The recent College Admissions Scandal sheds light on how stressful and out of control the College Admissions process can be. However, it doesn’t have to be that way if you plan ahead of time. We asked Min Kim, the founder of College Advisory service, Versed to give us tips on how to best prepare for the College Admissions process. Here are her Top 10 College Admissions tips (without the scandal).
College Admissions can be a daunting process (as can be seen in the recent College Admissions scandal). The admissions process and the competitive landscape has changed significantly over the last decade and many of us quite literally do not have any idea where to start. To help parents understand what is involved so they can best prepare, we surveyed parents, many of whom are Parent Advisors at Versed, and all of whom recently went through the college admissions process with one or more of their own children, to compile this list of their top 10 nuggets of wisdom.
Get started early – create a plan
Many parents shudder at the thought of spending all of the high school years planning for college, and we agree with you. When we speak about getting started early, what we mean is that it is essential to plan early so that the work can be spread out and you and your child won’t be caught scrambling during the final two years of high school. We are not encouraging families to stress about college, and all four years of high school should not just be about getting into college. However, identifying and developing an academic and extracurricular focus takes time. Figuring out the optimal times to schedule standardized exams takes planning. Scheduling college visits
Help your child identify academic and extracurricular areas of interest and discover ways for her to develop them
Ultimately, the college admission process is not about getting into a specific college, but about helping your child find an area of focused interest, providing opportunities for them to extend and deepen her knowledge, and help her envision a future which includes that passion. Colleges are looking for students with a sense of purpose, focused interest, and a track record of pursuing that interest. And the most competitive schools are looking for students who have pursued their chosen interests at the highest levels. Read Versed blog “How to Help Guide Your Child to Find an Interest” and “When is a Good Time to Start Planning for College, Part II” to get advice on how to get started. You can also look through Versed’s “Opportunity Guide” to find a huge array of enrichment activities, summer programs, and competitions.
Don’t just rely on school college counselors: do your own research
Our survey respondents were unanimous on this point. The respondents’ experiences with school college counselors ran the extreme from: “She was very knowledgeable and knew my child well and had great rapport with all the colleges she was interested in” to “He did not have my child’s interest in mind, just about maximizing the class outcome” and “we hardly had any contact with the guidance counselor.” But even the most satisfied parents recommended that parents do their own research. Refer to the next section below to get ideas on how to start your research efficiently by leveraging the experience of others.
Talk to parents of older children
Nine out of 10 survey respondents checked this option under the category of “Best Resources to Tap”. Many respondents also recognized the usefulness of talking to parents of children with similar academic and extracurricular interests. Makes sense. Why recreate the wheel when you can get a trove of knowledge just by taking a parent out to coffee, or calling her for a quick chat? A parent of a child a few years older than yours may have just gone through what you are about to experience for the first time. Find parents of older students who have similar academic and extracurricular interests and ask them how they went about the process, what resources they found useful, and what was the most challenging.
Encourage your child to pursue a rigorous academic course load, but don’t go overboard
Many parents wonder whether their child should take the most rigorous course load available even if it means he will get Bs, or if he should strive for As in less difficult courses. Most selective schools would probably prefer that she should take the most rigorous courses AND get all As, but this is not always realistic. The advice that we are hearing over and over from savvy and thoughtful parents is that the student should pursue a rigorous course load and do well, but only to the extent that the course load is manageable for the student. This means take the most rigorous courses for the classes the student has interest and aptitude in so he will have the best chances to attain good grades. It may not be productive to pursue rigorous classes in every subject, especially ones in which he does not have an interest or natural ability. It’s also a good idea to review the curriculum choices offered by your child’s high school prior to the first day of school. If the school doesn’t offer the classes your child wants or needs, a plan to supplement or enrich your child’s education can be created.
Balancing academics and passion
Many survey respondents stressed the importance of academics regardless of strong interests in extracurricular pursuits such as sports, music, science research, debate, and many others. You are lucky if you have a child with a passion for something, and if it happens to coincide with academics, great! But pursuing a passion, without focusing on academics was, in many cases, the wrong choice. Colleges first and foremost want to see strong academics and test scores, before everything else.
Learn the admissions process and criteria early on
If the admissions criteria is known ahead of time, it will be easier to target goals and build a resume. When applying to college, different schools, academic programs, and potential majors will involve different criteria and requirements that must be met by the applicant. This includes, but is not limited to, specific high school classes, tests, test scores, and supplemental materials. Do the research and help your child start building his portfolio early so that he’s not scrambling to fulfill all of the requirements at the last minute. For example, even if your child can’t name the particular school he wants to attend, but he’s considering an engineering program, there’s plenty of information available to help him plan for the future so that he’s well-positioned to apply to those programs.
Communicate student’s interest and fit effectively
Colleges are looking for students who can really take advantage of the colleges’ offerings, while also enhancing the student body with specific talents, skills, life experiences, and enthusiasm. It is critical that you and your child do the research necessary to understand each school and communicate to that school how your child’s interests and background are the right fit for both the school and any particular program of interest. Your child needs to “tell a story” that illustrates how the activities and courses she pursued throughout her high school years naturally lead to a certain course of study at a specific school.
Be realistic about your child’s qualifications for admission to the top schools
As the acceptance rates continue to decline, getting into the top 10-20 schools has become intensely competitive, and those schools routinely reject students with perfect scores and incredible achievements. You need to encourage your child to have an open mind not set her sights on one dream school isn’t the best strategy for getting into college. Your child should compile a list of schools that include many realistic schools. Be sure that all of these schools are ones that she is willing to attend if accepted. Focus her energies on target schools, not dream schools (but encourage her to shoot for the stars anyway since there’s always a chance to score). The good news is that there are many great schools to choose from, and she’s bound to find a school that she’ll be happy attending.
Everything is going to work out. There really is a great school out there for everyone.
Relax. Seriously. In the grand scheme of things, college is just a short stint in the long journey of life. Remember to keep a healthy perspective when things don’t work out whether that be grades, performance in sports, or anything else for that matter. Instead, encourage your child to do his best in all of his endeavors, to learn from his mistakes, to develop focus and tenacity, to establish good study habits, and to be a good person.
Also remember that there is more than one way to success, however you may define it. Sometimes we get caught up in a plan, and when that plan falls through, we think it’s over. But in fact, things have only just begun: “When one door closes, another one opens.” For college applications, have your child cast her net wide and see where things fall. Whatever happens, your child can bring everything she has learned up to this point and apply it…and then, keep growing! Where she goes to college doesn’t matter as much as what she will do once she gets there. The sky’s the limit; nothing should stop your child from reaching for the stars!
Download the full version of this survey report at www.askversed.com and share it with family and friends. The goal at Versed is to help parents learn from the collective wisdom of other parents who have already gone through the college admissions process.
Versed is a parent-to-parent advisory network whose mission is to make the knowledge, experience, and insight of an extraordinary network of parents available to all. We connect parents of middle and high school students with Parent Advisors who have helped their children develop their academic and extracurricular strengths, navigate the college admissions process and gain admission to top universities. Don’t recreate the wheel. Join the dynamic Versed community for consultations on a variety of education, extracurricular and college admissions topics or as a Parent Advisor by visiting http://www.askversed.com. Follow @askversed on Instagram and Facebook
About Min Kim
Min Kim is the Founder and CEO of Versed (www.askversed.com), an education technology company revolutionizing the way parents access valuable insights into education. She is an investor and entrepreneur with experience building, advising and investing in startup and growth stage companies. She is also an Adjunct Professor at the Welch School of Business at Sacred Heart University where she teaches Entrepreneurship and Management.