The Scholarship System: 6 Steps on How to Win College Scholarships and Secure Financial Aid

5 Quick Tips to Maximize the Holiday Break for the College Process

The holiday season is upon us. While this often represents time to spend with family, it is also a great time to catch up on the college topics that have fallen to the wayside. 

Whether you are the parent of a high school junior or senior, or already have a child in college, these holiday breaks have critical deadlines for all students planning to go to college as well as those already in college.

So, let’s work this holiday to secure their academic future, and let me show you the way.

Here are five tips to help you maximize the holiday break to help your child reach collegiate glory.

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1.    Get Organized!

The first step of any good plan is to get organized. Start by setting aside specific times during the break to work on college-related priorities. Depending on your child’s current grade level, your needs may vary slightly. To help you get a plan on paper, here are the most important areas to focus on.

Scholarship Time

You always want to start with scholarships. Why? Because deadlines are already happening. This is one area where you want to be the early bird. So, if you and your child haven’t started researching scholarships, this is definitely where you want to start, especially for current high school seniors and college students.

Luckily, there are a wide variety of scholarships available through almost any kind of organization you can think of. In fact, some scholarships allow children as young as four years old to be considered. Others accept applicants who are going to be seniors in college. That said, it doesn’t matter if your child is 4 or 22, they can (and should) be applying.

With that much space, a little digging can go a long way. But, if you are looking for awards for the Fall 2017 semester, you need to get on this quick.

Not sure how to find scholarships? Grab your spot to our next free webinar for parents on the 6 Steps to Securing Scholarships.

Applications and Admissions

High school seniors need to have these moving forward ASAP. Some colleges and universities are still in their early admissions period, so you can get a head start if you apply now. Others will stop accepting applications as early as January 1st (waves at Harvard).

Depending on where your senior would like to go to college, the clock may be ticking. Get those applications in order and submitted ASAP. Otherwise, if you miss the deadline, that school is off the table for at least the fall semester.

College application and scholarship deadlines are fast approaching, and there are only so many more chances to get an SAT or ACT scheduled (for more information on deadlines for high school seniors, check this post here!). 

FAFSA

All hail the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (or FAFSA), gatekeeper to federal grants and student loans, potential holder of your child’s collegiate financial future; we bow to thee.

Every high school senior and college student looking to remain enrolled next year must complete this doozy of a form. Even though it feels intimidating, the FAFSA is actually fairly stress-free. It relies on facts and data, and it even tells you where to get the information (aren’t open book tests the best!).

While the FAFSA deadline might not be an immediate issue, it is important to realize that certain awards related to FAFSA applications are only available on a first come, first serve basis. That means, if you wait until the last minute to complete the forms, you may miss out on funds you would have otherwise gotten.

So, a little bit of diligence on the part of you and your college student can pay off in real dollars, which makes it worth the trouble now.

SATs and ACTs

High school juniors and seniors need to be thinking about their SATs and ACTs (especially seniors who haven’t taken one yet!). Each college can have different deadlines for SAT and ACT scores, which you will see during the application process.

High school seniors are running out of time to get these exams handled if they want the results to help them get into college in the fall. So, if they haven’t signed up yet, there is no better time than the present.

Juniors have a little more leeway. That means the holiday break is a great time for a practice test (I can hear the groans now). Part of what makes the SAT and ACT feel so daunting is that many students aren’t very familiar with the format. Luckily, practice tests replicate the actual testing experience pretty well…well, except for the computer options and being in the comfort of your own home, but they are otherwise pretty close. Use the holiday to get more familiar with the inevitable, and they may find it easier to handle the exam when the real one comes around. Lastly, we actually recommend that juniors take the official SAT/ACT once before the end of the school year to get a feel for their real test scores.

Below is a quick table to see what your child should be focusing on based on their school year.

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Want more guidance on organizing the college process for high school seniors and juniors? Check out our College Process calendar! You can download it here.

2.    Get a Competitive Edge with Volunteering

This time of year presents a number of volunteering opportunities. Food banks, soup kitchens, and other charities can use a hand any time of year, and the holiday season is no exception.

When checking into volunteer opportunities for your child, look into options that can help them during their college admissions process. If they can find something related to their field of study, that’s AWESOME. If not, then volunteering will still look great on college applications (and future job applications too).

If the right volunteer opportunity isn’t available, have them check into local professionals working in their target field. They may be able to get some experience shadowing them while lending a hand with basic tasks. While there is no guarantee someone will be willing to take on the temporary title of mentor, it never hurts to ask.

 

3. Scholarship Time!

Since you already organized the time for scholarship applications, now is when your child can do them. Have your child research opportunities that may work for them, and help them get set up to apply. December is a big month for scholarship deadlines, so the Thanksgiving holiday is a great time to get these handled.

If you want a hand finding great scholarship opportunities for your high school or college student, join our free webinar.

Once the scholarship applications are in motion, then it’s time for the next round of applications.

4.    College Applications

Now it’s time to lay it all out on the line! Let’s get these applications started!

Many college applications have similar (if not identical) requirements. That means your child can easily work on multiple applications using the same information. Just make sure your child reads each carefully so that they don’t accidentally get something mixed up, especially the name of the college in any application essays (don’t think they like being called by someone else’s name any more than you would – and it has happened).

And, speaking of essays, the holiday break is a great time to write them. Have your high school student take their time when creating the essays, and make sure they are as perfect as possible before the holiday breaks are over. If your child has a teacher in their high school that is willing to take a look, it never hurts to have someone else review them, just in case.

Also, keep in mind that many of the scholarship requirements can be used for college applications and vice versa. Hopefully you are seeing a pattern here – reusing materials can save you and your child plenty of time. And having this game plan will help you both realize where items can be reused!    

5. Now Relax

Ah, the best part: The holidays are a joyful season, and it is important to dedicate some of your time to rest, relaxation, and rejuvenation. You and your child have worked hard, and you certainly deserve a break for all of your efforts thus far. So, kick your feet up in front of the fire, enjoy a second (or third…or fourth) serving of pie, and congratulate yourselves on a job well done. You’ve earned it!