrite them. The prospect of writing something self-reflective can be difficult or even scary for teens. Ensure there is plenty of time set aside for pre-writing. Put your English curriculum aside for awhile and begin writing college application essays on the first day of senior year. This could count as a unit study on essay writing!
Forms and Deadlines
College application forms can be complex with many strangely worded questions. They usually ask for letters of recommendation and it can be difficult to decide whom to ask to write them. Make sure you give the letter writers plenty of time to put together their letters, and allow time to let the letters arrive at the colleges. Stay organized and be prepared! Those deadlines are firm and inflexible. Plan ahead and spend time on the whole application process. Keep everything organized on a calendar. Mark every detail and deadline on it. Start early so those deadlines don’t sneak up on you.
Make sure those transcripts and course descriptions are completed by fall of senior year! Colleges want high school transcripts submitted by their application deadlines. Make sure your transcript includes classes that will be taken during senior year. If calculus is planned, put calculus on the transcript. Just don’t include a final grade for classes that are not completed yet – indicate that the grade is TBD (to be determined) or IP (in progress).
And the transcript isn’t all you’ll be asked for – make sure you write complete course descriptions for each class. When applying to selective colleges, when your child has a strong preference for a certain college, or if you are relying on scholarships, these course descriptions are particularly important. They can also strengthen any applications. A course description should include a paragraph on what you did, a list of what was used, and details on how you determined grades.
Colleges may also require other records. A reading list, including books read for school and pleasure, may be requested. Samples of work (even in the student’s own handwriting), may be asked for, or an activity and awards list, or a resume. Don’t be surprised if they request a statement from you, the homeschool parent. You may want to write a cover letter for the transcript as well. Colleges can ask for some strange things. Plan ahead so you have the time for all these incidentals.
There are other things you’ll want to make a priority along with completing college applications. If you need to write tests, be sure to register for the first testing opportunity of the year so you get test results early. If SAT or ACT tests were taken and the scores could be improved upon, have your child repeat the tests. If you find subject tests are required, schedule them as well.
If there are any gaps in your child’s education, fill them now. It may be as simple as including a one-semester economics course in senior year. If it’s a big gap, such as missing a whole high school career’s worth of foreign language credits, your child may need to take it in community college, or at least explain it on the applications.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is available to be completed online on January 1st of senior year. The November prior, apply for a FAFSA PIN (Personal Identification Number), which will help speed up the application. The government uses the FAFSA to decide how much money they believe you can afford to pay for college. You’ll have the distinct pleasure of filling it out every year, from senior year of high school through senior year of college. The sooner you fill out the FAFSA the better, because they give out financial aid on a first-come first-served basis and you don’t want to miss out!
After college applications are submitted, there are three waves of scholarships. The first is based on SAT and ACT scores and the GPA. The second is based on the FAFSA. The third is based on other factors such as merit, and may not come in until May of senior year or later. Between March and June, parents are on tenterhooks as they know students are admitted to college, but have no idea if they can afford to pay for it. It can be a stressful time. Continue to keep in touch with admission representatives and try to be patient at this time!
This may be shocking, but teenagers change their minds! One day they will declare they are going to go to college far away, and the next they will say they never want to leave home. Sometimes situations change as well. Be prepared and try to plan ahead. Your senior may resist all the tasks they need to complete during their final year. Seniors are often 18 years old. Adults don’t do what their parents tell them to do sometimes, and sometimes seniors don’t either! Be prepared for your teenager to make adult decisions. But realize that it’s possible they may be paralyzed by fear. Get as many tasks done as possible a year ahead, to make this transition year go more smoothly.
While the best success comes to families who begin the college application process early, “second best” is possible. If you have a senior and have been unaware of the college admission process, success is still possible. Don’t panic! Drop everything and work on those college applications and everything mentioned above, NOW. Pick up the Getting the Big Scholarships and Finding a College online courses for help. When you’ve completed the whole process, you can return to your regularly scheduled homeschool program.
Enjoy homeschooling your child for their final year! It’s a tremendously busy time, filled with wild emotional highs and lows for both the parent and the child. Next year, when they have moved on to the next stage, you will look back longingly on this time of chaos. Stop laughing, it’s true! Just ask friends who’ve already been through it…they’ll tell you!
Copyright © 2014 The HomeScholar LLC, www.TheHomeScholar.com. Text may be reprinted without permission if used in full, except for use in a book or other publication for rent or for sale. Reprint must include this copyright, bio (below), and the original URL link (http://www.thehomescholar.com/senior-year-home-stretch.php).
Lee Binz, The HomeScholar, specializes in helping parents homeschool high school. Get Lee’s FREE 5 part mini-course “The 5 Biggest Mistakes Parents Make Homeschooling High School” and more freebies at www.TheHomeScholar.com.