I’m a mom of six kids with the four oldest currently in four different colleges with enough scholarships to cover their full tuition and more.
The younger two are a rising 9th grader and a rising 6th grader.
So, it comes as no surprise to me that I am always being asked for information.
“What should I be doing?
“I don’t have any idea how I’m going to pay for college, and I don’t know ANYTHING except that I need help!”
I’m going to just share with you what I’m telling everyone, but in this case, it’s my cousins who were doing the asking.
(One has a rising high school senior and another has a rising junior in high school.)
What Should High School Juniors and Seniors Do Over the Summer?
Dear Fawnya (that’s my cousin),
The first thing to do is calm down!!!
Everything is going to be okay, and even if it wasn’t going to be, you panicking won’t help.
Yes, college costs more than you can afford, and no, you don’t need anymore debt.
There are ways to avoid loans even if you’re: practically paycheck-to-paycheck, even if you don’t qualify for need-based aid, even if you’re humble, intentional and flexible about all of this.
Here’s what you need to do:
1. Download or get a copy of your child‘s high school transcript. Make sure the grades and weighting are all correct. If you find a discrepancy, (via email) contact guidance, the principal, and any teachers to get it fixed. If her GPA is at least a 90 %, she will have PLENTY of merit scholarship options.
2. Have her continue to study 5x per week for 30-45 minutes a day (for free) online through Khan Academy this summer. And have her take a practice test this week to get an idea of what her SAT scores will be.
3. Looking at her GPA and the most recent practice SAT scores, make a list of colleges that offer scholarships for her stats where she can DEFINITELY, EASILY get accepted. She should have a minimum of a half dozen schools that will be both admissions and financial safety schools. (You can find financial safeties by completing the Net Price Calculator on each college’s website.) There is a sample of the “colleges at a glance” spreadsheet in the files section of the Paying For College 101 Facebook group to keep track of everything relevant about the schools she’s considering. Know this before she visits or even applies anywhere.
4. Get her resume completed. Yes, I know she’s only 16 and hasn’t really done anything all that significant yet. But her volunteering at the dance studio counts. Tutoring underclassmen in math counts. Babysitting her younger cousins counts. Starting her lemonade stand/cupcake business counts.
5. Have her create her account for the Common App and have her start filling out the easy parts. Now. This week. (Name, parents, siblings, school, etc.) Then use her resume to fill in the activities section. Don’t skimp on this…describe her activities well and in descending order of importance.
6. Start thinking about the essay. Have her choose a prompt where she’s got something to say that’s gripping – right from the first sentence. The essay MUST “shatter the glass.” Imagine admissions officers being bored, social distancing, having to read through dozens of essays each and every day for weeks at a time. Imagine how essays all start blending together – except for the rare ones that break the monotony, either making them laugh, cry, or feel something strongly enough to be memorable. That’s what she needs to be aiming for: Their ATTENTION. It makes a difference.
7. Take a DEEP dive into all of her social media accounts. Make sure her posts and comments are not anything that could cost her scholarships or admissions. Do this BEFORE she applies anywhere. If she has zero social media presence, then at least set up a LinkedIn profile. And use the info from her resume to make sure her profile is good.
8. This is the most important thing. (By far.)
Encourage her to relax.
To do NOTHING.
To watch Netflix.
Play video games.
To mess up dozens of dishes trying new recipes with her brother.
Allow her to stay up stupid-late and sleep in even crazy-later – if that’s what she wants.
Reward her for staying connected with her friends and relatives. (Literally CashApp her five bucks for FaceTiming with her friends, Grandma or Aunts/Uncles/Cousins.)
Let her know, in no uncertain terms, that having LOTS of downtime is important.
And that she’s NOT being lazy.
She is practicing self-care habits that will serve her well in life.
So if she literally spends 23 hours a day being completely unproductive – and five days a week she carves out a half hour on Khan Academy, then another 30 minutes doing Common App stuff, that’s PLENTY.
(It’s more than enough under these circumstances.)
Constantly remind her that she’s good; that she’s doing GREAT.
And that the most important thing is her emotional, relational, spiritual, and physical health.
Nothing else even comes close.
Because ironically, if she gets #8 right, all the other things are much more likely to be attainable and fall into place.
Have Your Priorities Straight
Anyhow, this is what I’m telling my own family. That’s what we’re adhering to with our six kids.
People often think that I must be on my kids’ case all the time to have churned out the results we have: a Valedictorian, a Salutatorian, a Million Dollar Scholar, etc.
I assure you, it’s the opposite. Recognize that now more than ever is a time of unprecedented stressors, and doing what you can for self-care makes a difference in outcomes.
It’s my opinion that the students who are encouraged to prioritize their health, relationships and sanity will be at an advantage compared to the ones who aren’t and are simply being encouraged to study.
Being intentional about putting first things first has always been (and still remains) one of our family’s guiding principles for high achievement.
Hint: It’s family first. Things like: compassion, love, humor, and laughter must be higher priorities than academics.
I hope that by sharing this, it will help people other than just my cousin and my brothers!
Let me know your thoughts. And any other suggestions that have been helpful for your own family with respect to paying for college and staying sane in the midst of so much uncertainty.
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