It seems like a long time until August, but NOW is the time to be prepping to enter college in the fall of 2017. Here is what you need to do in three simple steps:

    1. Make the most of your academic breaks: Although we need to unwind during the holidays, Christmas break is the optimal time for you to prepare by:
      • Studying for and standardized tests. Check out What to Expect from the Math Sections of the SAT. Apply now to take the ACT, SAT or the new CLT.
      • Completing the FAFSA. Since the Free Application for Federal Student Aid works on a first-come, first-served basis and could mean free money, don’t procrastinate! Federal FAFSA online applications for the 2017-2018 school year submissions started October 1, 2016. State and college deadlines may differ, so also check with your preferred college. Complete the FAFSA online now.
    2. Weigh your college options through research, and perhaps visit the campuses of your top picks – Read What to Consider When Choosing a College to help get you started. Remember, that you want to focus your energies (and application $) on schools to which you have a good chance of being admitted. Also, apply to an adequate number of so-called “safety schools” (these are schools where your score and profile are better than the typically accepted student). Finally, depending on your financial resources, apply to one or more “dream schools” or “stretch schools”—places you really want to go, despite having scores and profile below the typically accepted student.

 

  1. Have an honest talk with your parents about affordability: Remember all the times your parents wanted to “have a chat?” Well, now it is your turn. Do you have caviar aspirations on a canned tuna budget? It’s time to reconcile dreams with reality. If Mom and Dad can only afford to send you to a local state school while you live at home, but you want to go to a private school far away, then it is time to make an action plan to bridge that gap. You need to start aggressively looking for scholarships and grants now, as well as other ways to avoid or minimize student loans. A good starting point is a scholarship aggregator site like MyRedKite.com—free for students. There are a lot more options and a lot less melodrama when you plan ahead. Trust me when I say that your mom and dad want you to be successful in life. (After all, how else can you take care of them later when they get older?)

Have yourself a merry little Christmas, but not to the neglect of paving the way for college success. Carve the roast beast, then carve out some time for investing in your future.