Choosing the right school that is a good fit while applying to colleges can be daunting without some guidance. To be college-ready, it is important that both parents and students are aware of the steps needed to apply, as well as the application deadlines.
For parents, it’s important to be aware of the process so they can guide and facilitate the steps their child needs to get into a college that is right for them. Ensuring students meet with a counselor, work on their college essay without being rushed, and meet deadlines, are all ways parents can help their child, especially if they are overwhelmed with classes, extracurricular clubs or sports.
Miami-Dade County Public Schools has many innovative language, science, and arts magnets that are your best choice to get students ready to apply and be accepted at myriad colleges for every kind of student.
Here are some tips for parents and seniors who want to begin that process of getting into the college of their dreams:
Plan Ahead. Be Mindful of Deadlines: Parents and students should be aware there is a timeframe to consider. Most schools have deadlines that require either the first two weeks of January or February. Schools with rolling admissions accept applications throughout the school year.
Step 1: Meet with their grade-level counselor or CAP (College Assistance Program) advisor These counselors provide students with invaluable information which gives them a roadmap through the application and financial aid process. They also will be able to help students choose a college that meets their specific needs and interests.
Families first need to decide whether their child wants to attend a two-year college and work towards an associate degree or apply at a four-year college to earn a bachelor’s degree. Some students may even decide that a vocational/technical school is the path they want to take.
Step 2: The application process:
Once students have narrowed down their choice of schools, they need to go to the school’s website and begin their research about programs offered, eligibility requirements and required documents such as test scores, essays and letters of recommendation.
These websites offer a step-by-step guide to applying to college along with lots of information about the process : https://www.scoir.com and https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org.
The undergraduate admissions application can be found on the school’s website or you can apply through platforms such as the Common App www.commonapp.org or the Coalition App www.coalitionforcollegeaccess.org. Some schools require the completion of the Self-Reported Student Academic Record ssar.selfreportedtranscript.com.
For students applying to a vocational technical program or enlisting in the military, they should meet with their counselor or CAP Advisor for more information. The website www.careerinayear.com has a trove of very useful information about M-DCPS’ Career & Technical Programs. If offered an interview with a local admissions recruiter, students need to research the school’s programs connected to their interests and practice their interview skills with a counselor or mentor.
Students should already have taken either the ACT or SAT by the time they apply. Schools do super scoring, which means they only count the highest score from each of the tests taken., Therefore it’s in the student’s best interest to retake the tests if they scored poorly on one section.
Step 3: Writing the college essay — Show not Tell:
The college essay requires applicants to write a personal statement that is reflective of who they are and what they can contribute to the college to which they are applying. Students should begin the writing process early since it usually will take more than one draft. It’s a good idea to have a teacher or counselor provide feedback. This is a chance for applicants to shine and show the admissions committee what their talents, interests, and abilities are beyond what is on their transcript. Students should use their personal experiences and achievements, both in and outside the classroom, to paint a picture of who they are and why the college would benefit from having them at their school.
Here are some resources when it comes time to write essays:
Step 4: Recommendation Letters:
Schools may require letters of recommendation from a teacher, counselor, advisor, and/or community leader. When requesting a letter, it should be done in a timely manner. Students need to make sure the person they choose knows them well. The letter should focus on a student’s development in their classroom or as a leader within the school. Students should always make sure to thank whoever takes the time to help them.
Step 5: Financial Aid and Scholarships:
Parents, it’s important to gather all your financial documents before completing the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). All eligible students planning to attend college are required to apply. Students will then be notified about the amount of Pell Grant awarded, loans offered and how much their parents are expected to contribute. Here is a useful website about the process of applying for financial aid at:
Students not eligible to complete the FAFSA should see their counselor for more information.
The completion of the CSS profile in addition to the FAFSA may be required by some schools. The CSS Profile is an online application that collects information used by colleges, universities and scholarship programs to award financial aid from sources outside of the federal government. https://cssprofile.collegeboard.org
Seniors can apply for merit or need-based scholarships. Students should seek advice from a counselor or CAP Advisor for their school’s scholarship newsletter and apply to these scholarship platforms:
• Florida Bright Futures Scholarship: www.floridastudentfinancialaidsg.org/
• Big Future Scholarship: bigfuture.collegeboard.org
• The Dream.US National Scholarships (Undocumented Students) www.thedream.us/scholarships/national-scholarship/
Parents and seniors need to remember that the college process is not a one-size-fits-all process; early planning, thorough research and meeting deadlines will help a student’s chance of success in being accepted to the school they really want to attend.
Vicky Puentes is CAP Advisor, Miami Senior High School, Miami-Dade County Public Schools.
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