If you've followed this blog you know that we had to drop our eldest daughter off at college back in August for the first time. It was extremely tough for us as parents.
Looking back at the whole college search process, for us it was a resounding success! You will miss them dearly, but my daughter is now attending her first choice college and she is absolutely loving it. She feels like she was meant to be there and is doing very well academically. On top of that, this college is one of the highest rated Liberal Arts colleges in the country.
So how did we get there? How did my daughter get to grab the brass ring? In this post I aim to lay out some strategies that we utilized and hopefully you can take some of this advice and use it in your own quest for college bliss.
Grades are important but they aren't everything.
The fact that grades are important is not a shocking revelation. Colleges obviously want students who get good grades. But, there's a lot more to it than grades when it comes to the process that a college undergoes when deciding whether or not to accept your child. Colleges are looking for students who will be involved in the college scene and will contribute their time and energy to bettering the quality of the college atmosphere.
Colleges want students who challenge themselves.
If there was ever one constant mantra that you hear at all of the college information sessions it is that your high school student must show that they have been challenging themselves. College admissions counselors are assigned a certain region of the country for which they are responsible. If they are doing their jobs thoroughly, they will know the curricula of the high schools in their region.
AP, or Advanced Placement, courses are very important to have on your child’s resume, especially if you want them to get into an elite college or university. AP courses are college level courses that are offered in high school. At the end of the course the student may elect to take a test and, based on their scores, they could be exempt from taking some introductory courses in college.
The most important thing to remember is that the mere act of taking an AP course will tell the college that your child is willing to challenge themselves at the highest course level in high school.
Leadership means a lot.
Colleges want students who are well-rounded. They also want students who were involved in their high school experience since, chances are, that should translate to their college experience. Have your child get involved in student government, theatre, after-school clubs, or sports. My daughter started an Environmental Club which initiated recycling at her high school. She was also president of actors' guild and an officer in the National Honor Society. Showing initiative, especially in a leadership capacity, is extremely attractive to admissions counselors.
Don't underestimate SAT Preparation.
My daughter signed up for SAT questions to be sent to her email inbox every morning. Your child can view and answer a daily SAT question at this site. Once you answer your first question you will see a blurb at the bottom that will allow you to sign up for Email delivery (as seen in the box to the left). Once you click on Subscribe you will be prompted to set up a free account. You can also sign up using RSS if this type of delivery is better for you. What is so great about these daily emails is that once you answer the question it will tell you whether or not you are correct with an explanation. This constant interactive answering of SAT questions can certainly help. My daughter also took an online SAT test where she basically took a replica of an actual SAT test one morning. When the test was over she was immediately presented with her scores. There are also classes, outside of high school, that a student can take strictly associated with taking SATs. I know of someone when I was younger who took such a course and he was able to increase his SAT scores dramatically. In addition to his exemplary high school resume, these high SAT scores enabled him to get into the most prominent university in the world, Harvard University.
Get to know the College. Have your child stay a night or a weekend.
If your child has a first choice college then you MUST visit, and possibly multiple times. One thing you should definitely consider is having your child stay at the college for a weekend. This is the best way to get to know the college and the caliber of student who attends that college. As I write this post my daughter is hosting a number of “prospies”, or prospective students, in her dorm room. My daughter stayed at a few of the colleges she was interested in which really helped her formulate an opinion as to where she really wanted to go. It is a priceless experience for your child and colleges can arrange for the overnight or weekend stay. This leads into…
The College Essay.
The essay that your child writes for the colleges they apply to is very important. Some feel that it could be a major distinguishing factor in getting into a college or not. The first thing you should know is that each college is different. Some may want to know specifically why your child wants to go to that particular college while others may not care. For the colleges that do care, staying for an overnight visit may be very helpful because your child can write about that experience. First-hand experiences could be brought into the prose which can only help in showing how much your child wants to attend that school. Do not underestimate the importance of the essay. This piece of literature will not only show the admissions counselor why the student wants to attend the school but it will also highlight your child’s writing ability.
Applying Early Decision is an option BUT…
It's binding. If your child is sure of her first choice college and if you are fairly sure you will not get any financial aid, then applying early decision may be your best option. Early Decision is the act of applying early to a college basically indicating that this is your first choice college. If you are accepted to the college it is a binding commitment and you must enroll. The benefits are that the acceptance rate is higher for Early Decision applicants and, if you are accepted, you know where you are going and you do not have to go through the application process anywhere else.
One of the drawbacks is that you do not get the benefit of weighing different financial aid packages. To be honest, we were looking for the best deal financially we could get from a college. We knew that we had to find money for college. We waited until all of the financial packages were in and made our decision. It was easy for us because her first choice college offered the most aid. If you have no money issues and are not concerned about how to get money for college, Early Decision may be the best option for you if your child knows where they really want to go to college. One of my daughter's friends applied early decision to a college and she knew way ahead of time where she was going. She also didn't have to worry about applying anywhere else. Not all colleges offer an early decision option but, for some people, it may be the best option. Be wary of this option and read up on it before jumping into a binding commitment.
Let the college know it is your child's first choice.
This may seem like a trivial statement but especially, in this day and age, colleges are very concerned with metrics. One particular metric that each college cares about is Yield. Yield is defined as the percentage of admitted students who actually enroll. Typically, at the college tour, you can request the name of the Admissions counselor for your region. If you have the opportunity to talk to that person directly, do so. If not, you can call them or email them. The important thing is to let that admissions counselor know that this is your child's first choice college. If the college knows this before the evaluation process it could factor into the decision. Colleges want high yields so they can pretty much be assured that your child will actually enroll in the college if they are accepted. We let the college know that this was my daughter's first choice and we think it helped. As a caveat, letting the college know it is your first choice may mean more to a smaller liberal arts college than a large university.
Consider having your child attend an Advanced Studies Program.
This may have been the single biggest factor in my daughter getting into her first choice college. Between my daughter's junior and senior year she attended a five-week session at a private high school called an Advanced Studies Program. This was a program that my daughter had to apply for and she was interviewed before being accepted into the program. She lived away for these five weeks and attended a rigorous session in a chosen field of study and a class called Writing Workshop. This program ties in a lot of what I have been talking about in this post. It showed the colleges that my daughter was willing to challenge herself by taking class work during her summer vacation. It also gave my daughter a chance to live in a college-like setting away from home before she even attended college. The program my daughter attended also allowed her to develop her writing skills which helped her on her essays for college. We think that the fact that my daughter attended this program before attending college helped her immensely with the “homesick” aspect of being a college freshman. She had already gone through those feelings at the Advanced Studies Program so going to college was not a culture shock for her. The program my daughter attended was relegated to the state we live in. Have your child check with their guidance counselor in high school to see if there are similar programs in your state.
Hopefully this post laid out a number of strategies that you can use in your child's college search. I understand that the college search process is a daunting task. It requires a lot of work, including trips to colleges at many different locations. If you do your homework and if your child works hard in their high school pursuits, it will all be worth it and your child may end up attending their first choice college. What I have learned is that making college payments is a lot easier if your child is happy. Good luck in your quest and if you have any other questions feel free to either contact me or leave a question in the comments. Maybe if you follow some of the suggestions in this post your child may also grab the brass ring at the end of their arduous college quest.