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Collegebound? What to Do Senior Year

By Debra Bell | August 31, 2021 | by Debra Bell, High School, Homeschool For Success

So here you are—the final stretch. Congratulations. Don’t worry. Be happy. Decide to enjoy these final moments with your young adult. Your influence as a parent is waning. After this year, you’ll be wise to wait to be asked before giving your advice. (Remember, I’m speaking with hindsight now.)

If you’ve been ticking off mission-critical boxes since your teen was in 8th grade, then you only have a few milestones left to accomplish. This is the last in the Collegebound? series, and here are the big three priorities for your senior:

1. Make time for college applications and all that entails.

I had no idea how much time this would take! If your child applies to competitive schools or hopes for scholarship awards, then applications must be thoughtfully and carefully prepared. Applications to top choices should take hours, if not days, to finish. If essays are involved, then those should go through multiple drafts and edits. (Find a critical reader or writing coach to help your teen with this.)

The whole point of the application package is to give decision-makers the best, yet representative, picture of your teen’s academic potential, sense of purpose, and unique characteristics. A college admissions director once told me colleges aren’t looking for well-rounded students. They want a well-rounded student body made up of diverse and unique students. Take that to heart and submit an application focused on what sets your teen apart.

So, make room on your 12th grader’s fall schedule for preparing applications, essay writing, college interviews, and final college visits. Even if your teen doesn’t apply for early admissions, get those applications in by the end of December to show drive and organization. (Note to the wise: many scholarship decisions are made with the earliest batch of applicants, so the early bird gets the worm here.)

You can turn all this work into an elective on the transcript. Or consider block scheduling—do all the college work in the fall, including test prep for the final SAT or ACT, finish up other academic credits in the spring.

If you’re not sure how your child can put his best foot forward, get help. My friend Farrar Williams and her colleagues at Simplify Homeschool do just that, and they specialize in homeschool students’ college decision-making and applications.

2. Don’t slack off (too much).

Some kids make the mistake of showing a lightened load the senior year because their minimum requirements for graduation have been completed. This is fine if your teen is heading to the local community college or doesn’t hope for scholarship consideration.

If not, then the course load needs to still show challenge and academic interest. Meeting the minimum requirements for graduation looks like lack of ambition. Importantly, take a math course—pre-calculus, probability and statistics, data science, AP Calculus. Your teen doesn’t want to tackle the college math requirement after a 12-to-18-month break from doing math.

3. Learn to manage (and grow) money.

Your teen will be living with the weight of the financial decisions she makes regarding college debt for a long time after she earns her degree. For many graduates, this severely limits their life choices: They may have to take a job they don’t really want, long delay owning a home, or live with you for years after finishing school. (The latter may not sound too bad to you, but it is psychologically undermining for them.)

Even though this is my last point, looking back, I think this is the most important priority for the senior year. Ideally, you’ve been working on this life skill with your teen up to now as well. Your senior needs to learn to manage money, debt, loans, and financial aid. He will need your help—you might need help! It is so complicated you might end up thinking it is intentional—I did. I lost my religion quite a few times working with my kids’ financial aid offices (I had three in college simultaneously and that right there was half the problem.) Create a filing system. Keep everything handy and well organized. You’ll need this information repeatedly.

Enroll your teen in a good finance class. Solutions from Dave Ramsey are obvious choices here, but there are others. (We personally followed Larry Burkett’s advice—Dave Ramsey’s forerunner—don’t take on more college debit than the likely starting salary of your first job following graduation. That amount was relatively easy to eliminate quickly.)

Your teen should have a checking and savings account to manage, as well as a debit (or credit) card with a maximum limit set relatively low. These are the fundamentals.

Now to really position your teen for success, help her learn how to make money grow. I’m taking a lesson from my sons, who got interested in investing very early through another mom in our homeschool group. They paid for most of their college because of this, along with finding atypical jobs during high school that paid better than most. They then started investing again as soon as they graduated and entered the job market. Today, they both prefer to invest rather than spend, and it has given them and their families the freedom to live where they please and take jobs they love. They passed on top tier schools for a humbler state school with a much lower price tag. Sometimes I still hear them lament this, but I don’t think they’d have the lives they now enjoy had they taken on that boatload of debt back then.

Thanks to all the readers who’ve been through this series with me. For those who want to start from the beginning, start here.

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