Ya’ll, I can’t believe I’m sitting here getting ready to tell you all about my oldest son’s college application (and thankfully acceptance) experience. I’ve known this moment was coming ever since the day he was born. What I never expected was for it to get here so quickly. Emotionally, I’m not ready…..not even close. But as far as preparation goes? Well, ya’ll we’ve got that covered. Thanks to an amazing guidance counselor, a little experience myself as a college recruiter back in the day and a lot of technological advancements, my son is going into the last semester of his senior year with his college chosen, his acceptance received, and his financing in place thanks to filling out his FAFSA® (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Now, I don’t say any of this to sound braggy (although I’m a proud mama!). I say it because if you’ve got a high school senior (or even a junior) who hasn’t started the college application process, it’s not too late. In fact, today is the day to start so grab your almost grown kiddo, get some snacks and let’s talk about the five actions your high school student should be taking now to be ready for college.
Before we get to my son’s college experience, it’s only fair to share with you that my dream has always been for him to continue his education after high school. Getting my college degree was always one of my biggest aspirations and while I went off course just a little bit and just so happened to graduate when he was two years old, receiving my degree with my toddler in my arms has always been one of the things that I am proudest of. I can say with honesty that the old adage that you don’t know how badly you want to do something until there is a chance you won’t be able to achieve it is beyond true. It took a village for me of babysitters and grandparents and even a few times of taking an exam with a car seat next to me but through it all, I’ve never regretted for one second going back to school as a young single mother and earning my degree. With that said, I of course have always wanted my son to do things a little differently than I did. I have wanted him to graduate with great grades (which he is on track to do), get into the college of his dreams (which he has), and graduate with an awesome degree so that he can start his life out on the path to success (which I know he will). But getting to that point took a little planning and taught me quite a bit. I’ll be the first to admit that the whole process of applying, financing, and attending college in North Carolina has changed significantly since I did it….and the changes are awesome! So, let me share some of them with you so that you can see that your child’s dream of attending college in North Carolina is completely doable!
Start Early with Multiple Visits
Let me say that it’s never too late to start looking at going to college. Even if your child is class of 2021 like mine, there’s still plenty of time! So don’t be discouraged if your child hasn’t started putting in those applications yet. However, in my opinion, it’s best to start early. We began looking at North Carolina colleges last year (his junior year) and thankfully got our visits done before all the lockdowns started. While I know that the world looks a little different currently, even if you can’t visit campuses in person DO THE VIRTUAL TOURS! Give your child the opportunity to picture themselves on the campus and dream of what college life will look like for them. I’ll tell you honestly that I skipped this step and attended a college I never even visited my first year of school. I didn’t want this for my son. I wanted him to fall in love with the atmosphere and see the classrooms and the only way to do that was to make sure he started getting those visits scheduled long before either of us really thought it was time.
Dream Big and Cast a Wide Net
My son has an awesome guidance counselor. Seriously, I was an admissions rep back in the day and I loved my students but his guidance counselor? Well, he’s pretty much the cat’s meow! When we started looking at colleges, his advice was to dream big but give himself lots of options. Instead of just applying to his top school, he advised my son to divide his college choices into three categories – reach schools, good-bet schools, and sure thing schools. Then he told him to apply to at least 3 schools in each category. By using the Common app to apply, he was able to streamline his application process and apply to 9 schools in the time that it took me to handwrite one essay to one school back in the old days. I’ll admit, this process made me just a wee bit jealous!
While I’m so thankful for the reach school, good-bet school, and sure thing school approach and I highly encourage you to help your child see the benefit of putting in multiple applications, chances are pretty good that there’s a top choice on everyone’s list. My son was no different. Once we had visited all the North Carolina colleges he was interested in, one stood out above all the rest. It was his dream. He knew if he got in, there was really no other choice. So he committed to early action. That meant that when he submitted his application, he committed that if he was accepted he would attend no matter what other acceptances he received. Generally, this early action requires you to submit an application earlier but, as they say, when you know you know! By applying early and committing, he was able to receive his college acceptance months before regular acceptances were sent out. By the holidays, we knew where he was going and were able to start taking on the most important step in planning for his college future….the finances.
Figure Out Your Financing with FAFSA®
Everything up to this point was pretty much just excitement and adrenaline-driven for us. However, once we got that acceptance letter in the mail, the real work began. Ya’ll, I’m gonna be honest with you….college is not cheap. But oh is it worth it. If you’re not sold yet on the importance of a college degree, let me just share with you that two-thirds of jobs require a high-quality credential or degree. A college education is not just a piece of paper. It’s a key ingredient to long-term financial gain, job stability, career satisfaction and more. Simply put, it’s essential in my opinion but perhaps more important is figuring out how to pay for a college education. Since we live in North Carolina and my son only looked at schools in North Carolina, I knew that we could benefit from applying for FAFSA® (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Visit CFNC.org for more information as well.
From my own experience working in a college setting, I already knew that students who complete the FAFSA® are more likely to enroll in college, commit to finishing and obtain a degree. I also knew a little bit about FAFSA® but a lot has changed since I’ve been out of the game. Thankfully, with the little bit of knowledge I had, I was able to find myFutureNC and receive even more guidance on applying and financing my son’s college education in North Carolina. I already knew that we didn’t want to put off filling out the FAFSA® paperwork because if we did, we could be missing out on financial aid. However, myFutureNC gave me the direction we needed and provided information on how to best proceed with applying for federal financial aid. Now, if you’re thinking that I’m just talking loans, I’m not. FAFSA® does include loans but it also includes scholarships, grants, work-study opportunities, and some of this federal aid is distributed on a first-come, first-served basis so seriously, it’s super important to check filling out your child’s FAFSA® off your college to-do list early.
Even better, the FAFSA® application process is so much easier now than it was when I was considering colleges over 20 years ago. With basic information we were able to set up accounts for my son and ourselves, import our taxes directly from the IRS to make sure there were no mistakes, and submit all the information that we needed to in order to begin to figure out financing college. Listen to me here please! It took less than an hour to complete our FAFSA® paperwork and start the process of figuring out how to pay for college. So to those of you out there who think that college is out of reach because you can’t afford it, think again! Please, please, please take the advice of this mama/former college advisor/finance major in college and begin filling out FAFSA® today to start the process of financing your child’s education!
Commit and Prepare
I already shared with you that my son was accepted early to his first choice of college in North Carolina (woohoo – again, I’m so proud!). I know that because he did his research, applied early, filled out his FAFSA®, and paid his deposit, he’s on his way to a future that is brighter than anything I could have ever imagined. He’s committed which is the final step in his pre-college process. Now we’re on to buying bedding, filling out roommate requests, and deciding how to decorate his dorm space. But here’s the thing. We would have never gotten here without taking the first steps. He would not be living out these dreams without a little planning and preparation. As a mom and a North Carolina resident, I’m beyond thankful that he has some of the best choices of where to attend college and how to pay for it and I can’t wait to see what his future holds.
Now, I encourage you to follow in our footsteps. To all you North Carolina mamas out there, trust me when I say we live in a great start for your child to pursue higher education and it’s only getting better because myFutureNC is committed to greater college access and success for ALL its residents. They know that a better-educated North Carolina is the key to economic prosperity for all citizens and through FAFSA®, they are working hard to ensure that a college education at a community college, public university, or private university is attainable for everyone!
So don’t wait to start the college search, application, and FAFSA® process with your high school student. Help them dream bigger than they (or you) ever imagined and then help them make those dreams a reality with a college education that will shape the rest of their lives!