Applying to College
Gather & Prepare Admissions Paperwork Early
Most colleges begin accepting admission paperwork in the fall, often as early as late August. Some colleges have admission and scholarship deadlines in November. Most have financial aid deadlines in February and March. Your admissions packet won't be complete until all items are submitted, including any SAT or ACT scores. (See Preparing for College Bound Exams)
Therefore, you will want to get your admissions and financial aid packets from the institution early, typically in junior year visits, so you can carefully assemble everything in time for their deadlines....and more importantly, early.
Even though the college may take applications until late into the summer, be sure to get your paperwork in early to snag the better financial aid packages and offerings which are filled by first come and qualified. Obviously the more competitive the college or program, the faster their spots fill.
Portland Community College (PCC) requires home schooled students to submit a letter from their ESD verifying they were home schooled. All students must take the new student placement tests (unless SAT or ACT scores allow waiver) and preview a student orientation before they can sign up for fall classes (fall term registration is typically in August).
PCC Insider Tip: the popular freshman classes, especially required math and science courses, fill very quickly. So if your freshman is trying to get certain pre-requisites done by a certain time in order to apply to one of PCC's technical programs by a certain term, you may run into difficulty.
To avoid this, we suggest enrolling in a spring term class so that the student becomes matriculated into the system. This will allow them to register as a returning student in an earlier time block for fall term, thus beating the rest of the freshman crush. (Summer classes do not count for fall term registration priority.)
Common Admission Packet Paperwork
Commonly college admission packets require a certified high school transcript which must be in a sealed, certified envelope. Also check with the college to see how many quarters they prefer a senior to have completed before they will accept the transcript. (See our Transcripts and Diplomas)
Further, admission packets include letters of reference, usually in sealed envelopes, and a student essay which says why the student desires to go to this college or study this field and what their goals are, etc.
Also included is a resume sheet listing special honors, jobs, community service, and extracurricular activities or interests--all of which is very important as most colleges like to see that students have done more than just the academics
The SAT/ACT test scores are sent directly to the college by the exam boards. If you didn't choose a college at time of test registration, you can re-enter the exam board websites and request additional copies be sent to specific colleges, but it may cost more. Don't forget to include any AP, CLEP or SAT Subject Test scores too if you desire to claim those for early college credit and didn't have the results pre-sent to the college.
If applying to several colleges, you may want to buy seperate expandable accordian folders to keep all the paperwork for that college together, which can surprisingly mushroom quickly.
Be sure to make enough copies of the paperwork that will be put in every packet (such as tax information) and keep copies of your application papers (except those in sealed envelopes which you can't open). Use an addressed catalog envelope to catch all the final documents as they become ready to send in before the deadline.
And of course, more and more things are going digital. References can be sent through college links as can a lot of the admission paperwork. Check with the college to see what they take digitally and what must be submitted physically.
Gather & Prepare Financial Aid Paperwork Early
When you picked up your admissions packet, you should have also picked up the institution's scholarship and financial aid materials. Check thoroughly through the college's offerings and what their requirements and deadlines are for their merit or special scholarships.
if your family desires federal financial aid, or even most private scholarships offered by colleges, you will need to file the US Educational Department's FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).
Be sure to only apply at the Federal Student Aid website to apply. There are some impostor websites which end in ".com" and ".org" that hijack your information and request a fee to file this free application. Don't use them. Use the actual government website and file for free with no risk of financial identity theft.
The FAFSA application determines eligibility for federal grant (free) and low-interest student loan (required to be repaid) money for education. The FAFSA determination is sent to your student's colleges of choice who use it to help determine their complete financial aid package. To estimate what your family might receive from federal aid, go to the estimator provided by Financial Aid.Org.
As stated, even many private scholarships require that you file the FAFSA before the they will award the private scholarship.
