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Staying Sane During College Applications

You can slog through guidebooks and surf the Web all you want, but nothing prepares a parent for the college application process better than advice from people who've gone through it. I've survived it twice now. What I learned through research, talking to experts and personal experience will help you be part of your kid's search for a school that fits--without going nuts.

By Ellen Parlapiano

Ground Rules

Applying to college is a marathon, not a sprint. Memorize these mantras.

Sizing Up Schools

Forget about prestige and the handful of colleges that always top the so-called hot lists. "A good school is where your child snaps into place like a puzzle piece," says Arlene Matthews, author of Getting in Without Freaking Out (Three Rivers Press). Here's how to find one.

Nailing the Application

This is what impacts whether your kid's file lands in the "Yes" pile.

Decisions, Decisions

Study up on these admissions terms.

Common Application: A single application and essay accepted by more than 300 schools, accessible at www.commonapp.org.

Rolling Admission: Applications are reviewed as soon as they are received, until all slots are filled.

Early Decision (ED): Your kid applies by early November and must enroll if accepted. Only do for an absolute number one choice.

Early Action (EA): An early November deadline and pre-Christmas decision, but nonbinding, so your teen can still apply elsewhere.

Deferred: When ED and EA applications are neither accepted nor denied but considered with the regular- decision applicants for an April reply.

Regular Decision: Applications are due around January 1; answers arrive in April.

Waitlist: Status unknown until after May 1. In the meantime, submit a deposit to secure a spot at another school.

Crib Sheet: Making the Most of a Campus Visit

Even though student blogs, virtual tours and streaming video can bring a college to life from afar, nothing beats hanging out in the student union, sampling the pizza and peeking in the dorms. Travel is costly, but try to swing as many visits as possible. Some do's and don'ts:

What Teens Want You to Know

Teenagers want and need your help, but they don't want to be treated like babies. Here, kids share what helped-and what didn't-in their own words.

Awesome Websites

The search tool pinpoints what kids are looking for in a school and generates a list of options.


Sign up to receive scholarship alerts.


Download student-produced campus life videos.


Find excellent, lesser-known schools and info about free panel presentations and college fairs.


Tons of discussion threads on every possible college topic.

Originally published in the September 2008 issue of Family Circle magazine.