If you are the parent of a high school junior or senior, college may be just around the corner for your student. Planning ahead will make the process easier for you and your child.
The first word you need to know is FAFSA, which stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Whether your child plans to attend a four-year college or a community college, submitting a FAFSA application can provide your child with federal grants, loans and work-study funds to help pay for college.
The FAFSA process can be overwhelming for first-time college students and their parents. Many high school guidance departments and colleges offer classes to help you understand the process.
In Central Virginia, FAFSA help will be available on Feb. 2 during Super Saturday at Central Virginia Community College from 10 a.m. to noon. You can find out more about this program by contacting the college's admissions office. Check with your child's guidance counselor or your local community college to see what help is available for your child.
Have your child look online at various colleges and universities to narrow the selection. The link will take you to a listing of all colleges and universities in Virginia. You can also choose any other state.
Visit each college's website to see the campus, learn more about majors and programs offered. Narrow the list down to the top five. Have your child choose one college where he knows he'll be admitted, one that is his top pick but is at a more difficult acceptance level and three more that he would enjoy.
Make plans to visit the top five in person, if possible. Plan a spring break or summer trip to visit the top schools on your child's list. Have your child contact the admissions office at all of these schools first. Many colleges offer to waive admissions fees when you visit.
Ask your child to write down pros and cons of each college visited. Keep a similar list yourself. Take photos of the campus and dorms so that you will remember the best and worst things about each college. You may think you'll remember, but they all blend together.
If one of the schools you visit feels like the right one for your child, plan for him to attend an open house weekend at the school. The admissions office can provide schedules for these events which will allow your student to learn more about the college.
Some colleges, including Liberty University in Lynchburg, offer college for a weekend programs. These programs allow your child to stay on campus for an entire weekend to really get a feel for the school.
Plan ahead with your college-bound student to find just the right school. Do the financial planning needed and fill out the FAFSA early. The college days will soon be here for your child. Planning ahead will make those days much easier for all of you.