father and son embrace after a joyful high school graduation ceremony

College Planning Checklist for Parents

It’s tough. Your kid—the one who still looks a lot like that middle schooler they were a few years ago—is going to be applying to college soon. If you’re wondering how in the world the two of you will make it to move-in day, you’re not alone! The transition to college can be rocky and stressful for everyone, and it’s understandable that parents can feel overwhelmed, too.

Maybe you can’t help feeling stressed whenever you think about your kid going to college, but what you can do is start preparing. The following is a college planning checklist of five of the most important parts of the process that you can work on right now. We hope it helps you orient yourself whenever you’re struggling over all of the details.

Narrow Down the List

At some point, it’s important for your child to start thinking seriously about where they want to go to college. If your kid is like most, this will likely both excite them and send them into a slump of anxiety and fear. The excitement is great, but as for that anxiety and fear … 

Some of those bad feelings may come from not knowing what to expect. For many high schoolers, college is still a completely foreign idea. They might not be sure where to look or even what they’re looking for. With thousands of colleges out there, it’s no wonder why.

Have you spoken to your child about any financial, geographical, or logistical restrictions that your family has? If not, now’s the time. Be honest and realistic with your child about what their options are. High schoolers are smart (just think of you when you were their age!), and trying to cover up truths with “maybes” won’t help them—it probably won’t even work.

Fine-tuning the list can be a stressful part of the process, but it’s a rewarding one. If you or your child aren’t sure where to start, we have some suggestions on how to narrow the college search. You’ll all be better off once you know what your options are.

Start Thinking About Cost

Thinking about how expensive college is isn’t fun, but it’s vital if you want your child to make it through school successfully. Let’s cut straight to the chase: Who’s going to pay for your child’s college expenses? How? When? 

Most students use some kind of financial aid to make college costs more manageable. Think about your family’s situation and consider your options. If you’re not sure what those options are, check out our guide to paying for college.

Schedule School Visits

Now comes the fun part of the college planning checklist! Visiting a college is a great way to become familiar with both that school and the basic idea of college. But college visits won’t happen unless you make them happen. Luckily, the scheduling part is fairly easy; your child can sign up for most visits online or by calling the college’s admissions office.

Starting college visits now will give you more time to see all the places your child is interested in. It will also give you a chance to ask any questions you have about the application process. But if your family is unable to visit colleges at the moment, don’t stress. Many of them, including UIUC, also offer virtual visit options.

Register for Standardized Tests

Standardized tests are Class A Bummers. And, while more and more colleges are becoming test-optional, standardized tests still play a role in some college applications. The two most common standardized tests are the SAT and the ACT. Your child’s high school counselor is a good resource if you and your child aren’t sure which test they should take.

Your child can register for the ACT or the SAT online. Once it’s time for your child to take the test, we’ve got some tips on how they can triumph.

backlit group of students doing homework together in a library

Organize Application Dates & Deadlines

This step will be easier if your child’s college list is mostly worked out, but if you’re running short on time, let’s tackle it right now! Putting the biggest deadlines for each college on a single cheat sheet or small calendar is a good way to keep track of what’s ahead without becoming too overwhelmed. 

For now, important dates include:

  • Early or priority application deadlines for any schools that have them
  • Regular application deadlines for each school
  • Your child’s standardized test dates
  • Your child’s scheduled school visit dates
  • Financial aid deadlines

And if UIUC is on your list (what a great school!), we list many of these important dates on our website, which is updated every summer. Feel free to add these to your calendar, too!

Like we said, the transition to college is not easy, but keeping an eye on what’s ahead and being honest with your child will hopefully make it a little less “not easy,” if that makes sense. And if you ever get overwhelmed, remind yourself that everything will work out in the end. We hope that this college planning checklist has made your journey a little bit easier!

UIUC Admissions

UIUC Admissions

We're here for you as you prepare for college. Whether you're looking for guidance on the college search process or have questions about Illinois, we hope our blogs will help!


  • Hi

    Thank you for the good information. My son, a junior at Glenbrook South, is very interested in U of I as his dream ( only) college, any chance the school will open up for a physical visit this year?

    Thank you,


  • Hi Laurie,
    Thanks for reaching out, and we’re so happy that your son is interested in UIUC! At this time, our focus is on the health and safety of our campus community; therefore, we aren’t encouraging any prospective students to visit campus. However, we do offer a large variety of virtual options on our website, including admissions info sessions, college meetings, video tours, and more. We encourage you to check them out, and we look forward to hosting you and your son in person once it’s safe to do so; we’d love to give him the full college tour experience!

  • This is really a systemic guidebook for an application family. It really helps. Itis great!

  • Hi ,
    Thank you for sharing this blog. My son is applying this at UIUC as it is his dream school. We did take virtual tour and really liked everything about the campus.


  • You’re welcome, Anita, and we’re glad you were able to take a virtual tour of campus! If you and your son have any questions as he prepares to apply this year, don’t hesitate to contact our office. We’re here to help!