Give it all to me now, please!
I get it!
When I’m ready to dive into a topic, I don’t want to wait. If you are ready now for information on college planning, grades, classes, testing, extracurricular activities, college visits, etc., I’m putting the entire course here for you.
Read what you need now. Come back later to review.
Warning: I made this a 14-day course because the information can be overwhelming. I’ve included a lot of details and examples, so you may want to take notes or plan to revisit the lessons on a daily basis to get everything.
Day 1: College Planning Timeline
I’m so excited to be working with you on The Parent’s Guide to College Admission.
I’m going to share information on grades, test scores, finding the right college, selecting the right courses, scholarship, financial aid, and so much more. My focus is RESULTS.
Today we start off with the big picture—what to do each year from junior high through senior year. No matter where you are in the process, you can start planning for what’s to come.
I said that my focus is RESULTS. I want you to be confident and informed. You need usable action steps so you and your child can begin to see RESULTS in their school work, test scores, extracurricular activities, and eventually in their college applications.
But I have to warn you: This isn’t some get-smart-quick (or get-into-college-quick) scheme. I’m not selling magic beans. There is so much information out there, and I want to take time to cover each topic without confusing you completely—that’s why this process is spread over 14 days. You will have time to learn, think, process, and TAKE ACTION.
Each day, you will receive an email from me. Some days I send videos or audios; other days, I share articles or checklists. Some of this may be new information, and some of it may reinforce things you already know. I include detailed action steps, so you can begin to see RESULTS.
Along the way, if you have any questions, post them on the College Prep Results Facebook page! I can’t wait to get started!
Day 2: Grades
Today, we are tackling the most essential foundation of college preparation or admission: GRADES.
Don’t get caught up in the misconception that grades are the only important thing. They aren’t. Colleges primarily look to grades as a way to predict a student’s ability to do college-level work. They are looking to answer this question:
“Will this student be academically successful on our campus?”
So grab paper and pen. Let’s find out what you can do about grades.
Next I’ll tie grades to their partner—classes. An “A” by itself is meaningless. Colleges are looking to see in what context that grade was earned.
P.S. Yes, I ignored the most popular question on purpose. Everyone wants to know:
“Is it better to have a B in an advanced class (AP, IB, honors, etc.), or an A in a regular class?”
Every college admissions officer answers this question the same way. “It is better to have an A in the advanced class!” This isn’t the answer people are looking for, but it is the truth. Use the “make it happen” suggestions from today’s video to help your child earn that higher grade.
Day 3: Classes & Course Selection
Today we tackle the topic of classes. The details depend on the classes offered at your school. As you can imagine, there are thousands of possibilities across the country—different graduation requirements, electives, number of class periods per day, and options for advanced courses. But the way to get RESULTS is still the same.
1. Core classes are the foundation of a high school education.
No matter where your student is applying, the ideal high school transcript shows that he or she has taken four years of each of the core courses: English, math, science, history, and foreign language. Yes, FOUR years.
Often, high school graduation requirements reflect a minimum standard. Colleges like to see more. This often means taking harder upper level courses such as Physics, Spanish 4, French 4 or German 4, or Calculus. Strong students will accept the challenge and go beyond minimum requirements.
Electives shouldn’t replace academic courses, but they are important because they show what a student’s interests and passions are.
2. Students should challenge themselves academically, taking advanced courses when available and where appropriate. (AP, IB, Honors, Advanced, etc.)
Not every high school offers advanced courses, and not every student is able to work at an accelerated pace in every subject. You need to encourage your child to work to his or her potential.
Be sure your child takes the strongest academic classes he or she is capable of, but ensure he or she pursues unique talents and interests, too. We don’t want kids who are stressed out and drowning in their advanced classes.
3. Students’ choices of classes show not only what they are interested in, but also how interested they are in learning.
In junior and senior years, students have a lot of options to explore areas they are interested in as electives, take advanced courses in subjects they love or are exceptionally good at, or take an “off period.” Here’s my advice: Avoid too many “off periods.” It may be tempting to take fewer classes, especially senior year, but colleges want students who are willing to learn.
Overall, colleges are looking for evidence of your child’s commitment to and enthusiasm for learning. Class selection can speak volumes. Is this the student interested in science taking extra science classes as electives? Is this the future lawyer excelling in English as well as debate?
Even if your student hasn’t shown a strong preference for a particular field of study, he or she can demonstrate a commitment to education and a passion for learning.
4. Further Reading
I’ve given you the big picture for course selection. This is a topic we could discuss all day if we examined each and every situation and possibility. Here are some additional resources to help answer your specific questions:
And as always, feel free to post questions here.
