How to Prepare

When should I apply for college?

You should apply early in the fall semester of your senior year. Your SAT/ACT scores and high school transcript can be resubmitted with updated info along the way.

How do I choose a college? Any resources?

Our advice is to make an informed decision based on balancing what you can afford with which school provides you with the most opportunities for your major. “Because my parents went there” or “Because all my friends are going there” aren’t the best ways to go about selecting your school. There are a number of rankings available, but they all should be used as a way for you to compare hard numbers, like the number of students, or the average test scores of incoming freshmen.

How do I choose a major? Any resources?

Every student is different, and not every student is going to know what they want to be at 17, 18 or even 19 years of age. If you know what you want to be, then choose a major that prepares you for that career. If you are lucky enough to already know which subject you have a passion for, then follow that passion.

Does it make a difference when I submit my admission application?

The College Board recommends that you start during the summer before your senior year. Make sure that you plan ahead enough time to finish the application. The number of students that do not complete our Dell Scholars Program application every year is regretfully high.

Do I have to take both the ACT and SAT?

Check with the schools that you are applying to. Most schools take both, but only require one. You may decide to take both, but you should submit the one that best reflects your performance and abilities.

How many colleges should I apply to?

The common rule of thumb is that you should apply to two that are reach schools (schools that you really want to go to, but may be a reach);  two or three that are “good fit” schools”; and, 2 that are safety schools (schools that you would have no trouble being accepted to).

When is the best time for college visits?

School and life can get pretty busy, and before you know it, it’s time to apply. You may want to try and visit local schools during your junior year. If you are very active in school, you might consider using free time from high school for college visits. By the time your senior year rolls around, you should visit your top three schools if you hadn’t already done so.

When should we start preparing for college?

College preparation really begins in middle school during the class and activities selection period as some middle school classes count for high school credit. Preparing in middle school can lead the way to opportunities for dual credit classes, early college credit and/or the ability to take college classes while in high school.

You should also start keeping a list of awards received, volunteer gigs, sports, activities, recognition, part time jobs, etc. that can be used for college applications.

How to Pay

How do I know how much I can afford to pay for college?

Net Price. That is the term that you should pay attention to. Net Price is the real price that a school expects you or your family to pay, either through income, savings or loans. Calculating the Net Price is simple in theory: it is the Cost of Attendance minus Grants and Scholarships. There are many online calculators that will help you with this. College Board and FinAid are two of the more well know ones. Many schools also have them online, but oftentimes they are buried deep in their sites.

Where do I find scholarships?

There are many, many services out there with promises of finding you thousands of unmatched dollars. The truth is there are thousands of unmatched dollars, but those services don’t always help. Start by checking with the schools that you are planning to apply to, then check sites like  or . You should also check with your high school guidance counselor, local librarian and chamber of commerce to see what local scholarships you might qualify for.

When should I apply for the FAFSA? When should I renew my FAFSA?

October 1 is the first day you can complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). You should try to file as close to this date as possible, but the FAFSA has to be filled out AFTER you and/or your parents file income taxes. This FAFSA/IRS dance is repeated every year that you are in school and want to apply for financial aid. For more information on FAFSA please visit the Federal Student Aid site or the FASA site.

Click here for a free download of the best selling 250-page book, Filing the FAFSA: The Edvisors Guide to Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

When should you apply for financial aid? Do you do this during the application process, or after your child has been accepted?

The Illinois Student Assistance Commission has a page titled How and When to Apply for Financial Aid (Calendar) that will help, but the bottom line is start early and continue to search and apply throughout your college career.

How/Why do you lose financial aid eligibility in college?

In order to receive federal aid, you must at least satisfy some basic eligibility requirements. To keep it, you must continue to satisfy those requirements, make satisfactory progress. If you’ve lost financial aid, it could be that you changed majors and no longer qualify for certain types of aid.

What options do I have if I lose financial aid eligibility in college?

Make an appointment with both your academic AND financial aid advisors. You cannot be afraid to ask for help. Often, students will drop a class due to one reason or another, which takes them below full-time status which can effect aid.

What are 529 college savings plans?

529 college saving plans are savings plans that help families save for college. The money that is earned in these accounts are not taxed by the federal government and there could be state discounts as well. The National Association of State Treasurers created the College Savings Plan Network which provides more info on 529 plans as well as links to most 529 plan websites.

How to Succeed

What do I do if I begin struggling academically in college?

Ask for help. Your professors, teaching assistants, and academic advisors are there to help you. You are not the first one to struggle, and they will guide you to resources that will help get you back on tract. Ask for help, don’t just hope that you will get better.

How do I approach a professor during office hours?

You may think that you are the only one that needs help, but eventually most students need to reach out and ask professors for help, even Grad students. Check out this resource from from graduate students that walks you through how to ask for help and why you should!

What should I do if I have a family emergency while in college?

Ask for help. Starting to see a pattern here? Talk to your parents before you drop everything including your studies. If you must leave school, then set a hard return date. If you can’t set a date, talk to your professors and to your academic advisers. You are not the first one to face these issues, and they will guide you to resources that will help you.