Tag Archives: Common Application

Common App problems: she got it done [but it wasn’t easy]

Allow me to lead with the best part of this story:  Mod Squad Julie successfully submitted one early college application around midnight, October 26.

Getting ready to submit. The past couple of weeks had been stressful–Julie tried to complete final edits of multiple essays and short answer prompts, working around all the other stuff going on in her life. Around the 19th or 20th she thought she had completed all the writing. We spent part of a Sunday afternoon reading the app, page by page. Julie double-checked everything.

Just after she breathed a sigh of relief that the main part of the application was done, Julie ran into one more short answer prompt on the writing supplement, one that she had either missed or forgotten. We reacted like mother, like daughter: !%#&*@!

The Fusco Brothers by J. C. Duffy, via gocomics.com

The Fusco Brothers by J. C. Duffy, via gocomics.com

The prompt offered a great question, providing her an opportunity to write about another aspect of herself and her interests that hadn’t been covered elsewhere. But the timing was lousy.

While another few days flew by, drafting and editing that final one hundred and fifty word essay crawled. Nothing like thinking you’re done and finding out you aren’t.

Getting the app to work. By Saturday, the final essay was done–and Julie had re-checked the college requirements to avoid any new, nasty surprises. After a full day of gym workout, homework, soccer game, and work, she was ready to get this thing one.

The only part left:  copying and pasting the essays into the application interface.

We had both read a number of articles about the problems with this part and how to deal with them. And guess what:  it still was completely stupid and problematic.

We read this, by Nancy Griesemar, including:

Any formatting (italics, bold, underline only) should be done on the document and not in the box. Once you are satisfied with the document, then copy-and-paste it directly into the box. Don’t touch the box. Yes, it may look funny and a warning may appear. Simply hit continue and work toward producing a Print Preview.

And it didn’t work. The main common app essay, around 550 words, showed up on-screen and in the printed preview in one very long paragraph with no edits, no line breaks.

We read this, by Rebecca Joseph, including:

4. She copied it from TextEdit into the Common Application.

5. She fixed spacing issues but made no text or formatting changes.

6. When she went to the Preview page, it was double spaced between paragraphs as she wanted.

It that didn’t work, you unintentionally made a change in TextEdit. Go back and follow these steps again.

And it didn’t work. Oh, yes, Julie went back and followed those steps again. And again. She restarted the computer, she cleared the cache, she tried it on another computer.

Did I mention that, as much as I love Julie and wanted her to get this thing done, what I really wanted to be doing at 11 pm on that Saturday night was watching the World Series? In which my two favorite teams were battling it out?

And somewhere along then we read this by Zach Schonfeld, including:

Relax: if your application glitch is the fault of a Common Application error and not your own procrastinatory negligence, the office of admissions will almost certainly understand. They’ve dealt with this before, and you are clearly not the only one facing these hurdles. Just have your guidance counselor write a polite letter or email.

You don’t need to apply anywhere for Early Decision. In fact, for financial aid reasons, many (smart, successful) students don’t.

Safety schools are your friend. Find several you could actually see yourself attending.

If you are a parent, step away from the laptop. Let your student do the heavy lifting—they’re going to college, not you.

Oh, yes, that’s helpful. Effectively: “Chillax, dude! No big deal!”

Fortunately, when I was ready to give up and suggest submitting a 550-word block paragraph, Julie kept plugging away. What worked:  using Safari instead of Foxfire. The formatting provided in TextEdit didn’t show up on the screen, but it did show up in the print preview. Done.

Huge disclaimer: if you are reading this because you are having trouble with the Common App, I can only offer sympathy. Try the suggestions offered by Nancy Greisemar in the link cited above and here. Try restarting, clearing your cache, using a different computer, using a different browser. Keep trying.

"We've successfully processed your application payment." NOT your application.

“We’ve successfully processed your application payment.” NOT your application.

Not done yet. The actual submission requires a number of steps. The first, not surprisingly, is the credit card payment, which requires a second step to submit a signature (by typing your name into a window). [Note that it may take up to 24 hours for the signature request to appear. Meanwhile, the application is not yet submitted.] The third step: submit the Common Application. The fourth:  submit the college’s supplement.

When do you know you’re done? I would say when you receive an email from the college acknowledging receipt. Oh, and save that email, since that’s where the college explains the procedure for finding out their decision.

I wish it were easier. I wish it were less stressful, since every other part of applying to college is already stressful enough.

Good luck.


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What we talk about when we talk about college: an early decision.