Day 4: Picking the Right College
Finding the right college involves narrowing the list down from the 4,000 colleges and universities in the U.S. to a more manageable number—between 10 and 30—that you can begin to research in detail.
Picking colleges is a lot like selecting the right pair of shoes. There are lots of shoes in the store that will fit my feet. I need to begin by limiting my choices: dress or casual shoes? What color? What style? Do I like the look and feel?
Today, I’m giving you a checklist to help you begin the process of selecting the right college.
Tomorrow, I will send tips for making college visits (what to look for when you “try on shoes”).
Day 5: College Visit Checklist
Today we are going to test-drive a college. You wouldn’t buy a car without a test drive, would you? A campus visit is a test-drive of a college or university..
Let’s do it right. Kicking the tires and peering into the window on the closed car lot doesn’t count. Neither does driving through a campus in your car, attending a sporting event, or going to visit cousin Jerry.
Make a real visit, scheduled through the admissions office. Often, you can do this online. Listen to and understand the one-hour information session. Take the student-led tour. Stay for lunch, and talk to people while you’re there.
I recommend that parents begin taking students on college visits as early as ninth grade. Start by visiting schools in your area. Try to see a small college, a big university, and one in between. If you live in a major city, visit a campus in a small college town. If you live in a smaller town, try to visit a school in a large city. Keep an open mind.
Make notes as you visit. Here is my Campus Tour Notes form. I print these front and back on one page. The front side allows me to make notes on the different aspects of the campus. The backside includes questions I ask of my student tour guides and other students I meet.
Want to get an honest view of a school? Talk to students on campus. Explain that you are considering that college, and most students will be more than willing to share their experiences. If you feel uncomfortable approaching strangers to ask them questions, go to the student center and offer to buy someone lunch or coffee in exchange for a few minutes of his or her time. Free food is always popular on campus!
What should you do on a visit? I’m including my 21 Suggestions For Visiting Colleges checklist, which offers suggestions for basic visits all the way through very serious overnight stays.
Don’t feel you need to visit every college and university. But DO start looking at the schools on your list and planning a few campus visits. The sooner you start this process, the easier it will be come application time.
Day 6: Finding Scholarships
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to be the valedictorian or a star athlete to earn scholarships.
Here are my top five tips for maximizing your scholarship dollars:
1. Apply to the Right Schools.
Private colleges and universities are more expensive, but they award more scholarships than in-state universities. I know many students who are attending private schools for less than it would cost to go to a state school.
Select a few schools where your grades and test scores are above average. Keep in mind that some of the most selective schools (Ivy League, for example) don’t award ANY scholarships; they just provide for financial need.
2. Apply Early, Apply Often.
Some scholarships are available as early as a student’s freshman year in high school, and others are reserved for college juniors and seniors, so you have an eight-year window in which to apply for awards. Motivated students should begin early and set a goal for the number of scholarship applications they intend to submit each school year.
My former student with the most scholarship awards at graduation wasn’t number one in her class, but she was a good student who applied for dozens of scholarships. She came to see me in the counseling office every week in her quest for scholarships. Her efforts paid off, and she “earned” more than any part-time job would have paid.
3. Maximize Your Test Scores.
Test scores matter. By senior year, it is difficult to improve GPA or class rank, but a student can make a positive change in his or her SAT or ACT scores.
If you want to see one example of how test scores can influence scholarship dollars, try the Baylor University scholarship calculator: http://www.baylor.edu/admissions/index.php?id=82248
4. Don’t Overlook Small or Local Awards.
Money adds up. $500 won’t cover tuition, but it helps, and a few $500 awards added together start to make a big difference. In addition, small and local scholarships tend to have less competition. Some awards go unclaimed each year because no one applies! Increase your odds of success, and don’t ignore these opportunities.
5. NEVER Pay for Scholarships.
There are a lot of scams out there preying on parents’ fears and financial needs.
▪ No legitimate scholarship will require payment. (No processing fees, transaction fees, or deposits.)
▪ No legitimate consultant can promise results.
I’ve seen fraudulent programs promise to help students find and qualify for awards—for a fee. These programs usually keep 90% of the fee, and the student “wins” a $250 scholarship from the company.
There are plenty of online resources to help you find scholarships. I like FastWeb.com, but there are many others.
Before you begin an application, verify the program is still in existence; the economy has negatively affected some scholarship programs.
Here are additional resources:
Day 7: Activities & Resumes
As parents, we want our kids to experience success. Of course, success doesn’t just come in the classroom; it comes in sports, clubs, volunteer work, hobbies, or religious organizations.
Colleges want students who develop interests, strengths, and talents outside the classroom. This is why applications ask students to list their extracurricular activities.
