Time to put a zip in your step, folks! Are you ready to transform into a savvy prospective parent?
What do savvy prospective parents do?
They ask excellent questions.
One family asked me such difficult questions in the admission office that I gave them an “A+” for “hardest questions of the year” and said, “You should go talk to my boss.”
They asked me questions like:
- “What’s the college pay for water and electricity and how does that work into my son’s tuition?”
- “How much money do your college’s LEED buildings save per year?”
I’m sorry to say, I didn’t know the answer to their questions.
The point is, it’s important to ask relevant questions. We’re busy. Schedules only allow us to squeeze in a peanut butter and jelly sandwich at lunchtime. That’s about it.
Relevant questions get to the innards of what you need to know. Asking the right person the right questions is paramount.
Was I the right person to ask about water, electricity and LEED buildings?
No — and does it even matter in the grand scheme of things? They should’ve asked the director of facilities, “How much waste does this school produce and how does that cost me money?”
“How much will it cost me?” — the real question.
What are the questions you should be asking? Let’s conquer those questions to get you started.
Who’s my child’s admission counselor?
Let’s start out with a simple question. This question means everything, though.
You can even figure this out using the college’s website — you just need to select your state and sometimes even your child’s high school. Wham! It’s that easy to find your child’s go-to person.
Why is it important to get to know your child’s admission counselor?
Here’s an easy answer. One day, circa 2012, a student panel was underway during one of our visit days. Here’s how it went:
Parent in audience: “Why did you come to this college?”
Student panelist on stage: “My admission counselor was awesome! She was one of the main reasons I decided to come here.”
A million reasons, folks! It’s a great question because:
- Your child’s admission counselor helps your family navigate financial aid, scholarships and more. The admission counselor may even be able to point you toward other scholarship opportunities. They may be scholarships in your community or online scholarships he/she knows your child could qualify for.
- The admission counselor can help you and your child make connections. Whether you need to talk to a biology professor, a financial aid officer or someone else at the school your child’s interested in, the admission counselor is the conduit to making that happen. Take advantage of it!
- Admission counselors know a lot about the college they work for. They know about the fun stuff, the clubs and organizations launching, the most popular majors and more. Admission counselors are often alumni, so they really have special knowledge about an institution. Ask an admission counselor what the best residence hall is and you’ll get an earful in milliseconds.
- Admission counselors know what types of students thrive at their institution. Let’s face it. Not every college is a great fit for every student. Why not ask what the ideal student at College/University XYZ looks like? It’ll be interesting to hear the admission counselor’s response.
- Admission counselors are statistics collectors. Admission counselors’ brains cannot go on autopilot. They should be able to know the percentage of students who graduate, how many go on to graduate school, how many get internships and more. (Just don’t ask them really quirky questions like that family did with me!)
- Admission counselors know what it takes to get admitted. Admission counselors are available to walk your child through the admission process. They should be able to tell you whether your child has a shot at getting admitted with his or her current credentials. An admission counselor may recommend submitting an additional letter of recommendation or other supporting documentation. They’re experts at strengthening an application. Ask before you send it in.
- Admission counselors can guide you through the process. You’re in the know at all times when you’ve got an admission counselor to guide you.
What should I know about the admission process right now?
Question two. I know it relates to question one, but it’s an important breakout question. Colleges’ admission processes have changed.
Maybe COVID-19 pushed ACTs or SATs to the annals of history. Or not.
Maybe admission offices shoved interviews off the cliff. But maybe not.
You might just be learning the admission process at one school. However, if your child became aware of admission requirements for a particular school last year, things may be different. Double-check!
A few good questions:
- Do I need to supply my ACT or SAT score? If not, what will that do to my child’s admission chances? (Test optional should really mean test optional!) Check FairTest’s ACT/SAT test optional college and universities. FairTest is a national advocacy organization that seeks to “end the misuses and flaws of testing practices.” Most accredited 4-year higher education institutions adopted test-optional policies for fall of 2021 admission.
- If a college or university isn’t on FairTest’s list: Why does your college or university require ACT or SAT scores? Listen carefully to the reasons and determine whether it’s still important for your child to apply to that college.
- What other metrics will you use for admission purposes instead of standardized test scores? Every college’s response will be different. Find out.
What are your COVID-19 policies right now?
Should you find out about a school’s COVID-19 processes, even if your child’s a sophomore?
True, it’s tough to say what that will look like in a few years. However, learning more about a college’s process right now can help you and your student:
- Understand a college’s response to COVID-19. It’s important to evaluate a college on all fronts, and it’s critical to agree with the college’s response to the crisis.
