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Getting Your Teens Into College - 101

A Shorecrest parent reflects on the college application process

Editor's note: Shorecrest parent Kendahl Adjorlolo's reflects on her teens' experiences in applying, getting into and choosing a college.

We always knew our kids would go to college.  Knowing this and getting them there are different things.  Just like any other dream, at some point it becomes a goal and concrete steps have to be taken.  Talking with Charlie Hoff, Federal Way’s college application guru, gave me some good ideas, which we acted on.

1 – take “core” classes in High School, maximizing the number of credits in math, sciences, world languages and English – and get good grades.

2 – take AP classes instead of “honors” classes in High School.  AP classes have the same curriculum and testing standards across the nation, so the colleges know what your student has actually learned and what the score means (5 is highest, anything below 3 is not passing).

3 – apply to private schools, because they have the money for scholarships

My firstborn was in the top 25 percent of his class and passed all 4 of his AP tests (two as a junior and two in his senior year).  He applied to 8 schools and was accepted at 5 and wait-listed on one.  Yes, he got into the UW, but it’s a public school and they didn’t have any scholarships for him, so it was out of the running.  Gonzaga offered him the most money, and that is where he attends, though it wasn’t the only determining factor.  My daughter is in the top 25 students in her class and took 5 AP tests before her senior year (and is taking 3 more now), doing well enough to receive the “AP Scholar” certificate.  She applied to 11 schools and was accepted at 8.  The UW offered her a walloping $1600 - which wasn’t enough with tuition/fees and room/board approaching $25,000/year - so it was again crossed off the list.  All seven other schools offered her escalating scholarship amounts.  It was tempting to take the most money, but the benefits offered by Whitman College worked best for my daughter’s personality and goals, so that is where she will be attending.  Those are the basic facts.  Now for the reality check.

Applying to colleges is insane!  There are thousands of colleges in this country – and you can’t visit them all.  We, in fact, only personally saw three campuses before we chose where to apply – and none of them is where my kids go.  Location, national ranking and how likely our kid was to be accepted were our guidelines.  “Barron’s Profiles of American Colleges” gave us the lists and information.  Friends and family gave us input on their experiences and we followed the rule which says “apply to one college that is a stretch (Harvard? Stanford?), one college that is a sure thing (UW? EWU?) and one to three colleges that are somewhere in the middle”.  That number increased for us because some colleges offered free applications – and then we didn’t say no when “just one more” was requested by our progeny.  Obviously our daughter was the most confused.  I thought we’d spend her college fund on applications alone! 

The price of applications ranged from $45 - $90 per school this year.  Even free applications require SAT scores and transcripts be sent.  The College Board charged us $10.50 per school to send the SATs this year.  Sheesh!  $105 just for test scores!  At least we only had to provide an envelope and postage to the high school to send transcripts to each school.  We were out $1000 by the time she’d finished the application process.  I was also out a lot of sleep because these online applications all allow the student to submit them by midnight on the due date.  Both my kids managed to finish within minutes of the deadline for every school.  Why did this impinge on my sleep?  Because I had to provide the credit/debit card to pay for them at the time of submission.  I was always right there at the moment of truth in order to get it back.  (I really didn’t want to reach for my wallet in Safeway to realize the card was still sitting by the computer.)

Each school has a different application deadline, beginning in mid-November (for standard acceptance).  The last deadline and final application for each of my kids was February 1.  The responses were not received until the end of March.  In the meantime my dear husband acquainted himself with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly known as the FAFSA.  This was all that was needed for our son when he began school in fall 2010.  We did have to fill it out again for 2011 – and 2012.  It has to be submitted every year to receive financial aid anywhere.  Get used to it. 

Of course, now that he’s gotten good at the FAFSA, a new set of forms has appeared.  This year, to qualify our daughter, schools were requesting a CSS and, in some cases, the iDoc.  I have no idea what these acronyms stand for, but there was an initial fee for one – and they were apparently exceptionally detailed and much more personal than the FAFSA.  The good news is, once you’ve done this, you shouldn’t have to redo it.  At least, I don’t think it’s going to be an annual requirement.

Are you disheartened yet?  Don’t be!  We haven’t gotten to the acceptance part!  I don’t mean where the school accepts your child – that is a time of joy and celebration!  I mean the point where your child must choose to actually commit to a school.  Our kids didn’t know in advance where they really wanted to go.  They didn’t know what they wanted to major in.  They didn’t opt for “Early Decision” applications so they could commit to a school before December and relax.  No.  We went through the whole process.  Neither of my kids decided more than 24 hours before the final deadline of May 1.  The agonizing last few days made me wonder if we would wake up May 2 to find that there was no more decision to make because the scholarships were gone…. 

So how do you make this decision?  Barring a full scholarship from one school (which we never received, but would have made the decision a “no brainer”), there are many details to consider.  Quarters (starts in September and ends in June) or semesters (starts in August and ends in May)?  In state or out?  (With private schools this is interesting because there is no “in state tuition” preference which public universities and colleges have.)  College or University (there is a difference!)?  Big campus or small?  Close to home or far away?  Even the weather makes a difference!  Though we had discussed these issues during the process, it was at the point of committing that they actually became real.  Suddenly, the desire to be further from home in a sunnier clime wasn’t as important as being near the family.  

It wasn’t too bad for our son.  Once he saw Gonzaga and played a rousing game of croquet through the campus waterfall with some current students he knew, he was done looking and ready to commit.  For my daughter, we narrowed the hunt down to the three schools that offered the best financial package, then crossed the mid-west big campus off the list (TOO far away, TOO big). We were down to sunny California or the Columbia Basin area.  THIS is the point where we went out of our way to visit the actual campuses.  She liked both equally.  Oh no… how to decide?  AGONY!  Though one offered more money, was larger and a university with the Jesuit reputation for great education plus 1500 classes to choose from - it also had quarters.  Finally, the thought of having to go through finals three times a year, having to choose classes three times a year, only having 10 weeks of study for each of those subjects AND not getting out until June each year ruled it out.  We had a winner!  A choice was made!  Walla Walla here she comes!  Whew!  Now all we need to do is trim her life down to what will fit into half a dorm room for the next four years.

Lucky for me I have three more years before our twins are college ready.  Yes, dear reader, the next time we do this we will double the fun!

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