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How to Help Your Kids Plan for College Admissions?

After going through the college application process with my daughter, I don’t know how students can navigate through this world without some kind of guidance. The college application process is so much more complicated now than it was when I went to school. There are too many articles written and books published about the subject, it’s hard to know where to start.

The one thing that comes up a lot with high school college counselors is that colleges want to make sure the students are taking advantage of what the high school offers academically. For example, if your high school offers honors classes, then the colleges want to see that the student is taking them. And they don’t want to see that your child has free periods. If your student only needs three years of a language to graduate, encourage them to take that fourth year of a language. Same with math, don’t stop at the three year minimum. Senior year isn’t the year to take it easy. On the contrary, colleges especially look at what the student has taken on in their final year.

I’ve also learned that consistency is better than variety. It’s better to be on the Student Council for four years than to try a different club each year. Colleges look at follow through and how the student can grow within that experience. What the student does in the summer before junior and senior year is important too. Colleges want to see the student spending part of the summer either taking academic classes, doing an internship or working a summer job.

Some kids are driven by test scores, others want to enjoy high school and come out with a well rounded transcript. It’s important to get to know which kind of student yours is. My daughter realized she wanted to study journalism, so she picked her high school electives and internships around that. My son wants to go into the performing arts so he is gearing his extra circulars in that direction. Both kids already understand from their school that a high GPA and a rigorous course load is important, so that’s a given.

After watching my daughter study and retake the SAT three times and still end up with not the grades she wanted, I am convinced that she might not be the best standardized test taker. I don’t think my son is either, so instead of getting him a tutor and stressing him out about studying for the SAT’s I think he should focus his energies on his GPA and maybe apply to schools that are test optional. It’s not fair to force your student to do something they are not good at when they could spend that time working on what they excel in.

If you have the means, I think a virtual college counselor is a great idea. The virtual counselor will focus on your child and be able to access all the information out there. Sometimes working with an adult who is not the parent is important. An objective point of view can be refreshing to the student. And with crowded high schools, college counselors can’t always devote time to every student. So don’t take on the entire burden yourself. There is help out there and you’ll need it!

I Was Wait-Listed! Now What?

Throughout the fall semester of senior year, college-bound students and their families are caught up in the stresses of the college admission season. Then, once the last application goes in the mail around January 1st, comes the waiting game: four months of nervous anticipation.

April 1st represents the light at the end of the tunnel. On that day, you will receive ‘fat’ or ‘thin’ envelopes from the colleges to which you applied. Then, like Christmas morning, the envelopes arrive! And………

You were wait-listed.

Getting wait-listed, especially from your dream college, can feel like a punch to the gut, even worse than outright rejection.

If this should happen to you, don’t feel bad about feeling bad. I’m not gonna lie: your situation isn’t an ideal one. Take a moment (or a day) to feel frustrated. Know that many people besides you don’t have kind words when speaking about college waitlists.  After that, continue reading to see how you can make the most of the next few weeks.

Cover Your Bases

Feel better now? Get some sleep? Good. Let’s talk about the next four weeks when college admissions counselors make their final decisions about which wait-listed applicants will make the final cut.

As you might already know, their final decision depends on how many accepted students will decide to attend. If a college receives enough new students from the group of accepted students, no one on the waitlist gets in. This happens more often than you think. If fewer than expected students agree to attend, then the college selects applicants off the waitlist. So how do they choose which wait-listed students to accept? That brings us to my first point:

Call the Admissions Office 

Every college is different when it comes to their waitlists. When some colleges decide to accept another wait-listed student, they choose one at random. Other colleges rank their wait-listed students and take them in order of preference. If the latter is the case, they will likely tell you your ranking. If you’re near the bottom, you need to make some difficult decisions (see the next section).

If you’re near the top, or your dream college doesn’t rank its wait-listed applicants, you have some work to do.

Show the College that You’re Still a Competitive Applicant

Some colleges ask their wait-listed students to send up-to-date transcripts. After all, your original application likely didn’t have any grades from your senior year. Solid academic performance can help your application rise to the top of the pile.

Moral of the story: it always pays to stay on top of your senior year grades.

Along with transcripts, you can also include other items, such as a short letter, that updates admissions counselors on your academic and personal accomplishments that happened since you applied. Every little bit helps, so you might as well brag about yourself.

Prepare for Some Difficult Decisions

Up until now, we’ve haven’t touched on your OTHER college admission letters you received on or around April 1st. I’m sure there were a few rejections, along with (hopefully) a few acceptances. Let’s focus on the latter. Take a moment to feel proud that you did, in fact, receive a few fat envelopes.

Now comes the hard part. Do you continue waiting for a possible yes from your dream college, or choose to attend one of the colleges that accepted you? How do you make such an important decision in such a short amount of time?

