Before you get lost, map the course

Before beginning the college search in earnest, plan ahead. Mailboxes fill with brochures, e-mails start coming and before long you can be overwhelmed by the volume and breadth of information. One of the most important things a family can do is to have a plan. For simplicity sake, here are a few practical tips to stay organized in the areas of mail, e-mail and schedules:

Dealing with Mail

The first college brochure you receive will likely feel like a special occasion; the hundreds that follow may not elicit the same response. A simple way to stay organized is to discuss your criteria for college selection early and then create the “yes,” “no,” and “maybe” piles. When the mailperson delivers, immediately separate your college brochures into one of these piles. For clarification, your “no” pile should be the recycle bin. Trust me, the volume of mail will be significant. Keep the “yes” pile to a limited quantity and go through your “maybe” pile regularly. Plan early and stick with the plan.

Dealing with E-mail

One of the best pieces of advice I can give to families entering the college selection process is to create a shared e-mail address that is the triage center for all college e-mails. Whether a student is doing this search alone or with parents, this allows you to keep your other e-mail addresses free from the important messages that will come your way. Also, consider making e-mail filters to organize your incoming messages by school. Once you narrow your options, adjust your filters to only see the message from schools you care about.

Dealing with Deadlines

Every school has different deadlines, slightly different nomenclature, and a variety of key points in the application process. To keep track of it all, I recommend creating a college selection calendar – electronic or physical – where the key dates and deadlines for your top schools can be seen in one place. If you map this out at the beginning of the year prior to enrollment you give yourself the best chance to stay on top of the process. This should also help you plan as you work on applications, send out references, and apply for scholarships. Time will go by quickly and you don’t want to miss something important.

Remember, searching for a college can be fun as you imagine yourself in a place that will pivotally shape your future. To get the most out of the process I highly recommend planning ahead and staying organized. What have you got to lose?

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