Feeling anxious and overwhelmed about college? Should you be doing more to prepare your child? When should you start thinking about college? College planning can be extremely stressful and cumbersome. Parents often tell me they feel out of the loop and unprepared. Rest assured, you are not alone. With 15 years under my belt as a School Counselor, I've gathered some tips and tricks I've learned along the way. Below is a list of do's and don'ts to help guide you through the years leading up to college.
Do know when to start. It's never to early to start thinking about your child's future, but don't beat yourself up if you haven't yet. My good friend called me frantic because her daughter had an unexcused absence. Would it be on her transcript? If so, how would that look when she applied to college? An unexcused absence was terrifying to her. Her child was in kindergarten. Ha! I assured her that no, elementary school attendance records are not part of college applications.
Starting in kindergarten is a little early, but in reality, you can make a huge impact at any age by challenging your child to be the best version of themselves. Expose them to new opportunities, watch them grow, and follow their lead. What do they love doing? What makes them smile? Where do they excel? These are important clues on what interests they will develop.
A good rule of thumb is to start the college process when your child enters 9th grade. I'm not saying you should have it all figured out, but you should know if your child is likely to be headed in that direction so you can start laying the foundation for the future. Pick a strong but realistic freshman schedule and encourage your child to do their best. Establish good study habits! Encourage your child to join a few clubs or activities.
When sophomore year arrives, be on the lookout for PSAT sign ups. PSAT's are practice SAT's and administered once per year at almost every high school. Sign-ups start in mid-September but check with your high school counselor to be certain. PSAT scores arrive a few months after the exam, typically right after the holidays. These scores (and your child’s grade point average) can be used to estimate college admittance chances and create a very rough draft list of potential schools.
SAT's should be taken in the spring of 11th grade. Your child should be ready to apply to a handful of school by the beginning of their senior year. (note: many meetings between your child and their school counselor should happen in between these steps!)
Do know there are several paths to college. There are thousands of schools. THOUSANDS! College Board is an excellent free resource. Plug in your child's PSAT scores you can do a very user-friendly search to create a list of schools where they are likely to be accepted. For example, a quick college inquiry using SAT Math scores of 500, SAT Reading Scores of 500 in the Mid-Atlantic region came up with 461 colleges! To further narrow down that list, you can select filters like majors offered, location, size of school, diversity, etc. Not sure if your child prefers an urban, suburban, or rural environment? Not sure if your kid wants to go to a big, mid-sized, or small school? Leave those questions blank. Make lists! Play around! Start making a short list of schools and plan on visiting a few of them during summer vacation.
Do know what you are up against. Your child has a 4.5 GPA, is President of the Student Council, plays Varsity Basketball, and got a 1600 on the SATs? Awesome! She will find several opportunities await her. Highly competitive colleges will be in her sights. Highly competitive colleges are highly competitive because they accept students just like her. Translation: she will be up against other 4.5 GPA/1600 SAT score applicants with extracurricular activities to match. I wish I knew the secret formula for admission, there's no guarantee of admittance. . Harvard's Class of 2022 is comprised of only 8.2% of its 42,742 applicants. That means 39,237 students received rejection letters last fall. Princeton University saw a similar number of applicants and admitted only 5.5%. Admission's Counselors are looking for growth potential, character and personality, interests and activities, and how your child would contribute to their community. We "scrutinize applications for extracurricular distinction and personal qualities" says William R. Fitzsimmons, the dean of admissions and financial aid at Harvard College.
No matter what kind of student you have, there will always be fierce competition. Pick a variety of schools that match your child’s abilities and needs. Don’t waste time visiting schools too far out of your reach.
Do know that community college is a great option. Have you ever glanced at your friend's university diploma and remarked, "Did you start at a community college?" Me neither!! Community college is an amazing option and I'm going to let you in on a little secret! They don't require SAT scores for admittance! After completing 2 years at a community college, students don't have to send their high school transcripts or SAT scores to their transfer school! Once your child completes two years of community college, she can transfer to thousands of highly competitive schools with a clean slate.
Don't be their secretary or solve all their problems. Take a step back and let your kids take initiative. Do not fill out college applications for them or contact schools on their behalf. I've talked to several admission counselors over the years and their number one recommendation is to make sure the applicant is actively engaged. Your child is about to enter adulthood. They should fill out their own application and be actively engaged in the admittance process. Several colleges give applicants access to their Admission's portals to check their application status and several applicants rarely log-in to check it!! Consider this scenario. Your son’s file is incomplete because the university hasn't received your son's SAT scores. They have requested them twice through the portal. A few weeks later, you call the Admissions Office to check on his application status to learn they are missing SAT scores. Which they asked for. Twice. In the portal your son was supposed to check.
Not being actively engaged sends a message of indifference. Colleges are more likely to offer admissions to qualified students who want to attend their schools.
Some kids are shy or poor self advocates. I get it. But you have to teach them now or they will never learn. Teaching them to problem-solve effectively and be their own self-advocate. When your child does poorly on a test or misses school, they should ask their teacher for help or what they missed. Not you! Its okay to check-in with your child's counselor or teachers to follow up, but your child should learn to advocate for himself.
Don't set them up to fail. Your job (as painful as it may be) is to really consider the truth. Honesty is key here. What are your child's strengths and weaknesses? Some young adults are just not ready to tackle AP Biology and that's okay. Challenge is key but motivation, aptitude, and drive are essential. If you're overriding every course level recommendation in high school and not truly focusing on your child's abilities, you are setting them up to fail. There are several pathways to college, remember? Yes, AP Biology looks great on a high school transcript, but only if your child is successful in the course.
Do teach them that their reputation speaks volumes. Social media accounts can and will be checked. Some high schools do include total absences on their official high school transcript which is sent to colleges. Colleges do ask if your child has ever been suspended. I'm not saying unexcused absences and a suspension will tarnish college admittance, but it could. Teach them to be mindful of their actions. You never know whose watching.
Have a question or want me to cover another topic? Comment below!
Heidi shares personal stories of her ordinary chaotic life. She gives an honest raw look at what it means to be a mom, wife, counselor, and friend struggling to keep it all together. Her personal experiences with grief, relationships, depression, poor self-image, bullying, anxiety, and relational aggression give her a unique perspective on what its takes to overcome tragedy as an adolescent and adult.