Planning for college is one of the most important things parents and students will ever do. But it can seem overwhelming, particularly if you’re not organized and don’t start planning early enough.
Fortunately, there’s one quick way to simplify the whole process and start planning for college the right way.
It starts with setting up a college planning calendar and marking some of the most important dates for you and your student.
In this article, we take a look at how to set up your own college planning calendar and the 6 key things you should include in it:
- Can’t Miss Student Events
- Parent and Family Commitments
- Student and Parent Days Off
- ACT/SAT Test Dates
- College Fairs
- College Visit Opportunities
I’ll walk you through each of these categories and provide some quick examples to help you start marking your calendar.
Noting these dates will give you some immediate structure that will help you get organized, start on the right track, and reduce the overall stress and worry of college planning.
Let’s get started.
Setting Up Your Calendar
First, you’ll want to set up your college planning calendar and decide if you’re going to keep it on paper or manage it electronically. Ideally, you should set up a calendar that’s easily accessible at work and at home, so you don’t create unwanted scheduling conflicts or miss out on key college-related events and opportunities.
For tech-savvy parents, it’s a good idea to use Google calendar, Microsoft Outlook, a mobile app, or another electronic calendar that you can share across devices and view both at home and at work. Otherwise, you can always keep it “old school” and use a day planner or other paper-based calendar.
Next you’ll want to start marking key dates and events on your calendar, and there are six things you should make sure to include:
1. Can’t Miss Student Events
“Can’t miss” student events are important dates for your student, such as extracurricular activities or busy times at school. These might include a scheduled track meet, a school musical, or a science fair where your student is a participant.
They might also include finals week, AP exam dates, or times when your student might need to work on test prep for college entrance exams.
Make sure to note any of these can’t miss dates because you don’t want your student to have to choose between taking the ACT or SAT and going to the state track meet or performing the lead role in a school play.
2. Parent and Family Commitments
There are also can’t miss dates and commitments for parents and families. These might include important work-related activities, such as business travel, attending a conference, or important on-site or off-site meetings.
There may be certain busy times for parents too, such as month-end or year-end periods at work, or busy seasons for your profession or business.
There may also be family and social obligations you need to accommodate, such as birthdays, anniversaries or family vacations. Always be sure you’re accounting for any parent and family commitments along with events your student can’t afford to miss.
3. Student and Parent Days Off
Student and parent days off are what I call “opportunity dates.” These are days when your student may be off school, such as teacher in-service days, conference days, spring break or summer vacation, or the random Friday off.
There may also be days off for parents, such as holidays periods or times when work might be a bit slower and it’s a better time to be away from work or take vacation days.
Days off for students and parents are often the best times to work on college planning. If you’re lucky, they may line up with college fair dates or key college visit opportunities, so your student can visit a college they’re considering or meet with its representatives without taking time away from high school.
4. ACT/SAT Test Dates
ACT and SAT test dates are probably the most “can’t miss” dates of all. If your student is planning to take the ACT, SAT or both, there are only limited testing dates available. You need to reserve them well in advance.
You should also note any dates or time periods when your student may need to work on test prep, attend test prep classes, or take practice tests.
If your student is planning to take a test more than once to improve an initial score, or if you think this is a possibility, it’s crucial to plan ahead. You need to account for scheduling and taking the test. multiple times and doing more test prep in between.
For some great insights and advice on the ACT and SAT tests, how to plan and prepare for them, and whether your student should take them, check out my Complete Parents’ Guide to College Testing.
5. College Fairs in Your Area
College fairs are some of the best opportunities to meet with representatives from colleges and learn more about schools you may be considering. College fairs are held all over the country, and students should start attending these during their freshman year of high school.
Typically, college fairs are held in metropolitan areas, but sometimes they’re held in smaller communities. They’re also free to attend, except for occasional parking fees.
Students will usually need to pre-register for college fairs online, and you’ll need to make sure you block out the dates of any fairs you plan to attend. You can access a list of fairs, dates and locations at the National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC) college fairs website.
To learn more about college fairs and how they can help you choose a college, you can download or listen to my podcast episode on The Untapped Goldmine of College Fairs.
6. College Visit Opportunities
On certain dates during the school year, schools may offer ideal college visit opportunities. These may include open houses, career days, or other special events that give your student a chance to visit the school in-person and learn more about majors, departments, opportunities and life on campus.
These visit dates can be especially important for you and your student if they involve some of your dream colleges or the top schools on your list.
Make sure to note these dates on your calendar and determine whether they might match up with a potential family vacation, a business trip, or another event you might be attending in the same area. In these cases, you can combine a college visit with other travel to save time and cost.
When planning your visit, make sure to download my College Visits Questionnaire and Checklist. It provides sample questions to ask various campus representatives, and it’s a great source of inspiration for developing your own list of questions.
You can also learn more about the different types of college visits as well as their benefits by reading by article, College Visits 101: The 5 Types of Visits.
Don’t Forget: There’s More Help Available.
If you’re looking for a complete guide to everything you need to know about how to plan and save for college and put your student on the road to a bright future, sign up for my College Planning Jumpstart video course. Or check out my financial advising services and learn how to hire me to develop a full college financial plan that will help your family pay for college without going broke or wiping out your retirement.