- Figure out what policies may look like down the road. It’s really possible that things could stay the same for next year and beyond. Truth be told, we don’t know how long this virus will hang around!
- Learn the online learning protocol and whether it makes sense for your student. Maybe your student says he’s 86ing online learning and you like another college’s COVID-19 policy better. Maybe your child wants to forgo a residential experience altogether. You can find really cheap ways to get an online degree!
- Assess how a college can help on the technology front. You and your child may not have the technology needed to make Zoom classes happen. How will the college help?
- Determine how a college makes classes interactive or uses creativity within the constraints of online learning. Yeah, how does a chemistry professor do labs online? I’m sure you’re really curious. (I am, too.)
Can my child connect with a professor or other necessary individual?
… or through Zoom if in-person meetings aren’t possible?
One of the best ways to get to know faculty members at institutions is to… meet them!
- Your child will know instantly whether he wants to learn from that person. (First impressions!) You should meet a particular physics professor at my alma mater. He’s got personality plus and he’s exactly what you’d imagine when you think of the stereotypical physics professor. The students rave about him. He’d greet everyone on the first day by asking them their first names and one fact about them — and remembered everything. Great professor!
- Even if your child changes his mind on major — most do! — you’ll still get a feel for how the faculty members work with students. I think it’s a bad idea to choose a college based solely on major, but I do think all students should get to know at least one professor during the college search, if possible. It gives your child a general idea of whether professors are hands-on professors, whether they’re available for students and what their office hours are like.
- Who else should you meet? You might not be interested in hearing from a professor. What about a dietitian? The tutoring center? A coach?
How can my child talk to a current student?
Your child must talk to a current student! I don’t care if it’s on Zoom, over the phone, in person — however it can happen, make it happen. You can find out a lot from students, who don’t spew the same jargon-filled, marketing vocabulary that a professor does.
You can learn more about:
- The overall experience
- Gossip about professors
- Residence hall living
- Classes and academic rigor
- Internship availability
- Students’ opinions about the college’s COVID-19 response
- Quality of food in the cafeteria (why not?!)
- Athletic experiences if your student is an athlete
- Class and day-to-day structure
- Why the student chose to attend that college (my favorite question!)
Can you think of other topics your student should ask about? Think your student will never agree to talk to another student? How about if the admission office arranges it and the other student has tons common with that student? If you set it up, it might not happen, but if the admission office arranges it? — totally different story.
What’s one thing you can guarantee that my student will experience at this college and why?
I really, really like this question! Know why? It puts a dart right in the middle of a college’s values.
Once, a student said this to me about a competitor school: “I really didn’t enjoy my tour at XYZ College. The tour guide spent all her time talking about the religious opportunities on campus. I found out that over 60 percent of students at the college attend chapel or other religious services and I realized that college wouldn’t be a great fit for me at all.”
Now, in reality, the college actually could have been a great fit for the student because it offered an excellent academic experience. And the tour guide was wrong. Just 15 percent of students participated in religious activities. However, the student didn’t believe she’d fit in. It worked out to our benefit, however. The tour guide at our college did an excellent job of sharing all of the other salient points for the student and she came to our college! (It really is all about perception, isn’t it?)
Find out whether the school will meet your kiddo’s expectations. Ask around! Sometimes people take a students’ point of view as the gospel truth — and, well, my story proves what can happen there.
How much financial aid can I get?
Think you have to wait around to find out how much college will cost? Until you get your child’s financial aid award?
You can find out long before you get that aid award in the mail and can know the cost wayyyy in advance.
You’ll find a net price calculator on every college’s website. The net price calculator holds the secrets: What you’ll pay out-of-pocket or through student loans. The college’s total cost — tuition, room and board and fees, minus any grants and scholarships — tells you what you pay. Is it a full, robust snapshot with every detail?
But you can get close.
By the way, you can also ask for a preliminary financial aid award or a financial aid early estimator.
They give you lots of great information. Bottom line: You’re armed with a lot more information way before you receive a financial aid award.
How to Get A+ Answers
How to get A+ answers? It’s simple.
The only way you’re going to get answers to your questions is to ask them. Push a little. It’s okay! In fact, I firmly believe that’s a parent’s job during the college search process.
Ask tough questions. And when the admission counselor can’t answer — she asks her boss. (Just like I did.)
And then, when the boss can’t answer, he goes to the facilities planning and management personnel who can answer (or whoever it is.)
The point is, you’re the customer. You should get the answers you want and need.
Move over, Yale and Harvard.
Not everyone needs to (or should) shop for a top-name school. You can still find lots of high-quality colleges and universities among the elites.
