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Getting Ready For College: A Parent’s Guide

Let me begin by saying how incredibly grateful I am. Mrs. Bankhead and Rapoport Academy do an excellent job in preparing students for college and even helping them navigate dual credit courses. My son graduated last year and my daughter is graduating a year early, in just a little less than a month. Graduating our two kids back to back certainly has had its challenges, but it has given me some insights.  I hope these insights will be helpful to you. Some of my best advice … start early and stay involved, communicate with the school, have a plan for financing, and do your best to stay connected.

Start early

The summer between my kiddos 8th grade year and high school I had them each fill out an application for college. If they wanted to attend an Ivy League school, they completed that application. This allowed them to plan for the next four years with some perspective. What were colleges looking for? What are extracurricular activities? Why do colleges care if I volunteer? All great questions  – ones you will be able to help them answer as they head into high school.

So, what if your son or daughter is already in high school and ready to navigate the path toward the university, community college or tech school of their dreams? In that case, keep reading.

Stay involved

You know your child possibly better than they do. You have insight and wisdom both about their future and from your experiences, and they need to hear about it. When they begin the process of looking at college consider your own great experiences and also your regrets. Do you wish you had attended college further away or closer to home? Are you glad you were a part of Greek Life? Did your college feel too big or too small? If you didn’t attend college, do you wish you had or vice versa. College flyers will come pouring in. I promise. As soon as your child has taken the PSAT, colleges start sending mail. It made my daughter feel amazing, and my son sent them to recycling as quick as they arrived. He knew where he wanted to go. My daughter has been more open to suggestions. Listen to what your kids say about the schools they want to attend and why, then start doing your research. School websites are excellent sources of information. I also check the crime statistics in the zip codes around the school, but, then again, I am also a glutton for punishment.

Communicate with the school

The school can help you understand things like collegeboard.org, SAT and ACT scoring, and can even provide vouchers to pay for the SAT and ACT testing fees for some students. The college/career counselor at the high school is going to be the best resource for getting information to the colleges. They have access to transcripts (which other schools naturally will require). The counselors can help you figure out who could write letters of reference and can assist your student in any essay portions of applications if they need help. Some schools have more than one person dedicated to college/career preparation, and they are willing and able to answer any question you have. You can also ask them to add you to any email lists where they might send out scholarship information. Stay in the loop by attending any college and career-related events at the school as well. They may host nights for parents to get educated on the college application process. They will also explain FAFSA and studentaid.ed.gov … which leads me to financing.

Have a plan for financing

College can be really expensive. That’s all I’ve got. Good Luck!

Just kidding. The first thing you need to know about paying for college is regarding the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the online application all colleges require in order to provide a financial aid package to your student. This needs to be filled out as early as possible during their senior year. It will require your tax information; and, if parents are in separate households, both parents’ tax return information will be necessary. This application generates an Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) at the end, indicating what you might expect to pay out of pocket at some colleges. This is a fairly accurate number for community college, technical school, and even some state schools.

Second, you will want to become familiar with studentaid.ed.gov where eligibility and loan information can be located. This is also where repayment information can be found. Parents are able to take out Parent Loans through these websites, Master Promissory Notes (MPN) are signed there as well. In addition to federal aid and scholarships (often found on the college financial aid page), private loans are available. A warning about private loans: they cannot be deferred. Federal loans can be – based upon certain circumstances: while your child is in school, if there is a long period of unemployment, if your child works for a school or community organization. They do accrue interest during the deferment period, and I would not recommend accepting loans unless it is completely necessary.

Don’t buy into the scams!

There are organizations and business out there who present “awards” to students supposedly based upon their merit but then require payment in order to be a part of some elite group and have access to privileged scholarship information. There are also events hosted at fancy hotels dedicated to getting students to pay for membership into some program or another. Don’t fall for it. Scholarship information is always free on the college websites, and through websites like collegeboard.org students can connect with a huge number of legitimate scholarships. Check with your school counselor if you wonder about something which came in the mail.

Do your best to stay connected

Unfortunately, students start to pull away. This is separate from the expected behavior where peers become important, etc.  This is straight-up unintentional relationship sabotage. Your child knows they are leaving, and goodbye (or see ya later) is always tough. Instead of drawing closer to your family and clinging to those precious months, weeks and days left in your home, they withdraw or fight (or both). This is where your intentionality to stay connected to your kiddo is critical. Family dinners may become mandatory. You may have to create family game nights or movie nights or other mandatory family fun time. Instead of having them go out with their friends, have their friends come over (so you can throw a dance party and embarrass them beyond all belief). Just be present.

Here is some local college information.

(I am aware some of this may be obvious to people living in Waco but uber helpful to someone who wants to move here or send a kiddo to school here.)

MAC Grant and Scholarship – This is a program of The Waco Foundation and seeks to provide scholarships to McLennan County high school students. Check their website for all the details regarding when to apply and qualifications.

Brazos Education foundation – Their philosophy is “Education 4 Everyone” and they are available to help parents and students navigate the college admissions process.

Technical School: Texas State Technical College provides outstanding technical education programs across multiple campuses including Waco, the primary campus for all programs. TSTC offers Associate Degrees, Certificates and Continuing Education in leading industries.

Community College (with University Center): McLennan Community College is a local community college which offers 2-year degrees across various disciplines. In addition, MCC has bridge programs to help students transition smoothly into a 4-year degree offered by one of the university partners. Students are able to take courses for both the 2-year degree and the 4-year transition in-person and online.

4-year Private University: Baylor University sits on an ever-expanding beautiful campus in the heart of the city. According to their website “Baylor’s mission is to educate students for worldwide leadership and service by integrating academic excellence and Christian commitment in a caring community.” Some of the disciplines offered include education, missions, Biblical studies and leadership as well as business.  

As always, I am available to help in any way I can. It’s an exciting time, I hope you really get to enjoy it.

Finally, here is a small plug for the university where I received my bachelor’s degree – Midwestern State University, ranked among the top universities for cost-efficient tuition based upon class size, student to professor ratio and faculty who are tenured or have a Ph.D (which is almost 100%). MSU is located in Wichita Falls, a city in North Texas with a little more than 100,000 people. It really is an amazing school with stellar program options.

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