College Prep for Parents and Families
Parents and families play major roles in helping students transition from high school to university settings. While the students themselves have plenty to do to prepare for college, family members should also educate themselves and stay informed during the college process. To assist you and your child at all stages of the college process, we have developed this series of College Prep resources.
We hope these articles, resources, and information will help you feel comfortable in assisting your student as they prepare for college.
Supporting your Student Freshman through Senior Year
While your student will be working hard to prepare for their educational plans post-high school, parents also play an important role in making sure your child is on track. The College Board provides action plans for you to follow as your child progresses through high school.
What are colleges looking for in a prospective student?
- Rigor in high school coursework
- Grades, GPA, class rank
- Standardized test scores (ACT, SAT)
- Recommendation letters (Viterbo requires this if a student has <2.8 GPA, <18 on the ACT, and for certain scholarship competitions)
- Extracurricular activities and community involvement
- College admission essay or personal statement (Viterbo requires this if a student has <2.8 GPA, <18 on the ACT, and for certain scholarship competitions)
How can I make sure my child is on the right track for college?
A series of College Prep lists were put together by Viterbo for students and families to follow. Each year in high school, there are important steps for both students and families to take that ensure the college search process will go smoothly.
College Prep Lists
While college visits may not be the first priority on your student’s college to-do list, we recommend that you encourage them to put it toward the top. Time and time again, it is found that college visits are one of the most helpful ways for a student to learn about a school and to make a decision on which college to attend.
College visits can include:
- meeting with an admission counselor
- guided tour of campus
- lunch on campus
- appointment with athletic coaches
- meetings with professors
- attending a class
- overnight visit (available once a student is admitted)
What YOU can do to help your child during college visits:
1. Encourage your student to visit 3-4 campuses (make sure Viterbo is on your list!).
2. Attend the college visits with your child and encourage your child to ASK QUESTIONS. Your child may not know what to ask, but give them some time to try. If they cannot think of a question, ask about activities that are available based on their current interests and involvement. Of course, take some time to get your own questions answered too.
Examples: What can students do in their free time at school? What makes this school unique? Am I eligible for scholarships?
3. Make time to tour the town in which each college is located. The community surrounding the university is just as important as the university itself. Job opportunities, job shadows, internships, and extracurricular fun can all be positively or negatively affected by the community.
- La Crosse, WI was named the #1 college town in WI (under 250,000 pop.)! | www.aier.org/blog/ranking-americas-best-college-destinations
4. Pay attention to each college’s admission requirements. Depending on how selective each school is, it will be important to keep in mind how much work is required to qualify for admission.
What factors should my student consider when choosing a college?
USA Today College | The 25-question checklist for choosing a college
USA Today provides a detailed list of questions that we agree should be considered by students and families when considering a college. We have highlighted a few questions that we feel are most important for you and your child to think about.
- Location of college: Does this city offer me opportunities and experiences? Can I see myself living and studying here for 4 years?
- Does this school excel in the area I'm looking to specialize in? If I am undeclared, do I have options and ways to explore my interests?
- What is dorm and campus life like? Is there a niche that I can feel comfortable in?
- Can I afford this university's costs? Am I being offered scholarships and/or financial aid?
- Will I be challenged at this university?
- What are job prospects like for part-time student workers in the area? What about college graduates in their field?
- Campus size: do I prefer a small or large campus?
- Does this college feel like a good fit?
Other questions we recommend considering:
- What advising support will I have - a faculty advisor, professional advisor, or both?
- What student support services are available to me?
- What is job placement like after graduation at this college?
- How accessible are research opportunities or internships during my time at this college?
- Will I receive a well-rounded education in addition to my major?
Financial Aid & Affording College
One of the biggest challenges to attending college is the financial means it takes to get there. Parents and families play an important role in helping their child realize the financial cost of college and how to make it an affordable choice. The U.S. financial aid philosophy assumes that parents will be supporting their child with college finances; in other words, even if your child files their taxes independently, the FAFSA does not treat them as an independent student for undergraduate financial aid unless they meet other specific criteria. For this reason, it is important that parents and students alike understand the financial aid processes at each school.
First-time FAFSA Filers Vocabulary | www.fafsa.gov
Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) – this is a FREE and federal application that is used to determine eligibility for federal, state, or institutional need-based financial aid. Aid is distributed in the form of grants (free money), low-interest loans, or work-study hours through the university. Eligibility is determined by many factors, including things like household size, the number of students in college for a given year, and student and parent tax data.
Student Aid Report- SAR – this is the official report that your child will receive from the U.S. Department of Education that contains the data that was submitted through the FAFSA. It’s good practice to review this document to ensure all data is accurate or to correct any errors that are pointed out.
Expected Family Contribution (EFC) – this figure will be listed on your child's Student Aid Report. It indicates your family’s financial strength, calculated ability to pay for college for a given student for a given year, and it is used to help determine your child's eligibility for need-based financial aid.
1. File the FAFSA as soon as you can after October 1 of your child's senior year in high school.
- Filing sooner ensures your child will get the best financial aid package for which they qualify.
- Filing sooner may allow your child to receive early financial aid estimates to the different schools that received your child's FAFSA
- The FAFSA may be required in order to receive other state and institutional aid.
- Filing sooner allows you and your child to make the most informed college decision based on the aid available to you.
2. FAFSA now uses "prior-prior year" tax data.
- For the 2017-2018 school year, filers should use their 2015 tax data.
- For the 2018-2019 school year, filers should use their 2016 tax data.
3. The FAFSA allows you to use the IRS data retrieval tool.
- This will transfer your tax data directly from the IRS to your FAFSA.
- This tool is not required for use, but it is recommended to ensure the most accurate data.
4. Have these key pieces of information on-hand to fill out the FAFSA:
- student's social security number
- student's drivers license (if available)
- student's tax forms from prior-prior year (if they are employed)
- your tax forms from prior-prior year
- records of any untaxed income
- current financial statements (savings, checking, non-retirement investments)
- information about any businesses your family owns
The Importance of Scholarships
In the frenzy of senior year, students can forget to make time to apply for scholarships. However, it is one of the most helpful ways to cut the cost of college. These awards go straight to cutting down the cost of tuition, room, and board - it is free money!
- Always check first with your child to see what scholarships are available through their school. Some of the best scholarships come right from the local community!
- Greater community/state scholarships are the next best place to search for scholarship opportunities. The odds of being chosen for these (compared to national scholarships) are much higher.
- Has your child committed to a school early? Check out the scholarship opportunities from their intended university. These often have deadlines in the late winter/early spring, so don’t delay with applying.
- Other places to look for scholarships opportunities include: employers, your local bank, your place of worship, etc.
- How much should I keep in touch?
- What about money matters?
- What if my child has roommate problems?
- If my student is struggling academically, should I help?
- What if my child cannot graduate in 4 years?
- Costs and financial aid
- Graduation rates and academic support
- Campus health/counseling services
How and when does the university communicate with parents?