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Are You College Ready Already? You’ll wish you’d have read this before your child started the college-application process

Featured Photo from Are You College Ready Already?  You’ll wish you’d have read this before your child started the college-application process

Think you don’t need to start thinking about college yet? You might want to start earlier than you assume – sometime in middle school, perhaps, when the classes your child chooses to take begin to affect what they can take in high school.

Think you don’t need to start thinking about college yet? You might want to start earlier than you assume – sometime in middle school, perhaps, when the classes your child chooses to take begin to affect what they can take in high school.


Before you panic, take heart. Thinking about college doesn’t necessarily have to be packed with pressure. Instead, try approaching the process as consumers. Does your child want to live near the beach or near a big city? Do they prefer small classes, or would they feel restless at a college smaller than their high school? Do they want big-time football or maybe no football at all? And most important: What colleges can your family realistically afford? Thinking about these things now will help you build a better college list later.


What else do you need to know long before your child’s senior year of high school?


Encourage your child to plan to take as many years of foreign language as possible. Foreign language credits are not required for Seminole County’s standard high-school diploma, but most students are encouraged to take two sequential years of the same foreign language in order to qualify for Florida’s Bright Futures Scholarship. 


However, parents and students have reported that admissions officers at both Florida State University and the University of Florida have encouraged students to take at least three years of a single foreign language. Many selective and highly selective universities recommend their prospective applicants take foreign language each year of high school, just as they would English or math.


There is merit money available... but maybe not as much as you think. While there is a group of colleges and universities that pledge to meet a student’s full financial need if they are accepted to their institution, those colleges are often among the most difficult to get into, and they might define a family’s financial need differently than the family does. Those same colleges that meet full financial need as determined by tools like the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) usually give out very little non-need based aid.


Every family should fill out the FAFSA, regardless of income. The FAFSA application period opens October 1 each year and allows the federal government to determine how much money your family should be able to contribute to a child’s college education, according to their formula. Filing a FAFSA allows your child, at a minimum, to be eligible for the standard federal loan, which has the best interest rate and repayment plans available. At some colleges, filing a FAFSA is a requirement to be eligible not only for need-based aid, but also merit scholarships.


Even if you believe your family won’t qualify for need-based financial aid, it’s a good idea to have a FAFSA on file every year. Why? In the case of a sudden death, illness, accident, or job loss. If a student needs to be eligible for aid quickly and unexpectedly, having a FAFSA on file makes acquiring that emergency aid infinitely easier. Think of it as an insurance policy; the loans will be available if you need them.

 

Allison Slater Tate is a freelance writer and editor and is the director of college and career preparation at Lake Mary High School. She also runs a Facebook group about college admissions called Central Florida College Bound, where she frequently posts information and advice for high-school students and their parents.


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