High School Seniors: What next?

Seniors! It’s almost time to walk the stage, turn the tassel, and get out of high school and on to begin life as an adult!

So you’ve applied to your favorite colleges in hopes of getting a “big envelope” or a “Congratulations” email! If you’re anything like the students I work with, you have bitten down your finger nails and gotten into plenty of arguments with parents about the next step in your life.
Now that you’ve applied to colleges, there are many other tasks on your “To Do” list before you post the obligatory financial deposit (or Student Intent to Register deposit) towards the next step in your life. Here is a checklist to help you in the process:
1) Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT go through another site other than the government site to complete this application. The internet has tons of false sites trying to steal your social security number and financial information. Be sure you are on the correct site before beginning the process.

1B) Be sure that you have already applied for a pin so that you can complete the online application.

1C) Some colleges will ask you to complete the CSS Profile. The CSS Profile oftentimes has a deadline MUCH earlier than March 2nd.  This application is NOT free but is still required for several private school and seeks much more financial information that the FAFSA. Some fee waivers are available for low income and first-generation college students.

1D) Cal Grant/GPA Verification for California residents that are applying to and intend on attending a California college or university must complete the Cal Grant form and postmark it by March 2nd. 

Some parents have said “we don’t qualify for anything” which may be true-but many colleges offer merit money only to students that have completed FAFSA. Complete the FAFSA just to keep all your financial options open. Many high schools and universities have experts available to help students and families complete this “complicated” form. Ask a guidance counselor or college counselor for assistance. It is not necessary to pay steep fees to financial planners or advisers. In Los Angeles alone, there are several activities and programs available to help students and families complete the necessary forms. The L.A. Cash for College is an invaluable resource to help families with questions.  Check out events and workshops in your area. 
2) Be sure your spring semester courses have been accurately reported to all the colleges to which you have applied. If you change your schedule and/or modify the classes you have reported in ANY way-the student MUST report the change to each school and an explanation for the change. Sometimes the college will say that it is “not a big deal” that you dropped a class, but an application cannot assume this to be the case! 
With that said, students often think that senior year is a time to “relax” or slack off. NO WAY! This article called “Slackers, Beware” is something I have shared with students every year since it’s release. Just because a school has chosen to provisionally admit a student, it doesn’t mean that can’t, or won’t, be reversed. Take senior year seriously. Take all enrolled courses just as seriously as you would every other semester in every other year of high school. If there will be a poor grade on a report card, be proactive and speak with the college before they get a final transcript from the school. Do not give a favorite college a surprise of a “D” or “F” because chances are, they’ll surprise the student back with a letter that begins with…”We regret to inform you…” and trust me when I say that kind major change in a person’s future will affect the family relationship at home.
3) Review the college website-some (not all) may require students to submit a transcript for mid year (fall semester) grades. Many schools have early deadlines for this. If your school happens to be part of LAUSD, chances are the fall semester does not end until after the college deadline has passed. Be sure to report that discrepancy to the schools so they don’t assume you failed to submit required documents.
4) Placement tests. If you have applied for a Cal State school and you are not exempt from the placement exams, you must register for a placement test. You can take the placement test at a local state school so you don’t have to take the test in San Jose if you live in Los Angeles. Also, register early for these tests! Some testing centers fill up quickly. I once had a student travel to San Francisco the day after his Prom because that was the only exam center and last date available to take the test. Learn from his mistake. Find out more information about the placement exams by reading the CSU Bulletin on Placement Tests.
UC Placement exams are a bit different but still require a student to demonstrate a mastery of the English language. The University of California Office of the President can offer more details. Check them out!
Are you applying to a community college? Many community colleges also require placement tests for math classes and English classes and can be found by google or perusing the school’s website. The sooner a student completes the assessment, the sooner students can register for necessary and limited courses.
Students in other states would be at an advantage if they reviewed requirements for their own state or public schools and apply for these placement exams early (if available).
5) Scholarships! Yes, and students thought they were finished completing applications. There is often a misconception that most scholarships get unfunded because students do not apply. I don’t believe it. I do believe that students that do not put their best foot forward on the scholarship application will not even be considered for an interview. As a scholarship committee chair for a large fund, I know that some years are better than others for scholarship applicants. One year, we got over 100 applications while in other years, much fewer students applied for our money. There are plenty of scholarships from which to choose. Sometimes a student is just lucky in the search and application process.
National search engines like scholarships.com and fastweb.com (that also offers way too much spam) are available for students to review and select scholarships from. Unfortunately, scholarships posted on those sites tend to get hundreds (or thousands) of applications from everywhere.
Often untapped are resources from the LOCAL scholarships of small business, non-profits and/or foundations for specific students in select regions. These scholarships often advertise to the local high schools, after-school programs or community centers. Hamilton High School’s website has a host of scholarships for students as does the following site (just formatted a bit differently). Google can also be your friend when looking for scholarships.
Colleges and universities also have scholarship sites to peruse offering many scholarships exclusively for students applying or attending their particular school. While some of those scholarships are linked directly to the admissions application, many of them require a separate application selection process. Do some investigative work and see what’s out there at your favorite school.
**Be sure to pay close attention to DEADLINES! Students, if you think you won’t make a deadline for a reason beyond your control (i.e. a semester that ends incredibly late in the year) contact the college before the deadline.
At least 10% of admissions decisions are overturned (to rejections) because students fail to follow rules and deadlines. Don’t let this be you.