Leaving high school

10 Steps for a Stress-Free College Application Process

By Victoria Scanlan Stefanakos

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Applying to college is a big job. And projects that require multiple steps and deadlines can be difficult for kids with learning and attention issues to tackle. Understanding the application process and staying organized can bring this big job down to size. Here are steps to making the college application process easier for you and your teen.


Decide how much you’re going to help.

Figure out in advance how much of the burden you’re willing to carry. This can help make the process constructive, rather than stressful.


Remember the IEP.

If your child has an Individualized Education Program (IEP), he’s entitled to transition planning services. This includes help with college applications. Review how transition planning works.


Use trusted sources for research.

Learn more about your child’s options for college. And visit reliable sites, like the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard.


Consider schools that don’t emphasize testing.

The number of colleges that do not require SAT or ACT scores for admission is growing. Fair Test lists roughly 730 colleges that have dropped or de-emphasized the SAT or ACT.


Start practicing.

Late in his junior year, your teen may want to start practicing filling out the Common Application—the application many colleges use.


Manage time and energy.

Help your child create a realistic schedule to manage applications. Simple apps (like task-sharing apps) and low-tech solutions (like a white board) can help you and child keep important deadlines front and center.


Encourage breaks.

Suggest that your child use a timer or alarm to set aside blocks of time for work and for breaks to pace himself through his to-do list.


Decide if your child will disclose his learning and attention issues.

This is a personal choice. Talk with your child, his educational team and others close to him to weigh your options.


Have documentation ready.

If your child has a documented disability and decides not to tell a university, have his documentation ready anyway. It’s good to have it handy in case he changes his mind or needs it for any reason.


Visit the colleges your child likes best.

Schedule appointments. If your child has a learning disability (LD), reach out to the college’s LD program, if they have one. Try to meet with a student enrolled in the program.

About the Author

Portrait of Victoria Scanlan Stefanakos

Victoria Scanlan Stefanakos is a writer and editor for many national publications.

Reviewed by

Portrait of Jenn Osen Foss

Jenn Osen-Foss, M.A.T., is an instructional coach, supporting teachers in using differentiated instruction, interventions and co-planning.

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