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College Planning 101: A Parent’s Quick Guide

July 2, 2024 by Chevron Federal Credit Union

Planning for college can be both exciting and daunting for parents. Supporting your children in achieving their dreams is one of the most significant accomplishments you can experience. However, ensuring that every detail is handled correctly, and completed on time, can feel overwhelming.

We get it – so we’ve prepped this easy guide to help you navigate the college planning season with as little stress as possible. 

Research colleges together

Researching colleges together is a vital step in the college selection process. Dedicate time to exploring a wide range of institutions, taking into account factors such as academic programs, campus culture, geographic location, campus size, extracurricular activities, and overall cost. By examining these aspects collaboratively, you can help your child identify schools that align with their interests and goals. Utilize a variety of resources to gather comprehensive information, including online databases, college guides, virtual campus tours, and official school websites.

Create a criteria list

Helping your child create a list of criteria that are important to them in college is a critical step in narrowing down their options. Begin by discussing various factors that will impact their college experience, like:

  • Specific academic programs
  • Campus size 
  • Distance from home
  • Variety of extracurricular opportunities
  • Housing options

Encourage your child to think about what environment they thrive in — whether they prefer a large university with a bustling campus or a smaller college with a tight-knit community. Consider practical aspects as well, such as financial aid availability, internship opportunities, and post-graduation employment rates.

Attend college fairs together

Attending college fairs and information sessions is an excellent way to gain firsthand knowledge. These events bring together representatives from multiple colleges, offering a unique opportunity to interact directly with admissions officers, faculty, and sometimes even current students. By attending these events together, you and your child can ask specific questions about academic programs, campus life, financial aid, and other important aspects of college life.

Apply early for financial aid

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a critical step in the college planning process. FAFSA is the form that determines a student’s eligibility for federal financial aid, including grants, scholarships, work-study, and loans. Completing the FAFSA is essential because many colleges and states also use it to award their own financial aid.

FAFSA applications generally become available sometime between October and December prior to the academic year. It’s important to apply as soon as possible since some aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.

The FAFSA application deadline is usually June 30 after the school year in which students need aid, but be sure to check individual state and university deadlines as they are typically earlier.

Interesting fact: Seniors who complete the FAFSA are 84% more likely to enroll in postsecondary education immediately.

Know your deadlines

Meeting application deadlines is crucial in the college planning process. Missing deadlines can result in lost scholarships and financial aid opportunities, and most importantly, possibly not being admitted. Make a calendar of important dates, including college application deadlines, FAFSA submission dates, and scholarship application due dates.

By applying early for financial aid, researching colleges together, creating a criteria list, attending college fairs, and keeping track of deadlines, you can ensure your child is well-prepared to make informed decisions about their future.

Remember, you’re not alone in this journey — our College Planning Resources are here to provide additional support with tips, calculators, and a comprehensive scholarship database.


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