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College Planning Checklist for Parents

By Ashley Chorpenning · April 07, 2021 · 6 minute read

We’re here to help! First and foremost, SoFi Learn strives to be a beneficial resource to you as you navigate your financial journey. Read more We develop content that covers a variety of financial topics. Sometimes, that content may include information about products, features, or services that SoFi does not provide. We aim to break down complicated concepts, loop you in on the latest trends, and keep you up-to-date on the stuff you can use to help get your money right. Read less

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 post will provide you with a college planning checklist for parents to streamline your child’s transition from grade school to college.

Starting a Savings Plan

Paying for college is expensive. According to The College Board , the cost of a public four-year school in 2009-2010 was $8,420 per year for tuition and fees. Currently, a public four-year school costs $10,440 in tuition and fees. That’s a 123% increase over the last decade, just for tuition and fees.

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 loans 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.

Paying Close Attention to Grades and Curriculum

According to a 2019 report from the National Association for College Admission Counseling , students’ academic achievements, which include grades, strength of curriculum, and admission test scores, constitute the most important factors in the admission decision.

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.

Encouraging Involvement with the Community

According to the same report from the National Association for College Admission Counseling , colleges are seeing more applications than ever. Between the Fall 2017 and Fall 2018 admission cycles, the number of applications from first-time freshmen increased 6%and international student applications increased by 7%.

With the increase of competition, your child must stand out. While the top factors in admission decisions were academics, the next most important factors included a student’s demonstrated interest and extracurricular activities.

That said, encouraging your child to get involved in the community could potentially help them write a solid college application or it may 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 up 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 community. Even better, you could 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©.

Another option is to have your child take an SAT® and ACT® preparation course from Prep Expert. As an ed-tech company, Prep Expert specializes in online SAT® and ACT® test preparation and offers full-length live online courses, prerecorded video courses, private tutoring, and more.

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

According to the University of California’s American Freshman Survey published in 2019, 51.7% of respondents said college visits were highly important in deciding which college to go to.

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.

Investigating Financial Aid Options

Even if you have saved for your child’s education, you may want or need to explore other financial aid 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 opens on October 1 each year and the deadline to complete the form is June 30 of each year.

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, 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) . 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, 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.

Private student loans and parent loans at SoFi have no origination fees, no late fees, and no insufficient fund fees. The application process is entirely online and flexible repayment options are available.

If deciding between schools is still a struggle, try using a resource like Edmit to compare the cost of attendance, estimate financial aid needs, and learn more about merit aid or scholarships available.

SoFi members receive complimentary access to Edmit Plus for data-driven facts and figures to help you and your child decide which school is the right choice.

Learn more about private student loans and parent loans offered by SoFi.



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Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change. SoFi Lending Corp. and its lending products are not endorsed by or directly affiliated with any college or university unless otherwise disclosed.

Third Party Brand Mentions: No brands or products mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.

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