Gems glisten everywhere. Don’t discount the liberal arts college down the street because it may be able to offer a connection that you can’t find anywhere else.
A Stanford study says “fit” is more important than rankings. I really do believe too many students and families rely on college rankings published by well-known organizations to define quality. The higher the ranking doesn’t mean it’s the best fit for your child. The study found that the “metrics used in these rankings are weighted arbitrarily and are not accurate indicators of a college’s quality or positive outcomes for students.”
Do I even need to write any more?
I chatted with Laurie Kopp Weingarten, president and chief educational consultant at One-Stop College Counseling, and she told me a great story.
“Several years ago I had a straight-A student with strong test scores and interesting extracurricular activities who was a bit lacking in self-confidence. She felt strongly that she should attend a college where she would be the ‘big fish in a little pond’ instead of the ‘little fish in a big pond.’ It was very important to her that she choose an institution where she would be at the top and be recognized as a superstar.
She set her sights on a public university with a 70% acceptance rate. She did apply to other colleges, including those that are much more selective, and was actually accepted into every school she applied to. However, she stuck with her plan to attend the public university.
She SOARED there. She was at the top of her class, where she won all sorts of awards. She is well-known at the school, and they’ve asked her to assume all sorts of leadership roles. She has made mini-promotional films for the school, and now, as a recent alumna, they’ve asked her back to speak multiple times.
In this case, she didn’t feel up to attending a highly selective university where the competition would be fierce. Instead, she decided to choose a school that isn’t overly competitive and where she would stand out. It paid off with lots of internships and job offers, and it built her confidence.”
Yessss! This is exactly what I’m talking about.
Best Reasons to Look for a Non-Selective or Moderately Selective College
Most people think the only reason your child would want to look for a non-selective college is because you couldn’t hack it due to poor academic achievement. Not so. There are lots of great reasons to opt for a less-selective institution.
1. Your Child May Be More Likely to Get In
Obviously, the fact that your child can get in is one of the reasons to apply to non-selective colleges.
How do you find out whether a college is selective or not? Take a look at its admission requirements. Most colleges list their admission requirements, which may look something like this:
- Graduate from an accredited high school or equivalent by the time of enrollment.
- Rank in the upper half of your high school graduating class.
- Have ACT or SAT-I scores high enough to predict probable success. Note: ACT and SAT test scores may not be required if you’re applying for admission right now. Many colleges do not want to place undue hardships on students who cannot take the ACT or SAT due to closed testing locations.
- English: Four years, including literature
- Math: Two or more years, including algebra, advanced algebra and geometry
- Social studies: Three or more years, including American and European history
- Sciences: Two or more years of lab science
- Foreign language: Two or more years
That may be the extent of a college’s requirements! You can also call an admission counselor for more information about specific college selectivity.
2. Your Child Will Still Take Rigorous Classes
Make no mistake — it’s a challenge to get through organic chemistry at just about any college or university. Lower selectivity institutions definitely offer rigorous coursework.
Just because your child’s valedictorian of her high school class or achieved a 34 ACT doesn’t mean that she won’t feel challenged at a lower selectivity institution.
- Some less selective colleges let academically talented students work with faculty on research projects as well.
- Students at lower selectivity institutions may also receive more personalized attention from staff.
- Some lower selectivity institutions smaller classroom size with hands-on teaching may be more conducive to learning than a large lecture hall format.
- You may get to know classmates and faculty closely and form lasting personal or professional relationships.
- You child may get more opportunities to work on projects, connect to internships through faculty and gain valuable job experience.
3. Your Family May Experience More Personalization During the Admission Process
Less selective schools must work a little harder for their students. That means you and your child reap the benefits. In other words, highly selective colleges and universities don’t have to work nearly as hard to recruit students — they naturally come to them. That means that less selective institutions must do the hard work of calling, emailing, texting and even engaging students on social media.
You’re more likely to get one-on-one attention from an admission counselor who must carefully work through an application list. As an admission counselor, it was my job to personalize the admission process as much as possible. I would try to learn:
- Students’ goals
- Other schools on their list
- Their favorite things (we once sent a box of Wheaties to a student because we knew it was his favorite cereal!)
- Connections they’d already made with others at the college
- About their families and friends
- Anything else I could think of!
We made the college search process a personalized experience — and that might just happen if you’re looking into a less selective institution.
4. The College Application Process is Less Strenuous
Chances are, your child won’t have to worry about a complicated application process if he or she is looking at a less selective institution. Here’s a quick overview.