“Do we talk about anything other than college these days?”

Our daughter, Mod Squad Julie, asked me that over dinner last weekend, before adding, “It’s okay, that’s about all I’m thinking about anyway.”

Alarm Clock

Is it too early?

Early in the morning, two days before that dinner, Julie and I set out on one more college visit. I cannot say that will be our last campus visit, but it is the last we will undertake before she submits her first application.

Julie wanted to revisit this campus with a number of questions in mind:

  • Could she see herself there as a student?
  • Did she feel comfortable in the neighborhoods surrounding the campus?
  • Where do first year students live?
  • How close is that to the center of campus?
  • Does she like the dorms?
  • What does the student body look like, in terms of diversity, dress, attitude?
  • How studious are they? Or, do they seem to be?
  • How does that fit with what she is looking for?
  • Was this college still her first choice?
  • Does she still love it enough to apply Early Decision?

My task was straightforward:  help her find the answers to her questions.

Our job as parents isn’t to make this decision for her.  But we want to help make sure she has asked enough questions of the school and of her own reactions to the school so that she can make an informed decision. That’s not to say we don’t have any input, but our input on the decision was provided long ago when we three–parents and daughter–discussed the characteristics of her list of colleges and what made the most sense to all of us. We’ve agreed on the short list; this is about the shortest list, a list of one.

“Do you like it? What do you think? Look what I see when I step out of the dorm!”

Campus tours weren’t offered during Julie’s initial visit due to our timing–we visited immediately before commencement weekend. We had listened to the admissions information session, Julie met with a department chair, and then a 2013 graduate showed us around another department’s facilities. There was more than enough to snare Julie’s interest. Now, five months later–a long time in the life of a teenager–was she still that interested?

This visit, we walked the neighborhood in all directions, located the first year dorms, peeked into the dining hall, sat in on a class, and took the official tour.

“I’m looking for where I could hang out on my own. If I need space, where would I go?”

Is it too early to decide?  Last year, I offered a nephew three reasons to apply early:

  1. Gain a huge sense of accomplishment by seeing one application through to the end,
  2. Get the Common App interface figured out by seeing one application through to the end, and
  3. Receive an early response.

This year’s Common App, with its numerous glitches for both students and colleges, could make the application completion feel even sweeter. But there are a few other considerations for applying early:  Do the student’s grades and accomplishments through junior year support a strong application? Is the student’s SAT or ACT testing complete? Does the student have time to complete applications by, well, right about now?

Many colleges offer either Early Action or Early Decision, not both. Early Decision adds more heft to the question, since that application requires the student, parent, and guidance counselor to commit that, if offered admission, the student will accept, and there are significant financial aid considerations. Since Julie’s college of choice only offers Early Decision, her follow-up questions boil down to:  Am I ready to commit now?

A couple of  years ago Julie loved a different college and talking of applying there Early Decision, but her interest stemmed mainly from attending a musical theatre camp there in seventh grade.

This time is different. Almost every aspect of this school offers a strong connection to her interests. While still on campus during the first visit she drafted a list of why she wanted to attend. Julie’s visit last week confirmed and strengthened her choice. The academics, the campus, advising, class sizes, location, challenge:  they are what she wants.

Now we walk a fine line together, of loving a college yet trying not to love it too much, because no matter how strong the student, how compelling the application, there are no guarantees. While she awaits the outcome, I’ll try to help her stay away from College Confidential, and I’ll try to stop myself from reminding her she’ll thrive wherever she ends up.

This post appeared in slightly different form on True Admissions, the blog of College Admission: From Application To Acceptance.

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Got Common App problems? Here’s what we’re trying.

Everyone needs help with this year's Common App.

Everyone needs help with this year’s Common App.

Not long after this year’s Common App launched — a new version for the 2013-14 application season and a completely new version of the interface, aka Common App 4 — I offered 3 quick tips for completing the Common App, including this:

Find help before you get too frustrated.

Unfortunately, the new Common App has proven itself beyond the help of its own staff, causing multiple problems for applicants and colleges alike. As the New York Times reported October 13, Online Application Woes Make Students Anxious and Put Colleges Behind Schedule:

Problems became evident as soon as the application was released in August, including some confusing wording that was later changed. Students who thought they had finished the application found that it was incomplete because questions had been added after its release. As changes were made, some who had started their applications early found themselves locked out of the system.

A function that allows students to preview applications and print them sometimes just shows blank pages — a problem that may be linked to which Web browsers they use. And, as Ms. Geiger discovered, the system often does not properly format essays that are copied and pasted from another program, like Microsoft Word.

