College Planning Checklist for Parents

By Ashley Kilroy · August 03, 2023 · 7 minute read

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College Planning Checklist for Parents

College planning is an exciting time for you and your child. But, as exciting as it may be, there is a lot of preparation involved.

So, whether your child is entering into their freshman year of high school or a few months away from graduation, there is no better time to start planning than the present.

From figuring out your financials to helping your child prepare for admission exams, this college planning checklist for parents can help streamline your child’s transition from high school to college.

Starting a Savings Plan

College can be expensive. According to the Education Data Initiative, the average cost of college in the U.S. is $36,436 per year, including books, supplies, and daily living expenses. Indeed, the cost of going to college has more than doubled over the past two decades.

As prices continue to soar, it’s easy to become worried about how your child will pay for college or that they will have to take out a crushing amount of student debt in order to pay for the college of their dreams.

With this reality top-of-mind, it’s wise to start saving for your child’s college tuition and fees. But, while many parents may have the best intention of helping their children pay for their college expenses, they often fail to prepare.

So, even if your child is just now entering high school, you can still start saving and preparing for college costs. It’s never too late to start setting money aside for your children’s education.


💡 Quick Tip: You can fund your education with a low-rate, no-fee private student loan that covers all school-certified costs.

Paying Close Attention to Grades and Curriculum

Since grades and curriculum are crucial to getting an acceptance letter, you may want to keep close tabs on your student’s grades and study habits. From helping with studying to supporting homework expectations, getting involved with your kid’s coursework may help them perform better in school.

You may also want to encourage them to take Advanced Placement courses. Since AP courses allow you to tackle college-level material while your child is still in high school, your student may get ahead by taking some.

Also, if your student passes the AP exam at the end of the class, they could be rewarded with college credits. Racking up college credits could save you time and money in the future.

For example, if your child takes AP English in high school, they might be able to skip freshman-level English once they get to the college or university of their choice.

There are fees associated with taking AP exams. Fee reductions may be available for qualified applicants.

Recommended: ACT vs. SAT: Which Do Colleges Prefer?

Encouraging Involvement with the Community

College applications were up sharply for fall 2023, according to data collected by the Common App. With the increase in competition, your child will need to stand out. While the top factors in admission decisions tend to be academics, the next most important factors typically include a student’s demonstrated interest and extracurricular activities.

Encouraging your child to get involved in the community could also potentially help them write a solid college application, and even help them decide what they want to do with the rest of their lives.

For example, if your child loves to run, they may want to try out for the track team to round out their classes or volunteer as a track coach for a youth team. Or, if they prefer journalism instead of sports, they may want to try writing for the school newspaper.

Not only will getting involved help with their college application but it will help sharpen their skills. So, don’t be afraid to encourage them to explore their passions and get involved with the school and/or local community. You might even want to get involved with them.

Planning for the SAT and ACT

Another key component to receiving acceptance letters from colleges and universities is having acceptable SAT and ACT scores. Some schools require the Scholastic Aptitude Test known as the SAT, while others may require the American College Testing, known as the ACT. Some schools will accept either one, but it’s a good idea to check the preference of the schools your child will apply to.

To help your child prepare, you can encourage them to sign up for an after-school prep class or practice at home by using online resources such as Khan Academy’s free SAT practice program in partnership with The College Board.

Recommended: How to Help Your Child with SAT Practice

Researching Schools

One of the most important components of college planning for your child is helping them decide which university or college is the right fit. Fortunately, there are plenty of options available to help you find a school that will fit your child’s education and experience needs.

To get started in the decision-making process you may first want to help your child decide what degree they would like to achieve. If they know they want to be an engineer, you may want to focus on schools with good engineering programs.

Even if you may think their degree is too niche, there is often a program that will support it. Whether they want to study astrobiology or comic art, there is often a program for your child. However, if they are unsure of a major, they may want help finding a school with more program options available.

It’s also wise to consider factors such as location and the type of college experience your child wants to have. For example, if they want to go to a school close to home and commute to save money, that desire will limit the search parameters.

Remember, while you may be the voice of reason, the ultimate decision is up to your child — the student. Simply help them evaluate all of the key factors in making an informed decision.

Scheduling College Visits

College visits can be a big help when it comes to finding the right fit. With this in mind, you may want to help your child plan a college visit well in advance of making a decision. The College Board recommends scheduling your visits during your child’s junior year in the spring if you have already researched schools.

For seniors, it may be best to schedule visits in the fall through the winter months. This may help seniors narrow down their options.

Since you want your child to get a feel of the college experience, you’ll want to make sure classes are in session. Therefore, it’s also wise to avoid visits during holidays or break weeks.


💡 Quick Tip: Would-be borrowers will want to understand the different types of student loans that are available: private student loans, federal Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized loans, Direct PLUS loans, and more.

Investigating Financial Aid Options

Even if you have saved for your child’s education, you may want or need to explore other funding options, which could include your child taking on some of the cost.

Completing a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is one of the first recommended steps to applying for student financial aid, whether that is in the form of grants, scholarships, federal loans, or work-study. Filing for the 2024-2025 school year opens in December, 2023 (a delay from the usual October 1) and will continue until June 30, 2024.

It’s recommended to complete the form as soon as possible because there are differing deadlines to be aware of, including for individual colleges as well as federal and state deadlines. The sooner you submit your FAFSA, generally, the better your chances of receiving aid will be.

Colleges and universities will use the information reported on the FAFSA to determine how much aid a student is eligible for. Even if your child has not applied to a school yet, they can list that school on the FAFSA, so encourage them to include their dream school as well as those they consider safety schools.

A Student Aid Report (SAR), which is a summary of information provided on the FAFSA, will be sent within three weeks — sometimes sooner. Corrections to the FAFSA, if needed, can be made after reviewing this report. The SAR contains information about a student’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC) (which will soon be called the Student Aid Index or SAI). It is recommended that the report be kept for your records.

The schools listed on the FAFSA will have access to the information within a few days of when the form is submitted. If your student is approved for financial aid, they will receive financial aid award letters from each school they applied and were accepted to. These letters will include information such as the cost of attendance (COA), EFC/SAI, grants, scholarships, loans, and other financial aid that your child might be eligible for.

Comparing each financial aid award letter can help you and your child determine the financial obligation of attending each school. It is recommended to exhaust all federal aid options before considering a private loan. But if you are looking for supplemental funding for your child’s education, private student loans may be an option.

If you’ve exhausted all federal student aid options, no-fee private student loans from SoFi can help you pay for school. The online application process is easy, and you can see rates and terms in just minutes. Repayment plans are flexible, so you can find an option that works for your financial plan and budget.


Cover up to 100% of school-certified costs including tuition, books, supplies, room and board, and transportation with a private student loan from SoFi.



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