A Bird in the Hand…

I’m going to strongly recommend that unless your name is at or near the top of your dream college’s waitlist, you should attend one of the colleges that accepted you, especially if that college’s tuition is less or you have a scholarship.

Why make such a blunt recommendation? Here are my reasons:

  • You’ll finally have closure.
  • You can start planning for the transition to college sooner rather than later.
  • If the college you select costs less than your dream school, you’ll be saving you and your family from a possible financial burden that could last years if not decades after you graduate.

It can be incredibly difficult to give up on your dream school, but trust me when I say the potential benefits outweigh any risks.

Final Thoughts

Being wait-listed may be a bummer and stressor, but it’s also an opportunity. Use April to decide what you REALLY want out of college. Step back from the importance you put on your dream college, and reevaluate the best option for your future. Then, and only then, make your decision.

The Importance of High School Transcripts

Picture your dream home. Maybe it’s a chateau in France or beachside in Malibu. Maybe you have a pool or personal movie theater. No matter your tastes or desires, though, your dream home has something in common with that of every other reader’s. Can you guess what it is? Okay, time’s up.

Everyone’s dream home has a solid foundation underneath it.

You can’t see the foundation from the outside, but it’s the most important part of any house. A good foundation can hold up a house for a century or more, while a bad one can cause the structure to lean or crumble. So what does an article about getting in college have to do with proper home construction?

Your academic transcript is the foundation of your college application portfolio.

In this article, we’ll examine how your transcript tells a story more complicated than just course names and grades. We’ll even explore how it might affect you after you know where you’re going to college.

The Importance of a Solid Foundation

Continuing with our dream home metaphor, the house you see and everything in represents your extracurricular activities, awards, SAT scores, volunteer work, letters of recommendation, and extraordinary accomplishments that make you unique. However, the transcript foundation makes it all possible. Let’s see what this looks like in real life.

Ned is a college admissions counselors. He opens up your application to find lots of paperwork (or attachments if you applied online). He flips to the transcript. If it’s within or exceeds the ballpark of what his college wants in its next crop of freshman, he continues to review the rest of your application before making a decision. If the transcript is borderline good/bad, he might review one or two more items before continuing or stopping. And if the transcript is weak, he ignores the rest before putting your application in the ‘Thanks, but no thanks’ pile.

There Are Exceptions

Every college is different, and some specifically require their college admissions counselors to take a holistic approach: reviewing everything in an applicant’s portfolio before making a decision. However, with so many high school seniors applying to the nation’s top colleges and universities, college admissions counselors use tricks like the one in the previous section to weed out applicants they believe may not succeed academically. After all, nothing looks worse for a college than a high drop out rate.

So how college admissions counselors interpret transcripts beyond ‘Many A/B Grades=Good’ or ‘Many C/D Grades=Bad’? Lucky for you, one word sums up something just as important they hope to see when they review your transcript:

Consistency

Some students make straight As without effort while others struggle to make Cs. No matter a student’s academic potential, consistent grades paint a clear picture: an applicant will likely perform the same in college. An applicant whose grades are all over the place brings up many questions and concerns in the eyes of college admissions counselors. Maybe the applicant would excel if accepted. Maybe not. For the average college admissions counselor, the safe bet is to assume ‘maybe not’ and send the application to the reject pile.

Like before, there are exceptions. Students who struggle their freshman year and then improve academically throughout high school is a positive example of an inconsistent transcript. College admissions counselors are people, too; they understand that the transition to high school is not an easy one for some students.

Another important exception involves the courses themselves. A C grade in a World History is a lot easier to achieve than a C grade in AP World History. If you took many honors or AP courses in high school, consistency might not play as big of a role in college admissions counselors’ decision making.

What if you’re a senior? It’s January; your college applications are done and over. As Julius Caesar would say, “The die has been cast.” Before we wrap up, let’s address one question I bet that’s on your mind:

Do I still need to care about my high school transcript?

Short Answer

Oh yeah.

Long Answer

Your high school transcript doesn’t lose its importance when you apply to college or even when you receive an acceptance from your dream school. Depending on your situation, it may continue to influence your academic future for the next year or more. You may discover further scholarship opportunities which require you to submit a full academic transcript. A significant dip in your grades would not look good.

The other impact your transcript can have post-graduation is college course placement. Many colleges use a combination of transcripts, SAT scores, and placement tests to put incoming students into math and English courses. If you excelled throughout your senior year, your college might let you skip a course or two, the benefits of which include saving money and possibly graduating early.

So please take the advice of your parents, teachers, and me: don’t slack off the spring semester of your senior year. Future you will thank present you for your diligence and hard work.

Final Thoughts

For college-bound students, maintaining a consistent academic transcript pays off during college admission season and beyond. As you plan for the future, don’t forget the exceptions we’ve discussed. Polish every part of your application portfolio and double check that you have everything you need to apply.

Beyond that, good luck!

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