The earliest Early Action and Early Decision deadlines of October 15 caused the entire Common App system to close down for several hours on October 14. For more on that, and examples of college reactions, see Lynn O’Shaughnessy’s Common Application Pandemonium:

You know the Common App’s malfunctioning system is in trouble, when a top administrator at Cornell University in an interview in The New York Times, publicly made this observation about the system: “It’s been a nightmare. I’ve been a supporter of the Common App, but in this case, they’ve really fallen down.” (Admission folks are usually quite circumspect when they are being quoted.)

What’s a high school senior, planning to apply early, to do?

1. Start with how it SHOULD work.  Robin Mamlet and Christine VanDeVelde have provided a Common App 4 update to their step by step guide in College Admission. Download here their twenty page supplement; it offers clear instructions on how the new Common App is supposed to work. They explain the intuitive interface (if the student indicates parents are divorced, a second contact form appears), the green check marks and red asterisks (checks indicate what has been completed; asterisks indicate what is required), the mysteries involved with Print Preview, and much more. Do not miss the to-do list on page 17.

2.  Double-check your college’s website.  Beloit is accepting paper copies. Princeton is accepting the competition, the Universal College Application. Many colleges have extended their deadlines. Do not accept my word for it, nor that of a newspaper article. Go directly to the admissions page of each college on your list and check their deadlines and any other possible changes.

3.  Learn the known problems.  Nancy Griesemer, a Virginia college counselor, has written 8 Tips for Improving the Common Application Experience. Every high school family would be well-advised to read this before trying to submit. Here are the tips,  important details can be found via the article link:

  1. Avoid traffic jams (the 24 hours immediately preceding major due dates)
  2. Conform to system requirements
  3. Don’t touch the text boxes
  4. Invite your recommenders
  5. Carefully review Print Preview
  6. Do not pay twice
  7. Sign your application
  8. Don’t forget the Writing Supplement

Nothing has been submitted from our household yet. While I would have preferred that Mod Squad Julie was done with early applications, I cannot argue with taking time to make sure all the details are included and all the essays are fine-tuned. She also needs to read this post before we hand over the credit card. Good luck to all of the seniors (and their parents)!

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3 Quick Tips for Completing the Common App (including this most important one: take it slowly).

Oct. 20 UPDATE:  The 2013-14 Common App has proven to be buggy and unpredictable. See Got Common App problems? Here’s what we’re trying.

Spring training is over. On August 1st, opening day for the 2013 application season, the new Common App went live.

Opening Day, Fenway Park

Opening Day at our favorite baseball park.

I agree with the independent college counselors who advise early submission: “Apply well before the deadline when everyone is still fresh, eager, and focused.”

However, there’s no need to rush (yet) and many arguments against it. Here’s what UVa’s admission blogger (aka UVaDeanJ), wrote last year when the App went live:

It’s too early to submit an application.
Every year, there’s some eager student who submits their application soon after the Common App launch. While I think it’s fine to poke around the Common App website and fill out the forms, I don’t think you should submit anything right now.
Fill out the forms. If you’re one of those students who worked on essays over the summer, that’s great. Put those essays away for a few weeks and look at them with fresh eyes just a little bit closer to the deadline. You may find that a little distance will help with the editing process.

The promised tips:

1.  Do your homework before you begin.

Update and complete your resume first. Take some time to update and organize your scholastic, extracurricular, and work details into a document on your own computer. You can work in a format that’s familiar to you (Word, Google doc or Pages), help ensure you don’t forget aspects you’d like to include, and build a worksheet of data for the Common App interface. Plus, you may want to upload the resume as part of the application. [N.B. You can only attach a resume if a specific school asks for it.]

2.  Start now and take your time.

Create an account, complete some easy stuff in the Profile section (personal information, address, contact details, etc.), sign out, and walk away. There. You’ve begun. Later today or tomorrow tackle a few more sections. Moving around between different sections will make the interface more familiar–and somewhat easier–each time you work on the app. [N.B. While I prefer printing out the blank form and working through a draft on paper, you can’t do that with the Common App; you can only print a pdf preview of the completed app right before submission.]

3.  Find help before you get too frustrated.

The far right column shows help topics related to each section you have open. Bookmark the Application Help Center; its “Knowledgebase” section provides an index of topics, including what the green check marks mean:

Common App help

Who knew?

If you use Twitter, follow @CommonApp. Like the Common App Facebook page. The application process offers endless opportunities for confusion and frustration, most of which are amplified the closer we get to deadlines. The Common App tries to help by providing these resources. Explore them.

