Chapter 1, The Parent's Guide to College Admissions Success
“You cannot 'hope' that your child gets into the college of his or her dreams. You must prepare.”
Hope is Not a Plan
You cannot “hope” your child gets into the college of his or her dreams. You must prepare.
Take a moment to think about why you picked up this book. You may be overseeing your oldest child’s departure to college or looking into different tactics to help your youngest child in the application process. This book aims to help you every step of the way.
It is likely that you have been preparing for this moment in your child's educational life since the moment he or she was born. You are determined. You will do anything and everything you can to help your child lead a successful life. You believe that success in life starts with a stellar education. You have worked hard and have made sacrifices. Now you are at a critical point; it is time to consider which colleges may be right for your child.
The college admissions process, and college itself, is about the applicant taking ownership. This is your child’s life, education, and decision. If you are uncomfortable giving your child the reins right now, when will you be ready to do so? After college? During grad school? When they’re choosing a spouse? Once upon a time, being eighteen meant a sense of autonomy, and as a culture, we have gotten away from that. The most important thing parents need to keep in mind is that college, and the process of getting in, should be driven by the student.
As a parent, it is your job to help your child as much as possible, but once the applications are out and decisions are made, the choice needs to rest with your child. Hopefully, as you and your child navigate the process together, you both will gain a mutual trust that the best decisions are being made.
Here’s the Plan:
Assessment + Strategy = College Choices
Did you pick up this book because you want to know how to get your child into an Ivy League school? While a great goal, I want to make clear that my role as an independent counselor is not to guarantee your child's admission into any particular school. My services are to assess what your child’s strengths and interests are, suggest schools that may help your child grow as a student and person, and strategize authentic ways to present themselves to a college and execute the application. That’s it! Independent counselors who tell you they will ensure your child's admittance into a certain school are lying to themselves, and even more importantly, to you. Year by year and step-by-step, I will provide you with details on making the most of your time and planning ahead.
Prepare for Competition
“The coveted spots at the top schools are for those who will benefit the college in some way.”
Throughout my years in this profession, lack of preparation is the number one reason why I have seen students fail. What's the solution? PREPARATION!!! My team and I will push your child to be the best they can be. We will ask tough questions, and we expect real answers. If your child follows our suggestions, the process will not be as daunting during the late summer/early fall of senior year.
As parents, by arming yourselves with simple information early in your student’s high school career or before, you are getting a head start and a leg up. But do not confuse preparation and diligence with making a bigger deal out of this than you should. You have worked hard to educate your children and to give them everything you ever had, or more. This same impulse to have them enjoy the best possible options will also be at work as they explore colleges, but it will serve them best if you remain calm and supportive throughout the process.
The college application process is competitive. There are more incredibly talented students in the country than there are seats at the most selective schools. These schools are the “best” because they often have the best resources: most sought-after faculty, most distinguished alumni, and most renowned programs.
The coveted spots at the top schools are for those who will benefit the college in some way. Schools want students with academic prowess, athletes, legacies (children of alumni), development cases (children of potential donors), and under-represented minorities. Let's face it: Nothing is free. If your child wants to absorb the information and experience that a college can give, your child will need to give something back. In many ways, colleges are big business.
Yes, colleges hire smart people to teach courses, and they offer a relatively safe haven for students ages eighteen through twenty-three. Yes, they are places for young adults to grow, nurture, and cultivate their professional aspirations. But beware: colleges want to win, too. They want smart students who will be potential leaders in a variety of industries. They want these same students— now alumni— to wave the flag of their institution, sport their sweatshirt, or place decals on their car—all of which will ultimately raise the school’s profile and increase its popularity.
Now that you're sufficiently nervous, I will flip and say that colleges and their administrators are not soulless, greedy, manipulative places and people. Colleges are educational environments with dedicated educators who want young people to excel. However, they do have operating costs and bills. Without the exorbitant tuition they charge and the capital campaigns to bring in even more dollars, they would not have the ability to do what they do so well, and in turn, attract new students and families. The bottom line is that the relationship with a college is reciprocal: the college needs your child just as much as your child needs the college.
