What can we do to be sure our student gets into college?

Starting in ninth grade and planning ahead is the very best thing you can do. In addition, there are three basic actions that parents can take:
  1. Be sure that your student’s high school transcript is as strong as possible. Make a ninth-through-twelfth grade plan for enrolling in and successfully completing the most challenging courses offered at your high school.
  2. Use the SAT and ACT websites to create a plan for standardized testing dates. Start with the PSAT and ACT tests that are offered as practice tests in tenth grade.
  3. Help your student discover one or more extracurricular activities that appeals to him or her. Support their active participation and encourage leadership roles throughout high school.

Which high school classes will prepare me best for admission to the college of my choice?

College admission websites post lists of required and recommended high school courses. I suggest meeting the standards on both lists. Whenever possible, enroll in Honors and AP courses in the areas of your academic strengths.

When should we really start researching colleges?

The summer after tenth grade is key to the process. It’s a great time to visit three or four colleges and to help your teen begin to think about the reality of this next step in life. During eleventh grade, spend time viewing college websites. Make lists that compare one school to the next. Help your student determine what makes a college appealing to him or her.

How much input should we parents have in the college search process?

Parents should establish critical guidelines (distance from home, cost, fields of study, opportunity for arts and sports participation, social life, etc.) that are of highest importance to your family. Be sure your student understands these parameters. Parents can also make a “research timeline” that ends as the application process begins.

How many college applications should we submit?

There are over 3,000 colleges in the US, and it often feels as though the internet has brought them all to your dinner table! I recommend a final list of six-to-ten colleges. That will mean that you might create a serious “shopping list” of twice that many schools initially.

When should applications be completed?

Applications are usually available online during the summer after eleventh grade. Whenever possible, apply online. Many colleges accept the Common Application, which means that you will only have to fill in one long form that will go to a number of schools. Submit as early as you can.

How much is college going to cost?

Every college has its own cost and financial assistance fund. College websites clearly list tuition and fees.

How can I get a scholarship for college?

Parents should use the FAFSA website to get a forecast of the amount of money colleges will expect the family to contribute. Parents or students should contact the college financial aid office to inquire about financial assistance. Most colleges offer merit-based as well as need-based financial aid. ACT and SAT scores and high school grade point averages are critical to obtaining merit-based assistance.

I am an international student. Are there special requirements for me?

Yes. College admissions offices have international student websites and they often have special admissions counselors. Contact the colleges before your senior year of high school so you have plenty of time to complete the required forms.

I attend a community college and am looking for undergraduate admission as a transfer

Now your transcript and standardized test scores from high school are far less important than your community college transcript. You will want to enroll at a four-year college where most, if not all, of your community college credits will apply toward your degree. College admissions offices have special counselors to assist transfer students. Visiting the four-year campuses, meeting admissions counselors and taking the admissions tour is of critical importance to you.

My student learns differently. How can we determine which colleges will provide the best support?

Your research can begin with website investigation, but I encourage you to make phone calls to admissions counselors and to visit the directors of learning support services on college campuses to be certain that the programs offered meet the needs of your unique student. The good news is that you will find a growing number of choices as colleges move to respond to students who learn differently.

What about a gap year?

I believe that for some students a year of meaningful engagement is a positive pre-college experience. (The keyword is “meaningful.”)

What else should we be asking?

I think it’s important to ask yourselves, before the college search begins, how you plan to create an environment that will support, encourage, and provide reality checks for your students as they prepare to step into a new stage of life away from your home. The college search and application process involves more changes for your teen than your family has encountered since their infancy. It can be loads of fun – or not. A solid plan helps!

Photo used under Creative Commons from Vince Varga.