How Parents Can Help Their Teens Prepare to Apply to College

what parents can do

* Get the Details. There are a lot of things to think about when applying to college: what to study, distance from home, size of the campus, dorm life, etc. However, lots of teens forget to consider whether the college requires a sequence of required courses and/or the study of a foreign language, the size of the classes,  whether the college offers an area of study of interest, opportunities to do research with professors, the ease or difficulty in enrolling in courses, career placement, and whether most freshmen stick around for sophomore year and ultimately graduate in four years. Those are important details to learn, and you can start by visiting the college websites with your teen and by reading college guidebooks together.

Access the Internet. Encourage your teen to start the college search on the web so he or she can begin to picture life on campus. Your teen can browse a college’s newspaper online; read its blog (if it has one) and Facebook page; check out clubs and extracurricular activities and athletics; and look for tutoring services and help for students with learning differences.

Save the Paper. Make sure you or your teen saves one or two graded papers that your teen writes during junior year. The paper should also contain the teacher’s comments. Some colleges ask to see graded papers, and it’s often too hard to find that great paper your teen wrote last year.

Create an Artistic Identity. Got an arts student in the family? Film your student’s performance (no more than 5 – 10 minutes). Encourage your teen to start creating a portfolio of artwork or a short film.

* Ace the Athletics. Is your teen a top athlete? Find out the name and contact information for the coach of the sport at each college your student is considering. Encourage your teen to fill out any registration form on the Athletic site and email the coach expressing interest. Become familiar with NCAA rules, especially if your teen is interested in playing a Division I or II sport. If your teen wants to play a DI or DII sport, remind your teen to register with the NCAA Clearinghouse.

* Find the Financials. Each college has its own financial aid policies — how outside scholarships are treated, whether aid awards can be appealed, etc. — information that may or may not appear in materials it sends you. It’s okay to schedule a phone call or an interview with a member of the financial aid staff before your teen applies to a particular college so you can learn the details about costs, the financial aid process, and options for financing education.

* Take the Tests. A growing number of colleges are test-optional (your teen does not have to submit college entrance test scores), but lots are not. Colleges will accept scores from the SAT or the ACT, and some require students to also submit SAT Subject Tests. Check the individual college websites to learn what each requires. The tests are given throughout the year on selected dates, and you can find the dates and registration information on the SAT and ACT websites.

* Simplify the Process. Hundreds of colleges now accept a particular application aptly named, The Common Application.  But beware. Lots of schools now have their own supplements to the Common Application, and many state schools still rely on their own applications. Beginning this year, your teen may also be able to apply to schools such as the Universities of Maryland and Washington, among others, through a new application called the Coalition Application. And there is even a third application – the Universal College Application. These applications are all intended to simplify the process, but I leave it up to you to decide whether that is indeed the case!

* Think about an Essay Topic. The college application personal essay is a chance for your teen to present his or her personality, charm, talents, vision, and spirit to admissions committees. Admissions counselors want to learn something about your teen that they wouldn’t otherwise have learned elsewhere in the college application. Brainstorm ideas with your teen. Read the sample essays on the websites for Connecticut College and Johns Hopkins University.

* Know the College. Lots of colleges ask the supplemental question, “Why Do You Want to Attend This College”? It may be a tedious answer for your teen to write, but colleges take the answer very seriously. Does your teen know the school? Is he or she a good fit? Those elements should be reflected in the essay. Guide your teen through each college website to find the connection between your teen’s interests and the tenor of the school and its academics and research opportunities.

* Take a Road Trip. It’s a good idea for your teen to visit colleges. Lots of teens don’t know what kind of college appeals to them until they visit a few campuses. You don’t have to go far. Check out colleges in your local area. Look at big schools, small schools; private colleges and public universities; rural, suburban and urban campuses. Summer is a fine time to do so. If you don’t have a lot of time to tour, you can do so via the Internet, as there now are sites that will take you on virtual campus tours.

Copyright 2016. Betsy F. Woolf. All rights reserved.