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10 College Planning Tips For Parents From Parents

"Go see the school IRL." Get ready for the SAT and for college for free with Official SAT Practice from the College Board and Khan Academy.

1. Lean into your school's counselor.

"Planning for college was stressing our family out. There is so much to do and so many options out there — where do we even begin? I cannot stress how much talking to the school's counselor helped us. They do this every day and know all the best resources, tips, and tricks. We would have been lost without them."

—Dana

2. See the school IRL.

"My son was having a hard time picking schools for what he wanted to major in, journalism. It wasn't until we started visiting different campuses that his decision became easier. He was able to see the size of the school, know how it felt to walk around campus, and see firsthand what tools and facilities the school had specific to his major. Visiting campuses narrowed our list down from seven schools to two."

—David

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3. Know your deadlines early on and write them somewhere visible.

"Ushering in their senior year and the prospect of college adds a lot of chaos and commitments to your life. The summer before their senior year we did a quick prep talk about what my daughter had in mind for college. Once we had a loose game plan, we got online to see what sort of deadlines we needed to be mindful of: SAT prep and test dates, financial aid application dates, college application dates, college fairs, and more. We put all the important dates on a whiteboard in the kitchen so we never missed a date."

—Terri

4. Make a list of will and won't budges.

"Picking a college is a lot like committing to a serious relationship. A friend of mine suggested creating a list of things you were and were not willing to budge on. Go back and forth until you have a relatively slim list and then start your search from there. This can be a fun conversation with your kid and allow them to plan a bit while also getting excited about all that college has to offer."

—Robert

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5. Remember this is their decision.

"Like most parents, I want the best for my kid, and I want them to have a college experience like mine. Share stories and fond memories about what you loved about college but try not to project your experience onto theirs. This is their decision to make to shape a career they will own. As hard as it was to not be a helicopter parent, letting them fully explore what they want lets them have more ownership and pride in their decision. It's a delicate balance of being involved and overseeing their process vs. taking complete ownership. In the end, giving them complete control made getting that coveted acceptance letter that much sweeter."

—Shanice

6. Manage expectations.

"I love my kid more than life itself, but I'm also realistic about what she can and cannot do. She's no rocket scientist, but she also isn't the dullest pencil in the box. Be realistic upfront about what sort of colleges they can and cannot apply for. When rejection letters come in, you'll want to scream and curse the admissions office — don't. Look at the big picture and understand what may have hurt your chances. Find options that play to the strengths of your child and be realistic about what is possible."

—Elizabeth

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7. This is a stressful time. Find a way to make it fun.

"I am glad to have sent my last kid off to college because it is such a nerve-racking time, but it's even more nerve-racking for them. They are looking at the option of leaving all their friends and family and starting a completely new chapter of their life. Don't lose sight of important deadlines, but also don't treat this like it's a life-or-death decision. Find ways to make it fun. Reward deadlines being [met]. Go out as a family and agree to not discuss anything [related to] college for a night. Don't make this harder than it has to be."

—Bryan

8. Don't be scared to wait a year.

"Rejection letter after rejection letter kept pouring in. My son didn't have the best GPA and his SAT scores were below average. We felt hopeless. After many late nights and long discussions, my son shocked us by suggesting he take a year to work, save money, and study to retake the SAT.

"I can't imagine having thrown him right into college. He just wasn't ready. But he committed to working and studying during that year. I'm so glad he did because colleges that had rejected him the year before offered acceptance letters, and in the end, he made it to exactly where he was supposed to be."

—Meredith

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9. See what financial aid your student qualifies for.

“Don’t be scared of what a college lists on their website as the price. Most students qualify for some financial aid and/or scholarships. There are so many ways to make college more affordable.”

—Adele

10. Reach out to current college kids.

"As cool as I want to think I am, I am completely out of touch with what college is like for kids now. Something I think really helped in our process was setting up time for our daughter to talk to kids that are in college now. We found people in our church for her to talk to, and she went on three different coffee dates. Getting the perspective of current college kids really helped her to hone in on what it was that she was looking for."

—Lloyd

Preparing for college can be stressful. Relieve some stress and get access to free, personalized SAT prep from the College Board and Khan Academy. There are thousands of practice questions, video lessons, practice tests, and more — all for free! Sign up your child today.