Regular admission means your child can apply to as many colleges as possible. An application submission deadline varies between institutions. Regular admission deadlines typically fall in early January and admission offers get sent out in late March or early April. Your student has until May 1 to either accept or decline admission offers. (Your child may not encounter this type of admission, either.)
When I was an admission counselor, our college used rolling admission. Rolling admission means a college releases admission decisions regularly instead of sending them all out on one target date.
An admission committee will only review your child’s application as soon as all required information is in. Colleges that use a rolling admission policy usually notify applicants of admission decisions quickly. (Students learned of an admission decision within two weeks at our college!)
Rolling admission decisions are non-binding. This means that your child will not be required to attend that school and will not need to make a decision until May 1, which is National Candidate Reply Day.
Open admission means a college accepts any high school graduate (no matter what those grades look like) until all spaces in the incoming class are filled. Two-year community colleges immediately come to mind — most community colleges have a two-year open admission policy. Note that a college with a general open admission policy may have certain admission requirements for specific programs.
Your child probably won’t encounter these types of admission at lower selectivity institutions:
- Early Action (EA), which means your student has the option to submit an application before the regular deadline. Early action plans are not binding, which means that your child is not required to attend.
- Early Decision (ED) means your child can submit an application to his or her first-choice college before the regular deadline and get an admission decision earlier than usual. Early decision plans are binding, which means your child must attend that institution.
- Single-Choice Early Action or Restrictive Early Action means your child is not required to attend if accepted. However, if using this method, your child may not apply to any other school during the early action period only.
5. Lower Costs
You’ll typically find lower selectivity institutions in areas that also include lower costs of living (not big urban areas). The savings on rent and tuition might be worth it.
Your child may be able to get an academic scholarship. Many colleges give half or full-tuition academic scholarships to students who have a very good high school GPA, ACT or SAT scores and class rank. The most selective colleges will not award your child a merit scholarship.
“We had a student who wanted to study business. Although she was accepted at multiple selective programs, she chose to study at Bentley University (45-50% acceptance rate), where they placed her into the honors program, provided her with a large scholarship, and of course, she received all the perks that came along with the honors program. She loved feeling like she was the top of the class!” says Kopp Weingarten.
Kopp Weingarten also said, “We also had a student who chose a large public university in the Midwest where she could use her AP credits to get advanced standing, basically entering as a sophomore. She graduated in three years, saved tons of money and was accepted into a top-tier Ph.D. program.”
6. College Selectivity is Not a Reliable Indicator of Learning, Job Satisfaction or Well-Being
The Stanford study found no significant relationship between a school’s selectivity and student learning, future job satisfaction or well-being. Furthermore, the study found only modest financial benefits of attending more selective colleges — and that applied to first-generation and other underserved students.
Individual student characteristics (background, major, ambition) may make more of a difference in terms of post-college outcomes than the institutions themselves.
7. Learning Engagement is Most Important
Students’ learning among a campus community may offer the key to positive outcomes after college, according to the Stanford study. For instance:
- Students participate in service learning and thrive when they apply what they learn in the classroom to real life settings.
- Students are successful when mentors at the college encourage them to pursue personal goals.
- Those who are successful after college engage in multi-semester projects.
8. Grades May Be Higher
Your child may be more likely to graduate with honors at a less selective institution.
“When students apply to medical school, the two most important aspects of their applications are their GPA and their MCATs,” says Kopp Weingarten. “We had a student who felt it might be difficult to maintain a high GPA at a highly competitive college where everyone was aiming for ‘A’ grades. He chose to attend a college where he felt he could keep his GPA high due to the lower competition at the school. Due to the fact that he was at the top of their admit pile, he received a huge scholarship and only paid about $10,000 a year for a private college. It worked out for him because he graduated with a near-perfect GPA and was accepted into medical school. He then had the money he saved to put toward paying for medical school.”
Think Carefully About College Selectivity
The main drawback of graduating from a less selective college is brand recognition. However, there are other things to think about, such as whether your child actually ends up graduating. Plus, if your child plans to go to graduate school, nobody cares where he or she goes for an undergraduate education.
Colleges with higher selectivity are also much more likely to graduate students than those with lower selectivity. However, once your child does graduate, there’s little difference in life outcomes, as the Stanford study suggests.
“Sometimes, the most highly selective schools can open the door for a candidate (job or graduate school). But what really matters is how well the student performs at the school they are at. The school doesn’t make the student successful — it’s up to the student to do that on their own,” says Kopp Weingarten.