Now, just a minute:  Before anyone thinks we’ve totally got it figured out here at StrangeCollege command center (aka my desk), let me clear up that confusion as well. Yesterday I urged Mod Squad Julie to create a Common App account (not yet done), print out a blank form (can’t be done), update her resume (in the works), enter some basic profile info (not yet done), and save the app for future updates (cannot be done; the interface automatically saves if you use it correctly).

Clearly, there is work to be done. Yet it’s hard for me to tease Julie about it, since she’s a mile or so ahead of where M.S. Pete was at this stage of the game two years ago. As he put it the other day, “I’m retroactively jealous of how far along you already are.”

Good luck working your way through the App!

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How to write college essays: Help from Essay Hell and 7 other treasures.

Chromatic typewriter by Tyree Callahan.

Chromatic typewriter by Tyree Callahan.

So. We’re way past the summer midpoint. The calendar, reminders, counselors, and parents are all saying, “write your essays!” What’s the high school senior to do?

At the risk of providing another route to procrastination, here’s help:

1.  Check out Essay Hell. As an example, read How Will They Dub You? Your essay can make you memorable, or you can be one more kid who tore her ACL playing soccer. (Hat tip: College Solution)

One student wrote about how he loved tying knots, but got stuck in a tree when one of his knots tightened on him. “How about that kid who got stuck in the tree?”

2.  Read Alan Gelb’s book, Conquering the College Admissions Essay in 10 Steps. Here’s why.

3.  After spending years writing essays according to the five paragraph standard–thesis, three paragraphs of support, conclusion–many students find it tough to switch to writing about themselves. Ask yourself some of these questions, via College Admission’s The Real Topic of Your Essay is You:

  • What would I say about myself if I had to omit any mention of my extracurricular activities?
  • If I, like Tom Sawyer, had a chance to eavesdrop at my own funeral, what would people say about me?

4.  I’m sure you’ve already taken a look at the new Common App prompts, right?

5.  And you’ve looked at the supplementary essay questions from colleges on your short list? Here are this year’s prompts from UVa (our local public university). Find others via each college’s admissions site.

6.  See tips from Allen Grove for the new Common App questions.

Note the key word here: evaluate. You aren’t just describing something; the best essays will explore the complexity of the issue.

7. Or, read Irena Smith’s post for College Admission, Writing the Essay: Pushing the Right Brick for Diagon Alley, for help on how to “Stand out by being you.”

Do some data gathering: see if your friends can finish the sentence “I have this friend who…” I guarantee you they will not say things like “has strong leadership skills.” They may, however, come up with stuff like “talks nonstop,” “drives like a maniac,” “tells the most annoying jokes during cross country practice,” “is freakishly good at Words with Friends,” or “eats like a defensive lineman.” Those are all fantastic jumping off points. Use them.

8.  Step back into Essay Hell for How to Find Your Defining Qualities. “I know it always helps to have a list to get you started.”

Able, Accepting, Accurate, Achieving, Adaptable, Adorable, Adventurous, Affectionate, Alert, Alive, Altruistic, Amazing, Ambitious, Analytical, Appreciative, Appealing, Artistic, Assertive, Astonishing, Attentive, Attractive, Authentic, Aware, Awesome, Balanced, Beautiful, Blissful, Blooming, Bold, Bountiful, Brave, Breath-Taking, Bright, Calm, Capable, Careful, Carefree, Caring, Cautious, Centered, Certain, Charitable, Charming, Cheeky, Cheerful, Chirpy, Civic-Minded, Clean, Colorful, Competetive, Clear-Thinking, Communicative, Compassionate, Compatible, Competitive, Complete, Confident, Conscientious, Considerate, Conservative, Consistent, Content, Co-operative, Courageous, Conscientious, Courteous, Creative, Cuddly, Curious, Cultural, Cute…

Yes. It goes on from there.

9.  Here’s an important point from Collegewise in, Is this experience your best story?” Topics discussed in your college essays should always share new information that a college can’t learn from the application alone.”

10.  College advisor Alice Kleeman offers specific help in Advice for Students on Topics for the New Common App Essays, writing for College Admission, with academic, extracurricular, and personal questions related to each prompt.

Are you resisting the pressure in your community to do it all—and do it all perfectly—and instead are seeking balance in your life?

Were you ever told by a coach or activity director that you would not be successful in a particular activity, yet you chose to pursue it?

