We sometimes hear that “it takes a village” to raise a child. That proverb is especially true in the pursuit of college admissions.
Parents are not usually well-equipped to guide their students through the ever-changing morass of the admissions process. Colleges change their application requirements every year. Application forms also change annually, just as the Common Application changed this year. Standardized tests can change: in 2016, the SAT will have a new format. Even when parents have excellent, open communication with their teenager – which we all know to be the exception, not the rule – it is virtually impossible for those who are not in the business of admissions to understand all they need to know.
To navigate the process successfully, parents should consider college admissions to be a team endeavor.
The starting point for the team should be the student’s school. American high schools have counselors who are assigned the responsibility of helping their students through the process. At a minimum, school counselors oversee the sending of official transcripts to the prospective colleges. Counselors are also often needed to complete reports, and sometimes recommendations, that will be submitted along with their students’ applications.
Parents and students should recognize that high school counselors are extremely busy. Very few schools have the number of counselors that they really need. As a result, they create systems which the students must follow. When school starts in the fall, be sure that your senior pays attention to what the high school announces regarding college application procedures.
For those applying to more selective colleges, teachers will also be involved in the admissions process. Good schools require recommendations from teachers as part of the application materials. Because a teacher’s primary job is to teach, not to write recommendation letters, students should respect their teachers’ time and request recommendation as early as possible. If a high school senior needs recommendations for college applications but has not yet made requests to teachers, now is the time.
Yet even before the application season, parents should seek out professionals to help tutor their child for the SAT and ACT. These standardized tests are usually taken during the junior year of high school. Preparation is required to achieve a good score, because the SAT and ACT are more logic-based than the tests that are administered in a school class. There’s a method to the madness, and an experienced tutor should be retained to be part of the admissions team. Of course, to get the best result, students must practice diligently for the tests, not just show up for tutoring sessions.
College applications usually require essays. Few students (or parents) know how to write these “persuasive” pieces. You should not expect to receive significant help from the high school; they are too busy to give individual attention. Editors are available at a relatively low cost, but they often are unfamiliar with the grading rubrics of the colleges and usually have a policy not to go beyond simple proofreading and grammar correction. Beware of those who offer to write essays for students; besides being fraudulent, those essays often hurt an applicant’s chances by being either too mature or too generic. An experienced college consultant should know how to help a student in every step of the process, not only with essays, but also with completing applications correctly and preparing students for admissions interviews.
Finally, consider retaining a career consultant. High school students rarely have well-considered, intelligent plans for college, graduate school or career. They are too young and inexperienced to understand the job market or how to prepare for it. A qualified career consultant will utilize formal testing and one-on-one consultations to help guide students on an effective life path. The cost is minimal relative to the value received.
College is an evolutionary moment. A good team can help students develop in successful ways.