Tip: Check the financial solvency of institutions your child is interested in (particularly those small private colleges that were already in trouble before the pandemic). Some have already closed. Attending a lower selectivity public school is less of a risk because if those institutions close, students will still be a part of the state system.
Freshmen may not believe their journey starts right now, but it does. Now’s the start of school and there’s no reason to wait!
We’d occasionally get emails or letters from students that would explain their bad grades — loss of an important family member, students’ own illnesses, traumatic event, lack of motivation, switch to a different teacher, lack of maturity, etc.
Colleges do take that information seriously — things happen. However, it’s best not to plant those seeds of doubt.
Anecdotally, in the admission office, we found that a high predictor of college success were students’ grades in high school — more than SAT or ACT scores. The variable that generally reflects the strongest correlation with college academic achievement is the high school GPA, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling.
So, how to prepare for college as a freshman in high school?
Naturally, it’s up to you to have that conversation with your child before school starts.
Grades Matter, Starting Now
You knew that would be the first thing, right? It’s really hard to change the tide of bad grades as a senior and high school academic success paves the way for college success. High school grade point average is still the highest predictor of a student’s likelihood of graduating from a two- or four-year college. Although any single grade is imperfect, when averaged over a high school career, the grade point average is an excellent predictor of how a student will do in college.
Here’s a scenario: Meredith knows she’ll be able to slide through high school because of the community college’s open admission option — that anyone can get in, no matter their grade point average. Meredith believes that she can “take it easy” freshman year because, if all else fails, she can go to the local community college.
However, research shows that putting effort toward grades in high school is essential, according to the American Federation of Teachers. In fact:
- Students who don’t do homework end up with 1.2 years less education and 19 percent lower earnings than average.
- Students doing 15 hours or more a week of homework attain almost 1.5 more years of education and attain 16 percent higher earnings than average. Isn’t that amazing?!
Steps to Prepare for Freshman Year
Freshman year may look a whole lot different than your child may have envisioned. Here’s what you can do to help your child prepare for college. (Yes! It’s time to have these conversations now!)
Roll with Remote Learning
A few moms I know have their kids all set up with remote learning. Danielle has set up a six-foot long table for her five kids and they all study at the same time, like a one-room schoolhouse. Tracey’s high schooler studies in a common living space — not in his room. Here are a more tips for remote success:
- Limit distractions. As much as you can, keep kids away from their phones, Netflix, the refrigerator (“I need snacks ten times a day to study, Mom!”) and more.
- Stick to a routine. If your child has a Zoom class at 10, suggest studying for that class at the same time every day. Write out a schedule in advance and align it as closely with your child’s class schedule as possible.
- Look at actual textbooks. It’s taxing to look at a screen all day — you may understand if you sit at a computer all day long! Check out blue light-blocking computer glasses if your child has no choice but to stare at a screen all day!
- Fix any difficulties with classes. Is your child having trouble with classes due to distance learning? It may be hard to adjust to learning trigonometry online. Find out whether the teacher offers study sessions outside of class and can demonstrate how to do complex math problems or teach Shakespeare individually.
Examine Eighth Grade Experiences
College success is linked to high school preparation — and that starts now. Use eighth grade as a springboard for the conversation. Ask your child:
- What worked well in eighth grade?
- What do you wish you would have done differently in your classes in eighth grade?
- How would you do things differently?
- Is there a better way to stay organized this year?
- Classes will be more involved this year. How do you think you’ll plan to study?
- What do you think is the secret to success?
- What classes do you think will be a challenge/not as much as of a challenge? How will you handle each?
Take College Prep Classes
Make sure the plan includes college prep classes:
- English: Keep in mind that colleges like to see four years of English.
- Math: Colleges also like to see four years of math. Math classes should include at least four of these classes: Pre-algebra, algebra, geometry, algebra II or trigonometry, precalculus and calculus.
- Science: Take at least three years of laboratory science classes (check specific school requirements) but a fourth year is still a bonus. Make sure your child plans to take biology, chemistry and physics.
- Social studies: Most colleges require at least two years of social studies or social science, including world history and U.S. history, government, sociology, geography or psychology.
- Foreign language: Many colleges require a minimum of two years of foreign language while in
- Arts: A small number of colleges require at least one year of visual or performing arts.
Cultivate Good Study Habits
It’s best to start freshman year with good study habits so your child is used to implementing them each year of high school.
Here are some tips:
- Determine your child’s most productive study hours. Does your child do better in the early morning? Late evening? During study hall? Extracurricular activities might make it tough to be picky, but try to cater to your child’s best hours.
