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How Students Can Balance College Applications With Holiday Fun05:50Download

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A group of students walk through the Sather Gate on the University of California, Berkeley campus in Berkeley, Calif., in August 2011. (Eric Risberg/AP)MoreCloseclosemore
A group of students walk through the Sather Gate on the University of California, Berkeley campus in Berkeley, Calif., in August 2011. (Eric Risberg/AP)

December is a busy time for all of us. But it's perhaps busiest for high school seniors and their families. Many are struggling to finish their college applications by the Jan. 1 deadline, and trying to balance school work with holiday parties.

Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson talks with Lisa Micele (@LisaMicele), director of college counseling at the University of Illinois Laboratory High School in Urbana, Illinois, about what students and parents should have on their checklist this month.

December Tips From Lisa Micele

Topic 1: To Interview Or Not To Interview… That Is The Question

Some schools will offer an interview opportunity to you — and these are often “optional” and run by local alumni. Here are reasons why you should participate in an interview (even if it's optional):

  1. This is an opportunity to show your interest.
  2. This is a time to ask specific questions — to get beyond the glossy view book and to help you in determining (more fully) your potential fit with a school.
  3. It will allow you (as the flat “paper applicant”) to come to life.
  4. These active alumni are eager to talk with applicants. Their job is to have a conversation with you and not to put another hurdle or obstacle in your way. They do not work for the admissions office. They are not a part of the admissions process. Embrace the opportunity to have a conversation with someone who attended that school.
  5. Being an active participant in this process will show your sincere "level of interest" in the school. So, have your questions ready and be ready to take the lead. You will be expected to talk more than the interviewer, so enjoy this opportunity. Relax. Be yourself.
Topic 2: Financial Aid

While some families may have started conversations with financial aid offices in your junior year (after using Net Price calculators and working through financial aid worksheets) conversations should continue with financial aid offices throughout the process as well. When should a family contact financial aid?

  1. Contact them with any question or concern. They are there to assist you.
  2. Definitely communicate with the financial aid office when information reported on your FAFSA/CSS profile may not accurately reflect your current financial picture. Changes in circumstances or income should be discussed with a financial aid officer. Follow their lead on how to document these changes and ask how they prefer materials to be sent to them.
  3. If you have important new information to share, you must contact each college.
  4. When you are admitted to a school and you receive an aid package, you should always feel free to call them to help you fully understand the offer and for you to share any concerns when it comes to your ability to pay.

I would encourage you to get the name of the person with whom you speak and ask if you can work directly with them when future follow up and continued conversations must take place. This will be easier and save you time from re-explaining things. Remember common courtesy: be patient, be polite, be respectful. Be prepared to possibly wait for follow up, but always feel free to check on the status of your requests or process.

Topic 3: The Emotional Month Of December

Dear Seniors,

I know it feels stressful at this time of year.
I know that your senior workload continues while college application deadlines loom.
I know many of you are anxiously awaiting outcomes from your early applications.
I also know that I wish for you a restful winter break, so I’m encouraging you to please plan ahead.

Here are final tips for all the hard working seniors out there:

  • Plan ahead now — to work on applications due in January in advance of deadlines. This will allow you downtime for holiday fun and time with friends and family.
  • Attack the basic application portions first and not your essays. You will feel small victories when completing your name, senior schedule, activity chart, etc. Once you experience this movement, the momentum will be contagious! (Seniors: Please start this process now for all the schools left on your list. Your high school counseling office will be closed over the winter break, and you may realize that you have questions or need assistance before everyone leaves).
  • Take an inventory of all essay topics asked of you, and compare them to your inventory of “personal stories” that you plan to share with admissions. You may be surprised by how many topics overlap.
  • Be prepared to feel ambivalent when you go to hit “submit.” This is a common experience, as most students begin to spiral — thinking about how each part of their application "could have been better." Relax. Breathe. Trust yourself. Hit submit.
  • If you plan ahead and stick to your mapped-out plan, you can finish “regular decision” applications well before the deadlines and still enjoy your winter break. Wouldn’t it be nice to plan for fun without guilt?
  • Communicate with your parents or guardians. They are often stressed, nervous and concerned over your applications, too. Be proactive. Share your plan with them. Show them your self-imposed deadlines. Let them know how they can help you. Take the lead on this conversation.
  • Seniors — please remember: You can do this!

This segment aired on December 6, 2016.

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