Prepped for Success: What Every Parent Should Know About the College Application Process by Nicki Washington


Should my child take the SAT or ACT? How many times? What is the FAFSA? When should we schedule campus tours?

If you don’t know or remember the answer to these questions, then this is the one book you should read. This guide for parents covers everything you need to help your child successfully complete the college application process. Each chapter includes a suggested timeline to complete activities and FAQs, ensuring you are actively involved and have an organized plan of action for your child’s senior year of high school.







The most important reason for attending college is to obtain a degree. After all, this is the educational foundation for your student’s career path. A major concern for students is choosing a major. Some students know their intended major as early as ninth grade. Others may change their intended major numerous times before matriculating. Some students do not declare a major until their sophomore year of college. Finally, there are students who change majors as late as their senior year of college (although this is not the norm or encouraged).

If you and your student thoroughly consider possible majors BEFORE matriculation as well as during his/her freshman year of college, these stumbling blocks can be avoided. This chapter will help you identify areas of interest, as well as additional possibilities you may not have considered.

How to Choose a Major

People often think the simple way to choose a major is to identify a desired career, and select the most obvious major that leads to it. For example, if a student wants to be an attorney, he/she may think you should declare a major in criminal justice or political science. While this may be logical and helpful, it is not required, nor does it consider all possible majors. For example, a number of attorneys have bachelor’s degrees in business, engineering, English, and science. Choosing a major should be a well-thought out decision that includes the following factors:

Career interests

Degree requirements

Academic strengths and challenges

Understanding Financial Aid

The FAFSA is the one financial aid application you MUST complete. This form will determine what federal aid (grants, loans, work-study) your student qualifies for. In order to receive federal student aid, you MUST complete the FAFSA. Many forms of aid offered by your state and prospective universities will also require completion of the FAFSA.

The FAFSA can be found online at

The FAFSA will be used to determine your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). This amount is what your family can contribute financially to the costs of your student’s college education, and is calculated as:

Amount of Aid Needed = Total University Costs – EFC

Dr. Alicia Nicki Washington was the 2000 valedictorian of Johnson C. Smith University, receiving a B.S. in computer science. She received a M.S. and Ph.D. from NC State University in 2002 and 2005, respectively, becoming the first African-American female Ph.D. in computer science from the university, and the first Johnson C. Smith computer science graduate to obtain a Ph.D.

Dr. Washington has been a featured guest on radio and television shows such as Fox5 Morning News, “The Daily Drum,” and “The Ernest Burley Show.” She has also been a featured writer and speaker for institutions and organizations such as Google, USA Today College, Bennett College for Women, Johnson C. Smith University, The DC STEM Summit, National Coalition for Women in Information Technology, and the National Society of Black Engineers. She is a native of Durham, NC.




Get to Know Nicki:

1. What was your motivation for writing “Prepped for Success?”

I always wanted to provide a guide for students on how to succeed in college, even as a graduate student. However, once I joined the faculty at Howard University, I realized how many students were ill-prepared for college and, more importantly, didn’t make the best decisions during the college admissions process. As a result, they were in majors or universities they didn’t want to be in, failing classes, and at risk of losing their scholarships or being suspended from school. This book was designed to help high-school students and parents ensure they make the best decision when going through the admissions process, so that they can avoid this unfortunate situation.

2. What is the biggest mistake you see students and parents making during the college admissions process?

The biggest mistake students and families make is waiting too late to begin preparing for and applying to colleges and universities. Many students think that they are ok if they begin in August of their senior year. The truth is, if you wait until your senior year to begin preparing for this process, you are behind. There are activities outlined in the book that students can begin preparing for as early as 9th grade, such as documenting all extracurricular activities and creating a resume.

3. Many parents find the college admissions process overwhelming, either because they never experienced it themselves or it was so long ago that things have changed. How does “Prepped for Success” help them?

“Prepped for Success” was designed for any parent, regardless of whether they attended college or not. Each chapter provides a clear guide on the steps to accomplish, why they are important, and how to best complete them. I’ve spoken to many parents who express concerns about helping their student. Once they complete the book, they are much more comfortable and confident moving forward through the process with a plan. That is the key, having a plan and knowing how to accomplish each step.

4. What makes “Prepped for Success” different from other college-prep books?

While I was writing the book, I researched what college-prep books were available. I found that there were almost no books dedicated to helping parents help their children navigate through this process. In addition, those that provided information were very lengthy. “Prepped for Success” is designed to be a resource that parents (or even students) can refer to continuously throughout their 11th or 12th-grade year. Anyone can complete the book in one afternoon. However, what they will find is that, after the first completion, they will constantly refer to the book as they begin the process, to identify exactly what steps they should accomplish. This is what makes “Prepped for Success” unique. It’s not a book that parents or students will read once and then throw away. Throughout the entire year, the book provides valuable information on a range of activities, from identifying colleges to apply to, to the summer after high-school graduation. In addition, it provides information for parents of international students. We have a large international student population at Howard University. Many of them expressed that they had to find most college-related information themselves, because family members were unable to help them identify what resources were needed.

5. One of the biggest concerns regarding college is the cost and the availability of financial aid. How difficult is it to find financial aid for college?

There is an abundance of financial aid for college. Many students don’t apply for all of the financial aid available because they either don’t know what is available, or they don’t want to complete the application. This is why “Prepped for Success” is so valuable. It helps students streamline this, by creating generic essays, for example. These essays can be used for not only college applications, but also scholarship applications. Also, most people only know about scholarships or student loans as financial aid options. There are four types of financial aid, with only 1 requiring repayment. “Prepped for Success” discusses each of these in detail, including where to find them.

6. Are there any other resources available for readers?

“Prepped for Success” is available in Spanish. In 2012, I will be publishing “Stay Prepped: How to Succeed in College (and Enjoy the Experience).” This book is a follow-up to “Prepped for Success,” but guides college students through successfully completing their experience. It includes a little of my own experiences as a student and as a professor working with students. Readers will definitely enjoy it and want to share with family members who are currently in college. Also, readers can view “Prep Sessions with Dr. Nicki” on my website. These short videos help explain various college and college-prep topics. Finally, we have a monthly newsletter with additional information.

7. What advice would you give to AAMBC readers about preparing their children for college?

My best advice to readers is DO NOT wait until your child is in high school to begin preparing them for college. Talk to them at any age about college as an expectation, not an option. Introduce them to opportunities in various areas, like science and math, and begin preparing for the admissions process as early as 9th grade. Too many times I hear parents say “oh we have time. My child is only in the 11th grade.” The truth is, if you make that comment, you are already behind.


n[email protected]

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.