For most of my life, I thought the Dog Days of Summer began in mid-August. That’s when the predictability of another sweltering hot morning, followed by yet another afternoon thunderstorm would inevitably lead me to experience a certain, strange combination of lethargy mixed with anxiety. As a child, I was, by this point in the year, done with ‘downtime’ and  ‘over’ the slower pace of summer, but also just beginning to tie myself up in a knot knowing that the start of school was just around the corner. Dog days.

Well, turns out I was half right. Technically, “Dog Days” refers to a very specific time of year, July 3 – August 11, when the sun shares the sky with a constellation known as Canis Major, or Greater Dog. Everything else associated with the Dog Days– including the anticipated feeling of panic of another school year about to start — is entirely made up in the human imagination. Powerful thing that imagination, which brings me to what all of this has to do with you and your college planning efforts.

In both my professional experience as a counselor to students and advisor to schools and parents (and in my personal day job parenting my own, now college-going children), I’ve found the best way to ease nearly any anxiety is to take action… nearly any action. We have a saying in my practice and in my house: ‘progress begets progress.’ Making progress is uniquely beneficial in that it acts as both a de-stresser and a motivator.

With current circumstances as they are (unknowing), the strange brew of anxiety and complacency that mark the Dog Days is more acute among our young people than perhaps at any other time I’ve seen. Those students who are feeling most comfortable are those who are using this time to do something for themselves, to make progress.

For many of our rising 12th graders, that means they are finishing up the most difficult components of their college applications, including their personal statements and activities lists/descriptions. Note that the Common App for Fall 2022 Admissions will open officially on August 1 (less than two weeks from now), but students can be completing many of the basic fields within the App right now.

For many of our rising 10th and 11th graders, they are completing test prep courses or completing a summer learning experience.

I mention these measures of progress with a full appreciation that every student should work at their own pace. Figuring out what you want to do post-high school – and then how to do it – is NOT a race to be won. There is no benefit to you for finishing first… the opportunity (as in the relief you’ll feel) lies in getting started.

The same benefit (relief) is also true for the parents we counsel. Most of the parents we work with feel the angst as deeply as their college-bound children… only theirs comes with the added burden of worrying how they’ll pay for whatever said child winds up doing post high school.

In this way, the slower Dog Days can serve as a valuable opportunity for our parents of college-bound students as well. Very few (almost none) of the families we work with pay as much as what is on the ‘rate card’ or what they think they will have to for their child’s education. That’s because many of our parents come to us with enough time for them to learn how the rules of how college pricing really works and how to make those rules work to their child’s advantage. Hint: there are two prices for college: there is the published or sticker price for college and then their is the net price, or the percentage of the sticker that you’ll actually be expected to pay.

Now, when it comes to paying your net price for college, the earlier you get started, the better. Financial aid “season” opens on October 1, but success with financial aid forms, both the FAFSA and the CSS Profile, depends both on how well you understand the rules, and on when you start taking action to maximize your financial aid eligibility.

While it’s almost never too late to improve your bottom line and to relieve your anxiety, the earlier you take action the better your results and your peace of mind. For example, for students graduating high school in 2022, the income year that colleges will be analyzing to determine financial aid eligibility is 2020. For students who will soon be 11th graders, the income year in question is 2021 (as in this year), which should give you an idea of how early planning can translate to increased financial aid dollars.

In our practice we not only help students gain admission to college, we also help ensure that those same students can afford those opportunities without excessive student debt. We ‘treat’ the whole family, ensuring that the students have post-high school plans that their parents can afford. In our practice we help each member of a family do their part. We coach the students from an academic standpoint and we help their parents navigate the complex financial aid process so they can maximize both aid and scholarship opportunities.

If you find yourself spending your Dog Days of Summer in a dog fight with your rising senior, or in some difficult discussions with your soon-to-be 10th or 11th grader, we can help.

If your 12th grader is stuck and you’re at your wits end trying to get them motivated to complete their applications, we still have a few spots left for the Class of 2022. If you’re the parent if a younger high schooler, feeling nervous or overwhelmed about the whole college admissions process… or in a panic because you saw yet another report on the outrageous costs of college, then reach out to us and we’ll talk you through it.

We’re here to help.

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