While you may be focused on preparing for the holidays, you should not slack off on your college planning process. In fact there is plenty that can and should be done between December and January. Here is a mid (academic) year to do list:
1. Admission Applications- Now that Early Decision/Early Acceptance deadlines are past, you need to make your final choice of colleges for regular admission. Apply for admission! Keep records of your application materials.
2. Scholarship Search- If you haven't begun your scholarship search yet, now is the time to start. Most private scholarships will have deadlines ranging from January through June. Great sites to help you with your search are http://www.collegeboard.org/ , http://www.fastweb.com/ and http://www.finaid.org/. You can even do a search on Google. For example if you are interested in a scholarship for orchestral music, search that phrase and you will find a link to the John Belushi Memorial Orchestral Music Scholarship. While a search of poetry scholarships will provide you with information for The National High School Poetry Contest. Beware of scholarship scams that promise scholarships or require an application fee. Read the Federal Trade Commissions warning at http://www.ftc.gov/
3. Financial Aid Applications- You can complete and submit the CSS Profile any time from mid-fall on. The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is available in paper form from high schools and college begining in December. Although you can not file the form until January 1st 2010, you can complete the paper form or the online worksheets found at http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/ to have it ready to go January 1st. (The online FAFSA form itself is not available until January 1st.) You will need to gather tax, income and asset information, some of which may not be available at this time. Be aware that you can estimate on the FAFSA if your W-2 forms and other tax statements are not available when you are ready to finalize your FAFSA information and submit the form. Don 't worry you always update the information once you have received the missing data. It is important to get the FAFSA in as soon as you can after Jan 1st as financial aid is awarded on a first come- first serve basis.
4. Register for Selective Service- If you are a male age 18 to 26 years old, you need to register for Selective Service in order to be eligible for financial aid. You can either pick up the the SS Registration Form at any US Post Office or register through the FAFSA form itself.
5. Exams- It is also time to register for SAT I and SAT II, if needed. Check with the Admissions Offices of all the colleges you intend to apply to for information on test requurements. Also make sure to register for your AP tests, as well. Note that unlike past years, CSS allows you to send your best scores to colleges. So it may be advisable to retake your SAT I or SAT II. Discuss this strategy with your parents and counselor.
6. Transcripts- Have mid-year transcripts sent to colleges. Colleges will use your mid-term transcripts in the admissions review process. But don't think that you can let your grades slide in the spring! College will required you to provide final transcripts later at the end of the spring semester as well and if your grades tank, your admissions offer may disappear!!
7. Plan Your Summer - Winter is a great time of year to apply for summer jobs, internships and volunteer programs. With the current unemployment for teenagers (as of December 4, 2009, Bureau of Labor Statistics) was 26.7%, you can start to look for summer opportunities and get a jump on the competition!
8. Financial Planning for Parents - Year end is a great time to review your 529 plans. Remember that this only year (2009) you are allowed two opportunities to change your plan without changing beneficiaries. So if you are unhappy with your current 529 plan you have until the end of this month to make a move, even if you made a change earlier in 2009. Beginning in January 2010 the rule reverts to an annual change. Parents should also pay down credit card debt, as the FAFSA and Profile do not consider that form of debt in the calculations. By doing so you reduce your cash/savings and decrease your assets, which are considered on the forms.
Include these tasks on your holiday to do list and you are sure to reap the rewards this coming spring!