Applying to college: Focus on fit to reduce the stress

“The stress is killing me and it’s destroying our relationship.” That is not an unusual comment from a parent who is involved in the college admissions process.

That sentiment is underscored in the recently released Princeton Review “Hopes and Worries” research survey, which found that 70 percent of parents and students reported “high” or “very high” stress levels related to thinking about college and 97 percent reported feeling stressed specifically regarding the college application.

What are the most effective ways to reduce that stress and still have a successful outcome? Robert Franek, Senior Vice President at Princeton Review, will share his thoughts on that topic on April 8 in Charlotte, as well as his ideas on how students can make themselves more competitive applicants and how families can become more savvy college shoppers.

Franek says that several of the stress-inducing factors are “knowable” things:

Testing. He believes that both the SAT and ACT are coachable. Students need to identify their gap areas and then target them in their test prep. Testing is a component in the application process, but it is never the defining characteristic and will never take precedence over a student’s academic record.

Financial aid. Franek’s advice is to “be fearless around the process and become as savvy as possible in your understanding of the FAFSA and the CSS Profile.” He said families are afraid to talk about finances, but they must dig in so they don’t make avoidable mistakes in the process and lose money they could have obtained.

When approaching the college search component, Franek recommends paying attention to the “Fit Trifecta:”

Academic fit. Students should be looking for a college environment where they will be competitive but not overwhelmed.

Social fit. Think about the campus culture. You are choosing the student’s home for the next four years. It’s important for a student to feel comfortable, challenged and empowered. Check out the career services, diversity, and dining and dormitory options.

Financial fit. Parents need to become experts in financial aid. But even before knowing all the financial aid jargon, families need to have a meeting of the minds on financial expectations.

Many families believe that it’s reasonable for students to share some of the responsibility and have some “skin in the game.” Financial expectations can’t be divorced from finding the right fit. Understanding which colleges are going to want your students the most and will offer scholarship money is a critical piece of the puzzle.