The Five Essential Components of an Effective College Application Lesson

Whether you’re meeting with your seniors face-to-face or connecting with them remotely, the college application clock is ticking!  If you’re like me, you want to make sure your students are as prepared as they can be for the college application process so they don’t miss important steps… which often end up being last-minute emergencies for you!

For the past three years, our school has hosted an in-person College Application Boot Camp, a late-summer in-person event that allows seniors to get a head start on their applications.  It’s a great way to teach the most important parts of the application process, establishing a common baseline of knowledge so seniors and their families can have confidence throughout the process.

If you’re interested in offering college application lessons to your seniors, which topics should you include?

We’ve learned that these five pieces of the application puzzle are vital for a comprehensive – yet not overwhelming – college application resource:

  1. Career direction – Your school has likely provided your students with a variety of career development tools over the past few years; now is a great time to get (back) into them!  Seniors are beginning to realize the investment of time and money they’re going to make in the coming years and the importance of choosing well.  Career direction – if not career selection – is important for self-awareness and decision-making during the college application season.
  • College search – If your students are anything like mine (or like I was when I was 18!), they’ve already created a list of schools based on a cross-section of U.S. News & World Report rankings and NCAA national championships.  Or they have no list at all.  Either way, helping students consider a larger number of factors in their college search equips them to find more schools that are a good fit for them.
  • Personal statement – The college essay – or essays as has become the norm for Tier I schools – is often an afterthought for seniors, who treat it like as if it’s another reflection paper for English class.  Especially this year with a glut of test-optional schools, the essay could not be more important.  Our seniors need to know this and we need to teach them about how to craft an effective essay.
  • Paying for college – While you might typically focus on this topic at a financial aid workshop (and then only with parents), we have found that including an introductory lesson on paying for college – and particularly on some ways they can pay less – has been very well received by many of our students.  They are likely aware of the growing burden of student loan debt ($1.7 trillion and rising), and a school counselor can provide tools and information without diving too deeply into the intricacies of financial aid.
  • Project management – Probably the area that trips up most students and their families, managing all the moving parts of the college application process is vital.  Seniors need to realize that they (not their mom) are in charge of making sure that the application, transcripts, letters of recommendation, test scores, etc. make it to the specific colleges by the specific college’s deadline.  Teaching seniors this skill might be the most important lesson of all.

If that seems like a lot of content to you, don’t worry!  What’s great about delivering this content to your students is the growing number of resources that you can provide without having to come up with all of it on your own!  Our role as counselors is to provide tools and equip students to use them, and a college application boot camp – whether delivered online or in-person – is a great way to do that!

Sam Feeney is the Dean of Career and College Success at Falcon High School in Colorado and a consultant for, which is offering their 2020 College Application Boot Camp for free to seniors and their families.