The Strategic Admissions Road Map
Our preparation process for parents is thorough and falls into two parts. (Be sure to grab your free Strategic Admissions Road Map at: strategicadmissionsadvice.com/strategicadmissionsroadmap)
First, work to expose your child to the idea of college before high school.
Whether they watch college football on Saturdays on ESPNU, or you accompany them on a visit to the school that you or a family member attended, they need to know that college exists and that attending college is an attainable goal for them. Explain to them that the goal of college is to expand their minds and introduce them to people and ideas that will help them personally and professionally. Delve into the importance of networking in college— the relationships built during four years on a campus can greatly impact their professional path in the years to come.
Capture your student’s attention by relating college to the prospect of higher education and life opportunity. Explain to them that if they do not go to college, the likelihood they will have the career trajectory of others who do go to college is minimal. In fact, a New York Times article from 2013 looked at a law firm that commits to only hiring graduates from four-year colleges, even for menial "runner" type jobs. Their reasoning is people who go to college are more motivated as well as goal- and career-oriented than those who do not. Another reason is the poor job market and intense competition for available jobs. As one recruiter in the article put it, when eight hundred applicants apply for a job, there has to be a way to weed some of them out. Having a bachelor's degree is one way to avoid that type of preliminary cut.
An important conversation to have with your children is one about the value of a college experience. Having a college degree does not guarantee wealth. Going to college puts your children in an environment with other young people who are similarly motivated to create life options and open to stimulating their own minds. I know several people who did not go to college and who are happy and/or wealthy. I know even more people who honestly believe that college is a waste of time and money. My question to these unique people is where do they want their children to be between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five? Do they want them to get “a job”? Enlist in the military? Do they have the resources to train them in their family business and/or give them startup costs for their own business? If they do, great. If that works for a lifetime, even better. Yet most of the people we admire in life for their peace of mind, health, and wealth educated themselves somehow; they spent formidable years studying something to give them the fulfillment they are enjoying now. If it did not happen on a college campus or in a classroom, trust they had the luxury of reading, brainstorming, or trying a myriad of different ways to make things work. They had either institutional or rigorous practical education, and they are who they are because of this learning.
“For all of the commotion that is made about Harvard, Princeton and Yale, it is neither fair to your child nor to your sanity to predetermine that your child’s fate in life hinges on their admittance to those schools.”
My second step in the preparation process is the practical side: Determine when your child should start getting serious about academics.
To actually be a strong candidate for the fifty or so most prestigious colleges in the United States, the preparation process actually begins in the eighth grade. Yes, when your child chooses classes for the eighth grade, the assigned track for science, math, and foreign language may eventually impact what classes are taken as a ninth grader and, in turn, that may affect the rigor of your child’s entire high school transcript. Certain colleges, particularly the Ivy League schools and those similar to them, may expect that an applicant would have taken calculus as a senior. That means your child will need to take geometry as a freshman, algebra 2/trigonometry as a sophomore, pre-calculus as a junior, and calculus as a senior. This is a traditional formula that may or may not be applicable at your high school, but it is a tried and true expectation of some of the most prestigious schools in the country.
At the same time, I do not suggest becoming too invested in a particular school or “league” of schools, especially if your child only knows their names by reputation. There are plenty of great colleges that do not follow the traditional formula. As a country, we have become obsessed with what college can and should do for our future generations. For all of the commotion that is made about Harvard, Princeton and Yale, it is neither fair to your child nor to your sanity to predetermine that your child’s fate in life hinges on admittance to those schools. I have parents who tell me their seventh grader will be their “Ivy League” child, but they do not realize the intense pressure they unintentionally apply to the child and to themselves. Instead, take a look at the thirty-five hundred great schools and programs across the country and find one that will suit your child's individual academic and social needs.
Also, consider your child's needs in high school from the perspective of a teenager. As Americans, we value our high school experiences very much. Adults tend to have either fond memories of high school or troubling ones; but regardless, most of us admit that our unique experiences shaped us tremendously. Although we all undergo change throughout the years, high school is memorable and pivotal in our development. This will be the same for your children. Do you want your children to spend all of their time studying? Or, do you want them to find a happy balance between fun teenage stuff and hard work?
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We are here to help you gain clarity clear on what’s working for you and your child, what isn’t and the necessary steps to guarantee college options.