How to Simplify College Planning

Planning for your child’s (or grandchild’s!) college education can be stressful and confusing. What schools should they consider? What criteria do schools look at in potential students? What kind of financial or merit-based aid should they expect? Are they more suited for one career over another? What types of extra-curricular activities should they be focusing on?

That’s a lot to consider and it’s only part of the process. Fortunately, there are smart people like Lindsey Ringenbach from Advantage College Planning that do a great job of walking students and their families through the college planning process.

On Wednesday, October 23rd at 7 PM, Lindsey will be at the Beacon office presenting information to help demystify the process of affording, searching for, and applying to college. During her presentation, Lindsey will discuss strategies for navigating the financial resources available to students and families. She will also provide information about how to conduct a comprehensive college search and why finding the best fit schools for your student is beneficial academically, socially, and financially. Finally, she will conclude with a discussion about the criteria used in the admissions process.

As a preview, here are some of Lindsey’s thoughts on extra-curricular activities and college applications from her recent blog post…

College admissions officers consider many factors when reviewing applications, including how applicants spends their time. Typically, college applications ask applicants to list their activities in a grid or chart. The Common Application currently provides ten spaces for students to share information about their extra-curriculars. For some students, that is not enough room, while other students consider ten spaces as too many. My high school sophomore swims competitively year-round. He spends all of his time in the pool. He’s not involved in many school clubs, he doesn’t do a lot of community service (and when he volunteers, his commitments are usually swimming-related), nor does he have a part time job (aside from occasionally making money by helping a swim coach in the spring). When it comes time for him to apply to college, his activity list will reflect pretty much only one thing: swimming. And that’s actually ok. I’m not worried that he isn’t “well-rounded”, because, clearly, he has a passion and is pursuing that passion to the nth-degree. He might not fill all ten spaces on the Common Application, but his list will reflect his priorities.

The college admissions process doesn’t reward well-roundedness the way it used to. Today, college admissions offices value the depth of activities more than they value overall breadth. This might be good news to students. It isn’t necessary to check off a list of activities just because you think it will look good on your college application. Instead, you should focus on developing your authentic interests and taking the initiative to go deeper into what you really care about. That might mean you have to take risks and push yourself beyond your comfort zone.

But what if you lack a clearly defined interest? How can you develop an activity and take it to the next level? Here are some pro-tips:

  1. Push yourself to try something new. Start with a hobby or general interest and get involved with something related to that topic. For example, if you like to play video games with friends, perhaps think about researching game design, or sign up for a class over the summer to learn to code.
  2. Reach out to a teacher who knows you well. Ask that teacher to help you identify activities/organizations that might interest you. Here’s a sample question to ask your teacher: “I’m really into creative writing but I’m not sure how to pursue that interest outside of school. Do you know of any literary clubs or writing groups that might help me continue to develop my work?”
  3. Get your friends involved! Participate in a service project as a group and you take charge in organizing everything.
    Sometimes, just getting started is the hard part. Don’t be afraid to take the first step and use your resources to help you get going. You can do it!

Advantage College Planning offers personalized, step-by-step college planning guidance to families from start to finish. College is one of the biggest investments of your lifetime, so you want to be sure you navigate the process well!

We hope you can join us on October 23rd at 7:00pm to learn how to simplify college planning. Our doors will open at 6:30PM so you can enjoy drinks and light refreshments before Lindsey’s presentation.

Please call us at 919.821.5225 or reply to your Friday Brief email to reserve your spot!

Geoff Hall, CFP®
[email protected]

My wife, Crystal, and I have been married for 11 years and have two kids, Cooper (10) and Rhodes (8.) When I’m not spending time with them you might find me downtown serving at our church, pushing my limits during a mountain bike ride or having coffee with a friend in the Five Points area. I've been a financial advisor for 29 years and I'm thankful for the privilege of shepherding my family of clients through the ups and down of the markets, and of life for that matter.