My daughter left for Camp yesterday – her summer’s just getting started.  Funny, because mine is just about over.

The  2013-14 Common Application opens on August 1, officially marking the beginning of ‘Application Season’ for the Class of 2014.

Summer is typically a time for relaxation, but it should also serve as an opportunity for students to enrich the mind or body with productive experiences — these may include travel, volunteer work, educational or research opportunities, employment, internship, etc. — and to catch up on summer reading.  As for me I’ll be visiting Williams College later this week (and will report back to you with my thoughts next week).

Now, for rising 12th graders, summer can also be used to get an early start on college applications.  And, truth be told  – some of my students have already started working on their Common App essays. And at least one of my more eager beavers is nearly done. This head start not only will make the whole process easier on them in the coming months, but their methodical and strategic approach should enhance their prospects for admission and scholarship offers come next spring.

That’s why I tell my almost 12th graders to begin the process now, so they are not overwhelmed once school resumes.  Oh, they’ll have plenty more to do in September and into the autumn months as the deadlines approach.  But they’ll be in control of the process rather than be consumed by it.

And for their parents, or really any parent who has a high school student, summer is a great time to re-examine your college funding strategy.  Seems as though the slower summer months prompt all of us to do some ‘Spring’ cleaning and planning for the future.  The long evenings afford us time to discuss future plans, and many with college bound kids start asking important questions… like, “Are we prepared for College?  Are our savings going to be enough? What does FL Prepaid actually cover?  What schools should our kids consider? What do they cost?  How much will it cost us?

Only about 3% of families have saved enough to pay the entire college bill for one child, let alone their siblings. For the rest, including middle class families, if you can learn and understand the process, you won’t have to pay full price — in fact you can enjoy significant, 5-figure discounts (we’re talking free money, not loans).  Remember, 1/3 of students on campus pay the ‘sticker’, the rest receive some type of discount.  There is $150 billion in the need-based financial aid system and billions more in merit endowments that are available to offset the price of college.  If you know the rules, you can save.  Stay in the dark and, well…you’ll be spending more than you have to, or your student’s choices will be limited.

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