- Encourage your child to get plenty of sleep. Teenagers need between nine and nine and a half hours of sleep (in fact, studies show that most teenagers need exactly nine and a quarter hours of sleep!) according to Nationwide Children’s Hospital. The need to study might hinder your child’s sleep cycle but try to hit those nine-and-a-quarter hours as much as possible! It’ll make your child more productive in school and during study time.
- Make sure your child has all necessary resources. Does your daughter do better when she’s got a laptop in front of her? A quiet room? Does your son need a special calculator? Does he do well studying in the midst of chaos (at the kitchen table)? Make sure your child’s set up for success wherever that may be.
- Help eliminate distractions. Netflix off, phone in quarantine. What other distractions normally bug your child during study hours? The cat running circles in the dining room? The neighbors coming over at the exact same time every night?
- Check in. Keep a mental check of what
- Know what’s due. Now, this doesn’t mean you have to know every single math problem assigned to your child. Just know in the back of your head
- Come up with ways to keep grades up. What went well last year? Did your child’s grades measure up to what you expected? Did your child think he could have done a little better? Make a list of ways (together!)
Talk About College, Starting Now!
Let’s step away from the academic conversation for a second. There’s other stuff to talk about!
Talk About College Money
It’s never too early to have conversations with your child about how much you’ve saved for college. In fact, it’s really important — it will help your child understand his college options. Talk to your child about how much you’ve saved, how much you can help out per month during college and more.
It helps frame the college conversation a little bit more and gets your child ready for what’s ahead. Student loans might be a part of the college cost equation, and the earlier your student knows that, the better.
Here are some topics you might want to consider talking about:
- Actual college costs vs. sticker price
- Loans and their implications
- The importance of scholarships
- Your own experience paying for college
- The difference between grants, scholarships, loans and more (hint: scholarships and grants are free money!)
- In-state versus out-of-state tuition
Talk About College Preference
It’s also not too early to talk about where your child thinks he might “fit” best — community college, private liberal arts college, state university, etc. Describe the differences between each and learn more:
You may not know the answers to these questions right now, but it’s time to start thinking about them.
Things Could Change in a Heartbeat!
We aren’t sure what’s going to happen during the upcoming school year. If your child’s started out online, maybe it’ll continue for the foreseeable future. Maybe your child’s taking classes in person right now but you know all this could change!
Carefully examine the ways you can help this year get underway successfully — it’s going to take some creativity and maybe even a few pivots, too.
Hello! Here’s a guest post from my friend and colleague, Henry Khederian, who’s also a recent University of Michigan grad. He wrote a post-graduate letter about what he wishes he would have talked to his mom about during the college application process. Henry is a data research content creator at Benzinga. Enjoy!
You’ve guided and supported me through some of the most difficult and challenging decisions in my life.
Whether it was helping me select the best and brightest colors to finger paint when I was 5 or helping me look my best for my last high school prom, I know I can always count on your input!
I’ve had my ups and downs in high school, and you know that better than anyone. When I didn’t make the varsity basketball team, you were there to tell me life goes on and things happen for a reason.
When I went out on my first ice cream date, you did the little things like help me pick out a 10/10 outfit and let me borrow your car.
College is just around the corner, and like a member of Congress needs the counsel of his aids, I want to tackle this thing they call college admissions together.
I Want Your Help — I Really Do!
I’ve heard this thought bounced around on college admissions forums — the only thing harder than a student selecting a school is the parents’ role in steering their child in the right direction.
In other words, this process will not be one of linear progression (thanks, Algebra II, for the lingo). As decisions come in from the universities I apply to, I will face the heartbreak of rejection and the elation of success on this path.
When I falter, I’m not asking you to hold my hand per se, but provide a way forward if my favorite school doesn’t pan out the way I dreamed it would. After all, you will feel my impending acceptances, waitlists and rejection decisions at an emotional magnitude greater than or equal to me, that’s for sure.
It’s my responsibility to write the arduous college essays, recount my high school extracurricular activities and gather transcripts. But more than ever, I could use your wisdom to help me keep my ducks in a row during an incredibly stressful process.
Will you join me on this journey?
I’ve assembled a short list of the ways I believe you can support my success in the college admissions process.
In other words, here’s what I believe I need from you. (This is by no means an exhaustive list, and there’s no question that we could argue points made here, but this is what’s at the forefront of what I need from you as a high school student.)
Read Between the Lines
The ever-daunting question many high school students like me face is how should I handle the college admissions essay process?
Am I left to toss and turn at night, perplexed in the uncertainty that what I’ve written may not be good enough for an esteemed Ivy League admissions board?
Because so many college essays ask you to tell your personal story and journey, who better than to help me map my life experiences up to this point than you, Mom?
