What are the top college planning concerns for a high school senior?

Seniors in high school need to focus on a number of tasks to wrap up their last year before college. In effect, senior year is the “capstone” of the previous years of work including charting out an academic and extracurricular pathway (freshman year), learning about personality and choosing a career (sophomore year), and building a school list and deadlines calendar (junior year).

That deadlines calendar comes in useful for one of the core planning deliverables for the senior year: gaining admission to a student’s school(s) of choice. This sounds pretty straight forward, but I’ve found many families get overwhelmed by the amount of work involved in this process. Particularly cumbersome is essay brainstorming and creation. Similar to test prep, a family can choose free resources (and a little bit of elbow grease) to aid in this step or hire help through a college consultant or tutoring service.

Another crucial part of the senior year involves applying for financial aid and scholarships. For scholarships, a lot rides on the “big three”: GPA, class rank, and testing scores. In other words, a student must focus on finishing up the testing cycle strong and pulling out the best GPA possible (as class rank flows from this). For financial aid, the family will have to tackle the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (a.k.a the FAFSA) and potentially the CSS Profile. This post will help you get started on the FAFSA.

Finally, families have to prepare to pay for college. This involves creating a plan in conjunction with a financial aid letter. Families typically receive financial aid letters during spring of the senior year. Crucially, the receipt of this important document allows a family to chart out how they will pay for upcoming college expenses. I like to tell families that this is the only time a family will really know what college will cost, including direct and indirect costs. Need help reading a financial aid letter? Check out this post.

What college planning topics should parents focus on during the senior year of high school?

Parents can play a crucial role in helping a student keep on track during the senior year. If a deadlines calendar was created during the junior year, I would encourage parents to put the important deadlines on their own calendar (work or personal). Finally, if the parents haven’t had the “who will pay for college” talk, now is the time. Some families don’t like talking about finances, but it will come out one way or the other. Might as well set expectations while the student is selecting a college rather than at new student orientation (yes, I’ve heard a story of it going down that way).

Looking for more guidance? Download our high school college planning checklist for free.