What Parents Need to Know About the College Admissions Process

By Katherine Cohen, Special to StudentAdvisor.com

Parents, if you have a teenager at home, there is a good chance you are wondering where they will be heading off to college. These days, the college admission process is more competitive than ever before.

Here are the Top 10 Things Parents Need to Know About the College Admissions Process:

1. FRESHMEN NEED A FOUR-YEAR PLAN. When your child is a freshman, meet with their guidance counselor so that you call can plan out their courses for the next four years. Based on your child’s abilities, plan on selecting the most challenging courses in every subject.

2. RELATIONSHIPS WITH TEACHERS & GUIDANCE COUNSELORS MATTER. Most colleges require a letter of recommendation from a student’s guidance counselor and/or teachers. Encourage your child to build a relationship early with these individuals, so they can get to know your child on a more personal level.

3. STUDENTS MUST MAKE AN IMPACT. Colleges are not looking for “jacks of all trades.”  Students who are committed to a handful of activities, or who are specialists within a particular field, have an advantage over students involved in a bunch of activities but who show no leadership or dedication. If your child’s high school doesn’t offer extracurricular activities that interest them, help them research other programs within the community that they can become involved in.

4. SUMMERS BEFORE COLLEGE SHOULD BE SPENT WISELY. It’s important for your child to spend their summers thinking about college and their future by pursing their talents and interests. Your teen could take college-level classes, participate in multi-week programs in an area of interest, join a community service organization, or get an internship or summer job, for example. Check with your teen’s guidance counselor to see if the high school has any partnerships or recommendations for summer opportunities.

5. THERE IS MORE THAN ONE STANDARDIZED TEST OPTION. Many colleges accept either the ACT or SAT. Your teen should meet with their guidance counselor to review the format and content of the exams and select which one plays into their academic strengths. They should also take practice exams, and sign up to take the tests more than once. The more exposed and comfortable your child is with the tests, the better their chances are of doing well on them.

6. CREATE A BALANCED LIST OF COLLEGES. Work with your child and their guidance counselor to identify colleges that are a “good fit” for them academically, socially, and financially. Don’t choose a school based solely on its reputation and prestige. Be sure to include colleges that are academic reach, target, and safety schools. Incorporate a mix of private schools, as well as more affordable schools like state schools and public universities.

7. STUDENTS MUST BE EXPERTS ON THE COLLEGES THEY APPLY TO. Admissions officers and interviewers seek candidates who are good matches for their college. Applicants who know details about a college’s academic and social culture are usually reviewed favorably. For example, students should know the names of specific courses and professors with whom they want to study. To aid in this, your teen can ask the guidance counselor to put him or her in touch with a former graduate from the high school who is now attending the college your student is considering.

8. CAMPUS VISITS CAN BE VERY TELLING. Visit colleges that your child is seriously considering. A campus visit gives your teen the opportunity to learn more about the college, while connecting with current students and getting a better feel for the school’s atmosphere. Visit as a family, with other students from your child’s high school, or arrange an overnight for your child with a current college freshman. Be sure your child attends both the official information session and the campus tour, as this demonstrates your child’s interest in the college and is the best way to make the most of the visit.

9. TUITION ISN’T THEY ONLY EXPENSE TO CONSIDER. While many families budget for college tuition and other costs of attending college, they often forget to budget for applying to college. Even before the first application is submitted, you can expect to spend a lot on standardized test fees, standardized test preparation, independent counselors, books, visiting college campuses and application fees.

10. “WE” ARE NOT APPLYING TO COLLEGE. Remember that your child is applying to college, not you. Take yourself out of it as much as possible, other than being your child’s cheerleader and encouraging your teen every step of the way. Take a step back and be sure to listen to your child’s thoughts with an open mind as he or she researches colleges.  Don’t fill out the applications or write the essays for your child, because your child needs to have their own voice shine through.

For more tips on juggling college finances, please check out StudentAdvisor’s Parent’s Survival Guide.

Parents – do you have advice on how to handle the college admissions or financial aid process? Comment & share below!


Katherine Cohen is CEO and Founder of IvyWise and ApplyWise.com, and author of “The Truth About Getting In” and “Rock Hard Apps”.

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