Help Me Identify My Strengths and Weaknesses
The concept of blind spots does not only apply to learning how to drive, you know! It can be hard to recall each one of my strengths and weaknesses these past 4 years. Where did I shine in my schoolwork, where did I lack support from my community in the midst of stressors from school?
Here are 3 key examples of questions where the common app asks me to recall my biggest of strengths and weaknesses:
- Some students have a background, identity, interest or talent so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, please share your story.
- The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback or failure. How did it affect you and what did you learn from the experience?
- Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
Absent the need to submit SAT and ACT test scores, essays are more important than ever.
I’m a firm believer that blind spots can only be spotted by the people closest to you. Why else would they be called blind spots if you could determine what they are all on your own?
I need your help with that college application checklist, even if it seems like I don’t appreciate your input.
Give Me Feedback
We’ve sat down together and hashed out so many incredibly active discussions on our life views (and yes, we’ve had arguments). I promise I won’t be mad if you have some critical feedback after I write the first few drafts for my common app essays.
Because I know your feedback can shine a light on my blind spots and is the most golden of all.
In other words, it’s one thing if I visited a hurricane-relief zone for charity work, but why did I decide to take on this role? What are the lasting effects of helping others in need? Anyone can tell their story, but it’s you, Mom, who can best build depth and breadth to the experiences I’ve had. You know me best!
Know that this Year is Stressful
My high school graduating class is facing stress before classes even begin. Due to coronavirus, the end of my “in-person” high school career may be cut short.
If anything, this uncertain timeline for the upcoming school year makes me want to make the most of each day that you and I have together before college arrives.
Because I’m bound to struggle with the logistical learning challenges brought on by COVID-19, I want you to be the first to know that, because you’ve been there for me time and time again, I trust you more than anyone to guide me through the finish line!
Some things never change — like how much I appreciate your support and critical feedback when I need it most.
Thank you for everything, and I know we’ve got this!
It’s time for seniors to get that admission ball rolling, and now’s the time to start.
One of the things I wish would be easier to understand are the different types of admission available at all schools. (I also wish there was one standard financial aid award that looked the same nationwide.)
I worked in the admission office of my alma mater for 12 years and we had rolling admission. This means that we’d accept applications as they came in, without an application deadline.
In other words, if you applied in September of senior year, you could get admitted just as easily as if you waited to May of senior year. The perks to rolling admission is that you don’t have to worry about a deadline date.
However, the downside is that your child doesn’t have a deadline. It’s often easier to make sure your child actually gets the application done when there’s a hard-and-fast deadline.
There are no right or wrong answers (kind of like choosing a major) but there are definitely types of admission that match best with your child’s personality. Let’s dive into seven different admission types and figure out which one is best for your student.
Various Types of College Admission
Let’s go over seven common types of college admission practices: Regular admission, rolling admission,
Regular admission allows students to apply to as many schools as they would like. There’s an application submission deadline, which will vary between institutions. However, regular admission deadlines typically fall in early January and admission offers are sent out in late March or early April. Your student has until May 1 to either accept or decline the admission offers. Colleges that offer regular admission typically have an early college admission option (detailed below) so make sure you and your student are aware of all the deadline dates!
Best for: Students who want flexibility with their admission decision and don’t want to have to commit to a school early.
As I mentioned before, our college participated in rolling admission. Rolling admission means a college releases admission decisions regularly — sometimes daily — instead of sending them all out on one target date.
An admission committee will only review your child’s application as soon as all required information (such as high school records and test scores) has been received, rather than setting an application deadline and reviewing applications in a batch. Colleges that use a rolling admission policy usually notify applicants of admission decisions quickly.
If you apply earlier, you’ll receive your decision earlier. iming is important when applying to schools with rolling admissions. As classes fill up, fewer spots remain.
The average turnaround time for rolling admissions decisions by colleges is about two to six weeks. Rolling admissions decisions are non-binding, which means that your child will not be required to attend that school. Your child will not need to decide whether to enroll until May 1, often referred to as National Candidate Reply Day.
Best for: Students who are unhurried throughout the college search process or who want to take their time to compare schools and financial aid awards.
Open admission means a college accepts any high school graduate (no matter what those grades look like) until all spaces in the incoming class are filled. Two-year community colleges immediately come to mind — most community colleges have a two-year open admission policy. Note that a college with a general open admission policy may have certain admission requirements for specific programs.
Best for: Students who don’t have stellar academic performance, those who want to save money by going the community college route for two years.