It is better to commit fully to a handful of activities than to list a lot of activities with which you’ve done little.
Hobbies can make great activities (reading, rebuilding cars, gardening, robotics, etc.). However, some hobbies are not seen as favorably as others. Colleges probably don’t want to see that your student spends 100 hours a week watching TV or playing video games!
As early as the summer prior to ninth grade, start keeping a resume or list of activities to use on college applications.
Here is the format I use. It can easily be adapted to specific applications.
Day 8: College Bound Vocabulary
It’s grow your lexicon day!
Vocabulary is so much more than a Friday quiz in English class or a pile of flashcards used to prepare for the SAT. Like it or not, we are judged on how we present ourselves to others, and our vocabulary plays a crucial role in how we are perceived.
Whether watching candidates debate, listening to a sales presentation, or reading persuasive articles, we have all seen situations in which the person who can express him or herself eloquently and precisely seems much more credible.
Johnson O’Conner Research Laboratory conducted numerous studies about how word knowledge affects employment. That research revealed that people with superior vocabularies:
- Have higher IQs
- Command greater respect
- Read faster and comprehend more
- Are considered more intelligent
- Interview better
- Are promoted faster and more often
- Make more money
Who wouldn’t want these traits?
If you want your child to develop the type of vocabulary that earns points on the SAT, impresses English teachers, and puts them ahead of the curve for college, you must plan and practice. Yes, some students will have enough structure at school, and others will be self-motivated; these students will probably do well in any situation. But the average teenager needs a clear plan and some accountability for improving his or her vocabulary.
Based on my 18 years helping students prepare for the ACT & SAT, I’ve developed a vocabulary-building program ideal for students in grades 7-12. You will receive weekly lessons. Each week’s lesson includes a list of 15 words that are frequently seen on the SAT & ACT. I provide short, clear definitions. To address different learning styles and encourage correct pronunciation and usage, I include an audio file of the words, as well as an audio quiz. Add in a study schedule for each day of the week and a study tip, and you’ve got Vocabulary Results Builder (only $1 per week for one year– or 2+ years for $98!).
You may find many ways to build in consistency and accountability, but you can’t expect your child to build a strong vocabulary accidentally. It takes time and effort.
Day 9: Standardized Test Scores
Woo hoo! Today we talk about testing— one of my specialties!
It seems like the world is divided into three groups:
- Super test takers (people who always have been good at tests)
- Those who HATE tests
- Everyone else
If you are in either of the first two groups, you may need to put your personal testing successes or failures aside to best evaluate what your child needs to see testing RESULTS.
I’m going to reveal my biases first. I am in the business of helping students prepare for the SAT and ACT. Test prep works, and I strongly recommend each student do some type of preparation before taking the SAT or ACT. No, not everyone needs a private tutor or class; some students can study on their own. Test prep results are never guaranteed: Improvement is based on many factors, so don’t be fooled into thinking any one person or organization can guarantee results.
Day 10: PSAT & Scholarships
“You mean the PSAT qualifies students for a major national scholarship program?”
Before I jump into the PSAT and the National Merit Scholarships it can bring, I wanted to check in with you on how the course is going. Are you learning new things? Taking action on things you may have known before, but had not made plans for?
Don’t get overwhelmed! This is a lot of information, especially if most of it is new to you. Take in what you can, and give yourself time to process what you are learning. You can always save these emails and review them again in a few months.
So back to today’s topic: the PSAT
I’ve got it all together on one page for you:
- How the PSAT leads to National Merit Scholarships
- What ninth- and tenth-grade students need to do
- Why the PSAT is essential for ALL juniors
Cruise on over to see why the PSAT is such a big deal: http://collegeprepresults.com/psat-review-national-merit-scholarship-information/
Day 11: Questions & Special Situations
Today, I’m answering college admissions questions. I’d also like to encourage you to ask questions on my Facebook page. As you know, there are so many personalized situations that general advice isn’t always enough. I’d love to hear from you.
What are the strongest ballet departments?
The answer to this question depends on your goals. Ballet dancers, especially women, have a fairly short window of time to move from training into a company, which is why many serious dancers actually delay college and train with a professional company like School of American Ballet (SAB), Joffrey, or Royal Academy of Dance (RAD). Following this type of performance training program isn’t exactly a well-rounded education, but there will always be time for that later.
Other students want college programs in a conservatory setting. Schools such as Juilliard or Boston Conservatory are well recognized, but the curriculum will include a lot of modern dance in addition to ballet. Finally, you may want a more well-rounded education, which can be found in a liberal arts college or traditional university setting. You will find many well-regarded programs; your goal is to match the program to your goals and ability.
