This fall, a record 21.6 million students are enrolled in colleges and universities, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
But the journey towards higher education starts well before stepping onto campus with the application process.
For Naperville North High School senior Sydney Heckes applying to college can be stressful, especially writing an admission essay.
“You constantly want to work on it, rewrite it, make sure every word is perfect but at the same time, you don’t want to obsess over it too much because you still have seven classes to take in school and it’s your senior year, you want to be having a good time,” she said.
The student services center at Naperville North helps students like Heckes have all their ducks in a row when it comes time to submit the application and supplemental materials.
“We want to give kids the best chance possible of getting into the college of their dreams,” said Jeff Farson. “It’s a guessing game sometimes, with 4,000 colleges across the country. We do a lot of calling, a lot of middle-manning for the kids.”
Now a days, what one college needs from applicants will likely differ from that of another, often confusing high school seniors. Some ask students to self-report grades electronically rather than have the high school send transcripts. Some require letters of recommendation, while others do not.
“It’s very good advice for kids to make a list of colleges to which they will apply and find out what are the requirements of each school,” Farson added. “Maybe do a spreadsheet or something like that just to keep them organized.”
It’s also a good idea to get those applications in as early as possible. In fact, more than 4,000 students have already applied to North Central College this year for the fall of 2013.
“It’s going to take the pressure off the students to get those applications in early,” said Martha Stolze, the Assistant Dean of Admission and Financial Aid at North Central College. “That way they’re not worrying about those deadlines, not pulling all-nighters. It really gives them a chance to make sure they’re on track.”
Another reason to get the admission process out of the way early is so families can focus on applying for financial aid.
But Frank Palmasani, author of the upcoming book “Right College, Right Price” suggests taking a different approach before even looking at colleges.
“Rather than going to colleges, looking at college view books or websites, literally potentially falling in love with colleges, what families should do is in a very systematic way, is first determine what they can actually pay for college,” said Palmasani. “Then determine the colleges that match that in terms of their net price.”
He cofounded www.collegecountdown.com where parents can do just that. Using a “College Affordability Calculator” they can determine the amount families can realistically afford for college, considering income, assets, expenses, and student grant money.
Experts also suggest filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid – or FASFA form, which is available the first of the year. Many institutions use the form to determine a student’s eligibility for financial aid.
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