Thankfully, as of September 2022, FAFSA has dropped the requirement for young men (ages 18 to 25) be registered with Selective Service in order to receive federal student aid. However, it is still required by law, so if your son is between the ages of 18 and 25, he must file with Selective Service. The FAFSA website still allows registration with Selective Service (though it is no longer a requirement for federal aid). The FAFSA is officially linked to the Selective Service by Federal law. Hefty fines and penalties can be levied against a young man who has failed to file during the appropriate age range. For most US homeschoolers, that means your son has a 60-day window around his 18th birthday to register with the Selective Service. (See the Selective Service website for full details and to register.)
Be sure to check "home school" as your school choice for your student even if you used an umbrella school or distance diploma. Prior to 2011, you could self-certify that your child has a legal diploma recognized by your state, however now FAFSA has an automated system cross checking "valid" registered high schools. Leaving the home school "diploma" box unchecked will indicate your student did not graduate high school from a valid high school if your school is not listed in the registered schools. This will deny your application. By Law, Home schoolers are exempt from this FAFSA diploma validation process, but only if you check or fill in "home school" on the FAFSA application.
Another work around is to enroll in community college before July 1st. Enrolled community college students are considered eligible for the FAFSA.
See FAFSA's current list of eligibility requirements.
File the FAFSA Early
Although the deadline for the FAFSA is June 30th prior to the fall term for entering college (just 2 months before most colleges start in September), do not wait that long. Most of the money has been handed out long before then.
Because those that have their paperwork finished first get the dollars first, it is generally recommended to file the FAFSA as early as possible after its opening October 1st date.
The first step to filing is getting your student into the system by obtaining a FSA id. This takes several steps, but once you receive it, you may begin the application process.
Fortunately, FAFSA now allows you to use last year's tax return figures instead of working with this year's estimates. Estimates are problematic if figures change. Be aware, if for any reason your income numbers do change from the original FAFSA application (an amended return for example), you will be required to file an amended FAFSA. (FAFSA required an amendment for us after a $20 difference...yes just $20 bucks folks.)
FAFSA does check those numbers, so be aware it will kick your application back if your final tax return numbers or important info are different from what the government has on file.
Amending the FAFSA
If your FAFSA needs amendment, your FAFSA application, and school application, will be incomplete until the amendment is done.
This amendment could also cause your file to be chosen for school verification. A certain percentage is chosen for extra validation during the processing phase. Going through again increases your chances of being chosen. Extra validation means you will have to provide all sorts of copies of financial documents (final tax return, W-2, etc.) to the college institution to validate your numbers on the FAFSA--all the while your student's file is pending process due to incompletion. (Yup, that $20 difference really paid off.)
So file that FAFSA early. File it with solid numbers and accurate information.
Don't forget to try for other scholarships too. Scholarships are FREE money that does not have to be repaid. Usually there are requirements for renewing scholarships such as keeping a certain grade point average or staying in a certain major, etc.
Numerous scholarships can be applied for in the junior year of high school, or earlier. Begin with local scholarships offered by the organizations your family or child is a member of (4H, FFA, Job's Daughters, Railroad workers, dad's employer, your church, etc.) then progress to the state and national scholarships.
Several good organizations that can help you locate these state and national scholarships are: Oregon's Student Assistance Commission, Fastweb; Broke Scholar; and Student Aid (which helps with federally sponsored student aid as well as scholarships). Broke Scholar also offers helpful advice on writing the all important essays, gathering references, and doing interviews.
Other scholarship sites are:
Finally, be wary of scholarship scams. If you are told that: a scholarship broker wants money to find you a scholarship, or guarantees they will get you a scholarship, or they claim you can't get the information elsewhere, or they ask for your credit card number or bank account to hold the scholarship, or they tell you they'll do ALL the work, or you've been selected by a national foundation or contest that you never applied for or entered... IT IS A FRAUD. (Information provided by Broke Scholar and Rebecca Trelor at Multnomah Bible College seminar).
Trust in God's Provision
While the college process feels overwhelming at times, trust in God's provision. Many adults can attest that life happens in different ways, and many have found different ways to fund college or gain a career.
For ideas, see our article Cutting College Costs.
The CHOC Board
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(Permission is given to print for personal use or link to this article as long as credit is given to Tammy R. Arp at the CHOC Board and our website address is shown.)