Incoming students get help from family and friends as the move into campus housing surrounding the Ikenberry Commons at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

5 Ways to Help Your Child Apply to College

Senior year is a stressful time for the vast majority of high school students. As your child prepares to dive full force into college application mode, you may wonder how to best support them throughout the process without overstepping your role. Today, we’re giving you five ways to do just that with our college planning checklist.

1. Where to Apply

If you haven’t had a family discussion about where your child is planning to apply already, now’s the time. Take a look at their list, ensuring that each of the colleges on it makes sense for them. For example, does your child match up well academically? Does the school include their intended major? Is the location feasible given your family’s situation?

Also, make certain your child is planning to apply to an appropriate number of schools. We don’t have a specific recommendation; the length of the list depends entirely on the student. However, it should never be so long that your child is overwhelmed by applications, and it should never be made up of just one school, either. If you and your child are looking for ways to narrow your options, we can help.

family on the couch reading an acceptance letter at home

2. Dates & Deadlines

Application deadlines are going to vary for every school to which your child applies. Help your child organize all the important ones in a single place, preferably somewhere you both have access to. As each deadline nears, check in to make sure your child is aware of it (and that they’re not waiting until 11:00 p.m. the day of to start filling the application out).

You can also help clarify the language surrounding various application deadlines. For example, some colleges offer early decision or early action deadlines before their regular deadlines. If your child applies within an “early” timeframe, they’ll learn whether they’ve been admitted before regular applicants. However, applying early decision is binding (meaning your child must attend that college if they’re admitted), while applying early action is not. These are important distinctions your child might not be aware of, making your insight valuable.

mother helping daughter with her college applications on tablet

3. College Applications

When it comes time to actually apply, it’s up to your child to do the work. Again, though, different colleges require different materials in addition to the application itself, so it may help to sit down together to sort out who needs what. Common requirements include test scores, transcripts, and letters of recommendation.

You can also offer to proofread your child’s essays. Make sure not to over-edit, though, and definitely don’t answer the prompts for them. Admissions counselors aren’t lying when they say they can tell when words are not a student’s own.

4. Financial Aid

Your child can (and definitely should) apply for financial aid by submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. The FAFSA opens in December this year. It can be very confusing to students, and many of the questions included will pertain to your family’s financial information. Assisting your child as they fill out this form is one of the best ways you can help them during the college application process.

Note that if your child is an Illinois resident who isn’t otherwise eligible for federal financial aid, they can instead submit the Alternative Application for Illinois Financial Aid. To learn more, read our Guide to Paying for College.

Incoming students get help from family and friends as the move into campus housing surrounding the Ikenberry Commons at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

5. Waiting for Decisions

As your child is waiting to hear back from the colleges to which they applied, they’re likely feeling the pressure. Maybe they’re afraid they won’t measure up to their peers. Maybe their hopes are all pinned on one school. Maybe they don’t want to disappoint you.

Remind them again how proud you are of them, regardless of what happens. Help them put things into perspective, and encourage them to enjoy their senior year to the fullest. Then, take your own advice. A year from now your child will be off at college, so this is your chance to spend quality time with your family. Enjoy it.

We hope that this college planning checklist makes the application process a little easier for you and your child. If your family has any questions whatsoever along the way, don’t hesitate to reach out to admissions offices (including UIUC) directly. Our counselors are always here to help!

UIUC Admissions

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