I know this statement sounds absurd for many reasons, not least of which being the fact that it makes me sound miles more sophisticated and educated than I generally put forth.
But educated I am . . . as I am reminded every month by the hundreds I pay to Sallie Mae for the privilege of being learned. (Pronounce that Learn Ed, please.)
The reason I heart B. Bern right now (Fed chair) is because I was quite stupid when I was 17, and sorry Dad, so were my parents. We were clueless about applying to college, and specifically about financial aid, and I wound up with one of the worst loans possible—it cannot be consolidated with any other, and its interest rate fluctuates with the economy. Thanks to the recesh and a bit of point-slashing by the Fed, my payments are actually dropping at the moment—but I fear to think of what will happen if a certain party is reelected to the White House.
I'm thinking that the best solution for high school juniors and seniors who are similarly undereducated in college-bound matters is to go somewhere where someone has already figured all this stuff out and will tell you what to do, how to do it and when to do it. Unfortunately and a little unexpectedly, it's not easy to find this in most high schools across America—God only knows what the guidance department does.
It's probably easiest to just do it yourself at home. MyCollegeCalendar.org has basically spelled everything out for almost-undergrad fools. The company's C.O.O. started it after collecting a ton of material while his eldest daughter was applying to college—she got into a bunch of good schools and went to the one that would end up assigning her to live in the same room as me for her freshman year, much to the musical distastes of our floormates.
The site keeps track of everything for you. It tells you when you need to be applying to the schools of your choice (you can enter up to 10 into your calendar), when is the best time to apply for scholarships and grants (the earlier, the better) and basically holds and reminds you of any other info you want to include. And that is undoubtedly better than nagging parents worried about your essays, owing an unnecessary amount post-grad, or discovering you missed the deadline of your top choice after you already bought the $85 hoodie.
It won't contribute to your college costs, 'cause it's free, and it will probably work better than having a thousand applications and a million post-its everywhere, because it's kind of hard for the internet to somehow end up in the trash.