For most families, the college application process is a major source of anxiety. But it doesn't have to be extra stressful if a family takes enough time to address the many questions and issues related to college applications.
A starting point for most families should be the financial issues. A college education is an expensive investment. You and your student need to talk realistically about how that education will be paid for and what schools are affordable.
Are scholarships a possibility? How about work-study programs or a possible off-campus job? Will there have to be one or more college loans and if so, who will be paying them back?
Financial planning should include not just tuition and room and board if the school being considered isn't local, but also other school expenses. These can include books, perhaps a new laptop or cell phone, trips back home and daily living expenses. Today, most college websites include a wide range of information about the actual costs involved in attending their schools.
Stress levels are also reduced by acting early. Schedule ACT or SAT testing as soon as practical, especially if a retest might be needed. Your high school counselor will have information about available testing and can also offer advice on school choices. He or she should be able to advise on college choices appropriate to your student's interests, grades and past scholastic and personal achievements.
As school choices become clearer, now is the time to gather information. There are numerous college guide books offering detailed information on the programs, costs and admission requirements of most schools. Online visits to a school's website will usually provide a wealth of information, as well as a chance to view the school's campus if you're unable to schedule a personal college visit.
When a family has done its research and answered the necessary questions, it's time to realistically narrow down the list of possible schools. Today, students tend to apply to 3 to 7 schools. Some may be a reach, but one or two should be "safety" schools where admission is almost certain.
The most important factor in minimizing college application stress is to start the actual application process early. Complete the applications, get the needed recommendations and write those application essays. Get it all done early and the only anxiety left will be waiting for that admission office's answer.