November is College Application Month: Don’t Lose Focus

While we have all been consumed by the election these last couple of weeks, we cannot forget the importance of this month on our college-bound students’ lives. On October 28th, President Obama released a proclamation to make November College Application Month. Under the Obama administration and through the First Lady’s efforts with the “Reach Higher” initiative and the “Better Make Room” campaign, college success and higher education have been at the forefront of many conversations. Through the development of resources like the College Scorecard, which provides students and families with accessible data on college cost, debt, graduations rates and more for hundreds of colleges nationwide, students and families now have more opportunities to evaluate their college choices using multiple factors. All these projects were developed to inspire more students to pursue a higher education and create an awareness for the numerous educational opportunities available as well as remind students that the most important investment they can make in themselves is earning a college degree.

Because November is the official College Application month, it does not mean that the process to apply ends here. There are multiple parts to the process that must be considered and in an attempt to honor what could be one of President Obama’s last official proclamations focused on education, I have listed the top six things to consider and plan for during the next couple of months.

  1.     Mark your calendar with all your college application deadlines. For students applying to UCs and CSUs, the deadline is November 30th. However, many private and out-of-State institutions have different deadlines varying from December 1st to February, to rolling admissions. Organization will be key.
  2.     FAFSA should be submitted before the end of the month. For the first time, students were able to apply for financial aid beginning October 1st. It is crucial to submit your FAFSA application as soon as possible as the hope behind receiving early applications is for universities to send out acceptance packages and financial aid award letters sooner so that students and their families have more time to review and consider all their options.
  3.     You should be searching for and applying to scholarships already. While working on college essays and the applications themselves can be very time consuming, it is important for students to be working on scholarships during the same time that they are applying to college. Scholarships come and go, but leaving it to the last minute will only create more stress. Do consider recycling essays and adapting them to fit different scholarships to avoid extra work.
  4.     Follow up with next steps with each school. Many times students get excited after submitting their applications and forget that schools will be following up via email with next steps and requests for more information. It is important to follow the steps and create portals for each school to receive updates directly from them, which will often lead to tasks under a digital “To Do List.” Submit official grades, transcripts, and letters of recommendation on time as acceptances can be revoked based off missing documents.
  5.     Organize all your mail and review your options. Over the next few months, students will receive numerous emails and mail and along with these will also be acceptance letters and financial aid packages. If you keep the material organized, it will be to review all options.
  6.     Review and consider all college options while being critical of realistic student debt versus outstanding balances. The average amount of loans I have allowed my students to take out per year is $6,500 (based on experience and multiple trainings around financial aid and loans). It will be important for students to consider Sticker Price vs. Actual Price as many students tend to pay less than what the “sticker price” reads thanks to financial aid. However, this is also important to remember as not all colleges are as generous with aid which can create some misunderstandings between colleges and applicants. Because a sticker price is lower, the actual price will not always be lower than that of a higher sticker price school offering better financial aid.

Applying to college is a rite of passage for many, but that does not mean the process is any less complex, exhausting and time-consuming. The key to a successful application month is to plan ahead and stay organized for the months ahead. Let’s ensure that as our President finishes off the last couple of weeks of his term that he witnesses the positive impact the different initiatives and campaigns his administration has championed in support of college access and success.

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