Originally Sent: 9/3/2014
September 4, 2014
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College Here We Come: The Application Process
As we flip the calendar to September, we encourage you to enjoy the thought of a clean slate. Shake off any encumbrances carried over from last year, and begin the new school year with a willing spirit and a fresh outlook. Your enthusiasm will be contagious, and we pray that your confidence for teaching your teens at home will be strengthened during the coming days.
For those of you with juniors or seniors who are college bound, now is the time to get serious about the college admissions process! However, even the early years of high school can be put to great advantage to prepare for the college application process. Doing a little each year will make for a less stressful senior year when applications will be sent out the door.
The college application process can be daunting, but thinking about the skills your teen will need for college is a good starting point. Teens in 9th or 10th grade can begin investing time in reading. English is wealthy in vocabulary. Shakespeare had a vocabulary of 20,000 words, so challenge your teens to significantly broaden their vocabulary with daily reading of classics and other good books. In addition, it is never too early to participate in extra-curricular activities that will interest colleges. For example, there are many summer camps and organizations that offer leadership training.
Beginning the Process
The college application process begins with understanding your teen’s interests and post-graduation plans. Hopefully, this discussion has been ongoing throughout the high school years. Match those interests with colleges while considering school location and tuition costs. Remember that one teen’s college expenses should not bankrupt the family finances for younger siblings. Start by looking at colleges within a two-to-three-hour drive from home. Then search for more distant colleges that offer majors in which your teen is interested.
Because many teens are uncertain of their major, pick colleges that offer a good selection. This will hopefully eliminate the need to transfer to another college which could waste time, money, and coursework.
Once you winnow potential colleges to a reasonable number, your teens will benefit greatly by visiting some. Surprisingly, the best time to visit is during the academic year because teens can interview current students. Some colleges offer overnight visits and access to classrooms during certain weeks. Check the college website to find out what it offers prospective students and when these activities are available. You may need to contact the college to schedule a visit. Official campus tours are informative, but unofficial walks through the campus and informal interviews with students can be quite helpful. Ask students about their favorite and least favorite aspect about attending that college. Your teen should visit the dean’s office for the major under consideration and also talk to students in the department’s program.
Examining the Contenders
Parents and teens may want to categorize prospective colleges into three groups: safe, possible, and stretch, depending on their admission requirements. If your teen’s high school college prep course load and SAT or ACT scores exceed the minimum admission requirements, then consider the school a safe college, because your teen has a good probability of being accepted. Teens should apply to one or two safe colleges. If your teen’s course load and test scores come much closer to the minimum application requirements, then that college is a possible choice, and teens should consider applying to several possible colleges. If your teen’s course load and test scores exactly match the college’s minimum requirements, then that is a stretch college. Your teen may want to apply to one or two stretch colleges.
Don’t waste precious time and money applying to colleges where your teen has not met the minimum requirements. Prestigious and selective colleges accept less than 25% of the students who apply. Because each college charges an application fee of $25-$80, pick colleges that meet your family’s qualifications for distance from home, cost, majors, campus life, sports, and other factors you deem important.
Presenting your Teen
Not surprisingly, colleges also look for certain traits from prospective students. All heavily consider the high school transcript because this demonstrates whether a student has met or exceeded minimum course requirements. Colleges expect SAT or ACT scores to align with GPAs, and this is particularly important for homeschoolers. A high GPA that doesn’t correspond with similarly high test scores may reflect grade inflation or bias.
Other important components colleges consider are not found on a high school transcript. Colleges actively seek students who have developed leadership, demonstrated initiative, shown responsibility, committed themselves to service, developed special talents, or honed remarkable abilities. These qualities are most easily seen through extra-curricular activities but can also be highlighted in your teens’ college essays. Homeschoolers have a unique opportunity to plan, document, and present unusual extra-curricular activities that will impress colleges and make teens stand out from the crowd.
Deciding the Application Approach
There are usually three ways to apply to a particular college, and each has pros and cons. Submitting an early decision application (usually not later than November 1) means the student is obligated to attend the college if granted acceptance. Therefore, teens should apply for early decision only if they are certain the college is their top choice. Students are usually notified as early as December of their admission status. Consider this method for stretch colleges.
Early action means students submit their applications early and are usually notified of admission decisions by January. However, teens need not commit until the spring deadline. Nothing is binding on either side. This strongly benefits students applying to colleges with rolling applications.
Regular application follows the stated deadlines requiring applications be submitted typically by January, and students receive acceptance or rejection letters in the spring. Early action or regular application deadlines are suitable for both probable and safe colleges. See the College Board website for more details on these application plans.
Gathering the Information
Homeschooling parents have a vital role in the college application process. Prior to teens filling out any applications, parents should complete an official high school transcript that lists all high school level and dual enrollment courses completed. The transcript may include senior year coursework and credits but show an “IP” for “in progress” in the grade column. These will be replaced with final grades at the end of the senior year.
Because your student’s senior year courses are not yet complete if he or she applies to colleges in the fall, remind your teen concerning the importance of junior year course grades for college acceptance. Your teen’s transcript represents his homeschool education, so be sure it looks professional. We recommend that parents write course descriptions for all high school classes. Although not every college requires course descriptions, they provide a good record of the content of courses shown on the transcript. Working on these course descriptions throughout high school will simplify this job. Lastly, parents should help their teens compile an extra-curricular activity sheet that lists their part-time jobs, summer jobs, community service, volunteer work, mission trips, clubs (4-H, Civil Air Patrol, JROTC, etc.), leadership positions, councils (youth group leadership council, etc.), summer camps, awards, and certifications/training.
Completing the Application
Most colleges ask students to apply online. (Some still accept written applications, but you must check with the college.) For online applications, we strongly recommend starting early, saving as you progress, and printing completed forms as backup. Answer all questions to the best of your ability and contact the admissions office if you have questions. Leaving required information unanswered will delay the process. Over 500 colleges accept the Common Application;160 colleges insist on it. Students will find completing the application easier if they have a copy of both their transcript and extra-curricular activities sheet on hand.
Many colleges require letters of recommendation from people who can attest to your teen’s academic abilities. Give the recommender at least a month’s notice to write the letter and enclose a stamped, addressed envelope so the writer can mail the letter directly to the college. The same letter of recommendation can be sent to different colleges, so provide the letter writer with an envelope for each college. Have your teen check the status of the letter with the recommender one week before the deadline to verify that the letter has been sent. Suggest that your teen write a thank-you note to each letter writer. Some colleges accept a letter of recommendation written by a parent, while others prefer letters written by other adults. Check with the college to determine its preferences.
Some colleges require applicants to write one or more essays. It is important for your teen to take this part of the application seriously! A thoughtful, well-written essay reveals your teen’s character and interests.
Once the online application is complete, parents must send official high school transcripts to each college. Remember that all documentation you submit should be professionally presented. Purchase 9-by-12-inch manila envelopes to mail transcripts to colleges. Use your computer to print address labels for the college and return address. Sign and date the transcript, seal the manila envelope, and write your signature over the seal. Mail the transcript by certified mail or request a return receipt. If a college requires more information about your homeschool coursework, then compile an academic summary, which may include a transcript, summary of extra-curricular activities, and course descriptions all spiral bound together.
To help you keep on track during the senior year, we’ve compiled a college application timeline and checklist.
Whew! There’s much to do when making application to college, but an organized approach will simplify the task. HSLDA members may call or email us with any questions you may have as you walk through the application process with your teen. You can do it—and we are here to help.
Join us next month as we provide you with tips for helping your teen analyze literature.
Cheering you and your teens from the sidelines,
Carol Becker and Diane Kummer
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