Plan for College with These Free Resources

By Audena Ferry
Mother helping daughter fill out college application

Applying to colleges can seem like a daunting experience for students and their families. Luckily, you’re not embarking on this process alone. There are plenty of free resources to help make the process easier, so your teen can be excited about their future and focus on their strengths and passions. Together, you can successfully tackle the college planning process, with some help along the way!

Finding a college that fits

Your child has thousands of colleges to choose from and while they may want to find the perfect college, there is not such thing.

Even if a school has a great reputation, it may not be the best fit for your child. It’s important to take into account what they’re looking for in a school—after all, they’ll be spending about four years on campus.

The college search is about exploring who you are and what you want and then finding colleges that will meet your goals.

Talk to your child about their strengths and passions and use that self-discovery to find colleges that could be a good fit for them. Explore schools by size, location, majors, sports/activities, campus/housing and more.

Our BigFuture’s College Search tool can help by asking various questions and uses your teen’s answers—along with their college entrance exam scores, extracurricular interests, and other factors—to create a list of schools that best match your teen.

Discuss the schools on the list and refer to it throughout high school as they consider new schools or rule some out.

Exploring majors and careers

Deciding a college major can also help guide your child’s college search. While many students do not decide their majors right away, it can be a good idea to start thinking about it when applying to schools, as certain colleges offer a career track or major that may fit your child’s interests and goals.

Have your teen search for careers and majors they may be interested in and then find relevant courses and explore schools that offer those degrees.

Getting financial aid

Paying for college can feel intimidating process, so it’s best to start with the basics. Most families pay for college using a combination of savings, income and financial aid to pay for college.

It’s never too late—or too early—to think about paying for college. Don’t assume that a college is too expensive for your family. Colleges vary widely in how much money they can commit to financial aid and what kind of student they’re looking for.

Use a net price calculator for a good idea of the cost for a particular college, but it can’t give you the final answer—the only way to get that is to apply.

Finding scholarships

Grants and scholarships are types of financial aid that your child doesn’t have to pay back. Many students apply senior year of high school for scholarships, but students can start applying their junior year, or even earlier.

Most outside scholarship deadlines are in the late fall or early winter. Smaller, local scholarships might have slightly later application deadlines.

There are also some scholarship programs aimed at bridging the financial gap for students already accepted to colleges that also have later deadlines. 

Putting it all together

You and your child will put in a lot of work together throughout the college planning process. The best thing you can do is to support your child as they prepare for the next stage of their education. 

Audena Ferry is the assistant director of direct marketing at the College Board.

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