Early College Admission
You may have already heard of the terms “early action” and “early decision” and may be a little curious about what they mean, particularly for parents of underclassmen. The tricky thing about some early admission programs is that your child may be required to attend that school. It’s great for the colleges because they get early commitments from students and Let’s go over these types of admission in a little more detail.
Early Action (EA)
Early action means your student has the option to submit an application before the regular deadline. It’s a great way to get an admission decision from a college much earlier than usual.
One of the most flexible parts of early action plans is that they are not binding, which means that your child is not required to attend that particular college through this type of admission. Some colleges have an early action option called EA II, which involves a later application deadline than the regular EA plan.
To sum up:
- Your child can apply to more than one college through early action.
- A student can commit to that college right away or wait until spring to decide.
- Your student can also decline the offer.
Best for: Students who have done their homework for the college search. The advantage to early action is that they know they’ve been accepted to college as they apply to other schools during the regular application period. In other words, they want to know they can relax a little bit.
Early Decision (ED)
Early decision means your child can submit an application to his or her first-choice college before the regular deadline. Your student will get an admission decision earlier than usual. Early decision plans are binding. This means your child must enroll in the college immediately if admitted and accept the financial aid award offered. Some colleges have an early decision option called ED II — a later application deadline than a school’s regular ED plan.
To sum up:
- Your student can apply to just one early decision college.
- Your child must go to that college if accepted and if you’re awarded enough financial aid. The decision is binding.
- The early decision II (ED II) deadline gives your child more time to decide whether to apply early.
- Your child must withdraw all other applications to other schools if accepted early decision.
Best for: Students who choose to go the early decision route know they want to go to one school and one school only. As a family, you must be comfortable with the financial aid award and know that your student can’t entertain any other offers from other schools.
Single-Choice Early Action or Restrictive Early Action
Single-choice early action, also known as restrictive early action or restricted early action, is another non-binding option. This means your child is not required to attend if accepted. However, if your student applies using this method, your child may not apply to any other school during the early action period only. This type of admission incorporates features of both early action and early decision. To be quite frank, it’s less restrictive than early decision but more restrictive than early action. Whew!
To sum up:
- Your student can apply early to only one college, similar to early decision. Everything else in this admission type works the same as early action.
- Applying to other colleges is still acceptable during the regular admission process.
- Your child doesn’t have to decide until spring.
Best for: Students going the Ivy League route. This isn’t a common admission type unless your child is applying to a highly competitive school.
Admission offices may advise your student in writing of the likelihood of admission — whether it’s likely, possible or unlikely — no earlier than October 1 of your child’s senior year in high school. If a school indicates it’s likely, it’s similar to an acceptance — as long as your child keeps the same academic and personal record reflected in the completed application. The college will send a formal acceptance on the appropriate notification date.
Let’s say your student is lucky enough to get one or more such written communications. If your child has made a decision to go to one school, he’s encouraged (but not required) to notify all other institutions and to withdraw all other applications.
Permission from a college that has accepted you to postpone enrolling in the college. The postponement is usually for up to one year. Here are the steps to taking a gap year:
- Make sure your student applies to college before the gap year.
- Get accepted at that college.
- Next, your child will need to send an email or letter to the director of admission at that college to explain exactly what he or she plans to do during the gap year. Check out the Gap Year Association for college and university policies concerning gap years. Double-check for the most updated policies at your child’s school.
- Submit the enrollment deposit. This amount will be different at every school.
- Determine the effects deferral will have on your child’s financial aid or scholarships. Many schools will allow you to keep the same financial aid and scholarships but it could change year to year. Check with the admission office at your child’s school.
- Have your child find out whether the institution offers some form of gap year fellowship or subsidy program. Yep, it’s possible to get funded for a gap year!
- Note that the school has the right to deny your gap year. If that happens, your child has a few options:
- Your child can decide to attend the college as scheduled and not take the gap year.
- Your student could wait and reapply to college until after the gap year. The downside is that your child may not be able to start college for another two years, which could end up making the transition a bit more difficult. Transcripts, test scores and letters of recommendation may also be more difficult to come by.
- It may make sense to apply to multiple colleges and ask about gap year policies at each one.
Tips with COVID-19 in Mind
Ask colleges about their admission procedures and whether they’ve changed them in the wake of COVID-19. It can also be a challenge to get all those deadlines organized, so add them to the spreadsheet I’ve created for you and your student!
- Make sure you talk to an admission counselor on Zoom or over the phone to make sure you and your child understand all admission processes.
- Understand all admission options — many schools have more than one.
- Don’t get too comfortable with the flexibility of open and rolling admission. Have your child get those applications in early!