For prospective college students, going through the admissions process without a parent or guardian can be intimidating. Students who have to juggle college applications and financial aid materials may feel alone, but this doesn’t have to be the case, says Jonathan Burdick, dean of admission and financial aid at the University of Rochester.
“Studies show that about half of the students heading to college don’t have as much parent help as they want,” Burdick says. “Colleges are good at discerning when an applicant is self-managing, and they appreciate it. Your best possible strategy is to let the people at colleges know you’re on your own … You’ll get far more support from them than you can imagine.”
Here are five tips students should keep in mind when going through the college process alone.
1. Be organized: Ivan Orozco faced a major obstacle as he started looking into colleges as a freshman in high school. His parents had emigrated from Mexico to the United States, Orozco notes, and a language barrier forced him to go through much of the college process alone.
The fact that he was spearheading most of his college search forced the Illinois native, now a junior at Bradley University, to stay organized and “own the process,” he says.
“Right away, as soon as I got into high school, having a timeline really helped,” Orozco notes. “The summer before senior year of high school, I already had a list of schools that I was going to apply to, along with all the information I needed to apply.”
For students going through this process on their own, it’s important that they simplify the experience, says Lisa Sohmer, director of college counseling at the independent Garden School in New York. “Be organized [and] try to absorb this process in small bites,” she advises.
2. Start early: As a sophomore in high school, Lauryn Schack says that she began considering what she wanted in a college, and she was able to narrow her list of schools early in the process.
“It’s never too early to start thinking about the type of school you’re interested in,” says Schack, an Oklahoma native who went through the college process without parental help.
Schack, now a junior at the University of Arkansas, notes that getting a head start on the college process gave her time to focus on the quality of her applications and financial aid materials.
“Sometimes when I was applying for scholarships, I wasn’t sure if I was responding correctly to questions,” she says. “A lot of times, I would consult my older sister about it, or I would try to find someone to proofread my applications.”
3. Work with academic mentors: Tennessee native Veronica Batista, who recently graduated from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Texas, says she took advantage of her high school’s resources as she started considering schools on her own.
“My teachers were helping me along the way and there were counselors from my school who were helping me out with all my options,” Batista says. “The counselors really did care–not just about my education, but about my interests, my family, and how they could empower me. They made a huge difference.”
Guidance counselors and teachers can also be good resources to connect students and schools, notes Glenn Bozinski, director of admissions at Misericordia University in Pennsylvania.
“There are several teachers who reach out to me regularly on behalf of kids in similar situations,” Bozinski says. “They care about these good kids making good choices, and direct them to a place where they can get answers.”
4. Talk to colleges: Students who are confused or intimidated by the college admissions process should reach out to college officials, says Garden School’s Sohmer.
“Any financial aid [or admissions] office at any college will answer questions,” Sohmer acknowledges. “If a student contacts a financial aid office with questions, they are going to get them answered.”
Prospective students need to overcome their fear of asking college officials “dumb questions,” notes Misericordia’s Bozinski. “Go to college officials and say, ‘I’m in this alone; can you explain things to me?’ More often than not, the person they speak to will jump to help,” he says.
5. Visit schools: The college tour can be the best way for a student to decide whether a school is a good fit. Students who don’t have the financial resources to make a campus visit should reach out to colleges to see if they provide options for free travel to campus, either by plane or bus, notes Sohmer.
For Bradley University junior Orozco, college visits helped him make his final decision.
“I visited my list of schools a lot,” Orozco says. “It was easy to rule out a school once I visited.”