Has your ethnic background led you to participate deeply and fully in the dance, spiritual, or culinary traditions of your culture?

Enough of this already. Go write.

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No more “Topic of Choice” in Common App essay prompts

Mod Squad Mia, glad she doesn't have to write essays.

Mod Squad Mia, glad she doesn’t have to write essays.

The Common App Board updated their essay questions for the 2013 application season and–in the most significant change–removed the wild card, “topic of your choice.”

Your choice must be one of the following:

  • Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  • Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?
  • Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea.  What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
  • Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?
  • Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community or family?

The other significant change for this year’s applicants: essays must be within 250 to 650 words. No less, no more. For any newbies, previous prompts suggested a length of 500 words, but since the process involved uploading Word documents, the application accepted any length. Application readers may have been perturbed by over-long essays, but that’s another matter.

The announcement from the Common App folks suggests that this year, rather than uploading a document, an applicant will paste the essay text into a word-count-restricting interface.

When writing about deadlines recently, I corresponded with a number of independent college counselors. Almost all of them strongly recommended that seniors complete their essays before school starts.

That gives Mod Squad Julie and her classmates about four more weeks.

Last I checked, Julie had drafts in-progress for most of the supplementary essays, but not for the main Common App prompt. She wasn’t wild about any of the options, so she checked to see which one M.S. Pete chose a couple of years ago… Of course:  topic of your choice.

Essay-writing resources up next. Which prompt would you choose?

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What Happens When? The College Admissions Calendar, expanded.

I published a College Admissions Calendar in early May and asked for suggestions of any missed items. Here’s the calendar, updated with suggestions [credited below]. I’ve added a couple of notes at the end for recommended parent-student discussions. Those are always fun.

For college admissions May 1st marks the New Year — the end of one college admissions year and the beginning of the next. This is a great time to look at what happens throughout the year for anyone on a path toward college.

College teeMay

  • May 1 is the deadline for students to accept an offer from, and pay a deposit to, the college of their choice. Most, but not all colleges, that is. Here’s why (and no, it’s not for the benefit of the students): Random thoughts on May 1.
  • First two full weeks of May:  AP exams. All HS students taking AP courses take the exams at the same time.
  • First three weeks of May:  IB exams. All HS students taking IB courses take the exams at the same time. More information via the International Baccalaureate website, here.
  • SAT & SAT Subject tests (aka SAT IIs) offered. Typically SATs are offered every month except April, July, August, and September. SAT Subject tests are offered every time SATs are offered except March, but not all subjects are offered each time. Specific details on APs, SATS, and SAT Subject tests can be found at the College Board’s website, Big Future.
  • Parents and college counselors urge HS juniors to request recommendation letters from teachers before school lets out. (Note: typically teachers write the letters in the fall and upload them to the Common App interface after the student has specified his or her colleges. However, many teachers appreciate the advance notice and the opportunity to prep for the letters during the summer.)
  • Also, before school lets out, rising seniors should find out how to get a transcript sent from the school during the summer. Some colleges will offer targeted students incentives, such as recommendation waivers, application fee waivers or even small scholarship offers, if they get the completed application to the college in early September.


  • ACT tests are offered in June, September, October, December, February, and April. Specific details can be found at the ACT website.
  • Orientation for new college students begins, this usually includes help with registration. Parents are usually invited and are offered their own orientation track.
  • Parents of HS students may want to visit campuses while on summer road-trips.


  • The summer before senior year brings opening day for coach/athlete communications. This NCAA pdf provides a calendar for 2012-13.  Athletic recruitment adds an algorithmic level of complexity.
  • AP scores are sent to exam-takers; exams are scored on a scale of 1 [low] to 5; 3 is considered a passing score. The more selective the college, the higher score required for credit. Some colleges do not provide credit, but may use the scores for placement. See college websites for each college’s AP credit policy. Here’s what UVa accepts in the College of Arts & Sciences.
  • Parents and college counselors urge rising seniors to start drafting essays. Some students do. Read: How to Write a College Essay (in 10 Steps).
  • Another summer task for rising seniors:  investigate scholarship opportunities since many have fall or early winter deadlines. From a HS counselor, “This should start even in middle school. … It is NEVER too early to start searching for scholarships.”


  • The Common App goes live for the new application season. Some students actually apply in August. (Nobody I know.) Bookmark this site:  Common Questions for the Common App.
  • For new college students:  first tuition payment is required!