Are there things a student should never say during a college interview?
Whether interviewing with a university’s employee or an alumni, remember that they love their school! Nothing sinks an interview faster than a lack of interest. “I’m applying here as a backup,” or, “because my dad made me,” indicates you are unlikely to attend, even if admitted. Lack of interest also shows if you ask questions that easily would have been answered by looking at the school’s website before your interview. Finally, “Do I really need to study?” and, “Yeah, I’ve got an easy senior schedule,” are comments that speak volumes about your lack of interest in higher education overall.
How can a student figure out which standardized tests to take, when, and how many times?
At a minimum, juniors should take the ACT and SAT once, but many students re-test multiple times to achieve their personal best scores. If you want to re-test, focus on whichever standardized test best highlights your academic strengths. You can retake both the SAT and ACT senior year, but pay attention to application deadlines—some fall test dates may be too late. Students applying to highly selective schools also may be required to take SAT Subject Tests, and international students may need additional tests such as the TOEFL. Specific details on which tests you need and when you need to complete them will depend on where you choose to apply. Check with each college and university to make sure you satisfy all testing requirements.
How can parents help students with the college search and application process?
Parents should emphasize academic achievement and extracurricular involvement starting when their children are in elementary school. Offering encouragement and guidance throughout the school years will help ensure students take challenging classes, earn the best grades possible, seek out extra help in academic problem areas, and participate in meaningful extracurriculars. From freshman year on, parents can encourage students to explore colleges, make college visits, and compare top choices. When the real application process starts, though, it’s important that parents step back, offering advice and encouragement but allowing the student to do the work.
Further Reading On Specific Issues:
Day 12: Priorities & Balance
How’s the class going? Are you learning something new or finding new ways to apply things you already knew?
If you find this course helpful, do me a favor and tell your friends. Encourage them to sign up at my website.
Today’s topic is big picture: What are your priorities when it comes to higher education and your child’s future? Is your child able to maintain balance between schoolwork, activities, family, etc.?
Day 13: Staying Organized
I’m going to keep it short and sweet today.
The biggest challenge in the college application process can be keeping track of all the details and staying organized.
Here’s a sneak peek at what I give all of my Summer Application Camp clients.
Let me know your tips for staying organized: Post them here so others can learn from you!
Day 14: Financial Aid
I saved a big topic to cover today—financial aid!
Let me begin by making an important distinction. Financial aid is based on NEED; it does not include talent-based awards or scholarships. The most common form of financial aid is a student loan, which must be repaid. With the rising costs of college education, even upper-middle-class families find themselves qualifying for some type of aid.
Families who begin the financial aid application process early have a greater chance of receiving grants and other awards that will not require repayment. “Free money”—aid that does not involve repayment—is awarded first, which is why you want to be in the front of the line when the process begins.
Your place in line is determined by when you complete the required financial aid documents. Your first step is to complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), which you can find at https://fafsa.ed.gov/ You can submit your FAFSA beginning October 1 of your student’s senior year.
Once you submit FAFSA data, you will be told what your EFC (Expected Family Contribution) is: That’s the amount your family is expected to pay towards college before any aid is awarded. If you are curious about that figure, I encourage you to use any of the financial aid calculators available online.
Your EFC will be sent to each college or university you specify, and each institution will begin to calculate your financial aid offer. All schools are required to have a “net price calculator” on their website. Look into and compare the costs at different schools.
By starting the process early, you will be able to avoid last-minute mistakes and take advantage of types of aid, such as grants, which are exhausted before every student’s need is fully met.
Note: In 2016 the timeline for the financial aid process changed. FAFSA applications are now open in the fall and use your previous year’s tax information. If you see references to January 1 FAFSA start dates, that is the old system.
Check out my weekly podcast for up to date information and plenty of episodes on issues of financial aid. You can find us on iTunes and many other podcast platforms. You can also listen from our website: http://collegepreppodcast.com
Day 15: Questions
Grab your cap and gown. You did it!
Congratulations on finishing this 14-day course. I hope you’ve found it informative and practical—remember, my focus is on RESULTS!
The more families have access to good, sound information about college admissions, the less influence media hype and panic will have. The more families begin planning early, the fewer juniors and seniors I will see who say, “If I only had known this when I was a freshman…” And the better-informed you are about grades, testing, college options, and financial aid, the less stressed out you and your student will be, both now and when he or she is actually in college!
I’d love to hear some of your “a-ha” moments from this course. Please share them with me on Facebook.
If the Parent’s Guide to College Admissions has helped you, please encourage your friends, family, and neighbors to join, too. They can sign up here.
And of course, if I can be of further service to you in your student’s college admissions journey, I’d be honored to help.