  • Many HS guidance counselors provide detailed information to seniors, including how much time is required for transcript requests, recommendation letters, etc.
  • Many HS guidance counselors will also provide guidelines on scholarship applications.
  • Freshmen, sophomores and juniors may want to start thinking about community service opportunities, if they haven’t already. Many honor societies and scholarships require service time.
  • Seniors should consider college visits. Many colleges have autumn visit days and may offer overnight stays.


  • Earliest Early Admission and Early Decision deadlines occur. (Note: the 2012-13 Common App listed October 30 as the earliest application deadline. However, many college counselors will advise students to submit at least two weeks prior to the published deadline.)
  • Many high schools offer PSAT/NMSQTs to sophomores (mostly for practice) and juniors (for National Merit Scholarship qualification).
  • The October SAT date is typically the latest that will get scores reported to colleges for Early deadlines.
  • Parents need to check financial aid requirements for early applications. Some will require an application in the fall. The CSS Financial Aid Profile, via College Board and required by most private universities, goes live October 1 for the following school year.


  • Early application reading season for admissions, extends into January.
  • Early applicants should prepare for the possibility of college interviews, either with admission officers or local alumni.
  • Parents and college counselors may urge seniors to finish essays over Thanksgiving break. Some students do.


  • The December SAT date is typically the latest that will get scores reported for regular deadlines.
  • Early decisions start to be received in December. Some HS students face rejection for the first time. (Deal with it and move on.)
  • Important:  many college decisions will be provided via the college’s SIS, requiring the student to log-in. Keep a file of the log-in IDs used for different colleges.
  • Important:  now is when HS seniors need to check email regularly. See Calling All Texters: Read Your Email!
  • December 31 is the deadline for the majority of regular admission applications.


  • The new FAFSA goes live January 1st. Some families actually submit that day. (Nobody I know.) Read: Catch-22: How and When to Complete the FAFSA and Your Tax Returns.
  • Regular application reading season for admissions officers, extends through March.
  • Regular season applicants should prepare for the possibility of college interviews, either with admission officers or local alumni.
  • Sophomores and juniors receive PSAT scores. Approximately three hours later they start to receive emails and marketing mailers from colleges.
  • HS course registration may begin for the next school year.
  • Summer enrichment opportunities often require applications by January or February. See a very long list our local school division provides here.


  • Many colleges require the FAFSA submission by the end of February. Parents need to prepare preliminary, or draft, tax returns in order to submit the FAFSA. Bookmark this site: FAFSA FAQs.


  • Regular admission decisions should be received by the end of March.
  • Once parents file finished tax returns, they must update the FAFSA and/or link it to the return via the FAFSA/IRS interface.


  • HS juniors may want to spend their spring break visiting campuses. Setting up appointments with professors can help them learn more about each school. Read: Sending emails to strangers. At colleges. Asking for appointments.
  • HS seniors may want to attend admitted day programs for specific questions, to help aid their final decisions. Read: Who should attend an admitted student event?
  • Many communities hold college fairs, bringing a large number of campus reps to one location.
  • Financial aid letters, in all their confusing glory, may be received through the month of April.
  • HS juniors who have qualified for National Merit recognition are notified.
  • Last two weeks of April:  many HS students put life on hold to prep for AP exams in early May. Except for Prom, spring sports, part-time jobs, and, like, hanging out with friends.
  • Last two weeks of April:  many HS senior families square up to the college decision.

Important discussions for families about the college list: 

  1. Finances. Each family will make their own decisions on this. My recommendation: have a frank and open discussion early on–at least by spring of junior year–about how finances may impact college decisions, so the student and the parents are on the same track. Families with substantial resources for college may still balk at paying a quarter of a million dollars for an undergraduate degree. Other families may be adamant about limiting student debt. Still, others may happily pay full freight (and the colleges would like to know who you are!). Does your child know what you are willing to pay? Have both parents discussed this yet? Opinions may vary widely, especially if the parents had very different experiences paying for their own college costs.
  2. Career Services. How good is each college at providing career services and providing them early on? As Patricia Krahnke, President of Global College Search suggested, “One thing that might be interesting to add is analyzing and comparing degree program curricula and career services/academic advising for each college choice. … We find that this is an area families avoid, often because they haven’t a clue about how to do it. But it can go a very long way towards making the application process, essay writing, and interview prep process less confusing and the college choices more confident and realistic.”

Additions made with thanks to Patricia L. Krahnke, Bob Gilvey, Whitney Castillo, Christel Milak-Parker, Anne Lepesant, J B Jones, Shayne Swift, and Chuck Self.

What did I miss? Write in comments below. Thanks!

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