As you probably have realized, things have changed since you were in school. And we're not just talking about hairstyles and fashion. In particular, competition has become astronomically fierce for entrance into many colleges. Nowadays students spend a lot of time and money just preparing for college admissions. Many of our friends at Harvard attended special test preparation schools during the summer—some had even begun in elementary school! A few hired "educational consultants" who charged as much as $300 an hour to advise them where and how to apply to college. How much all this helped we don't know, but one thing was certain: Their parents doled out hundreds, and in many cases, thousands of dollars.
It is safe to say that the competition your son or daughter will face will be extremely tough. Fortunately, you have two things working for you and your child:
1) Your child can use this guide and the others on SuperCollege (you knew we were going to say that, didn't you?); and
2) As a concerned and involved parent, there are things you can do to help.
However, while your desire to help is sincere, we need to warn you up front that there will be times when you must combat your natural parental instinct to help child because there are some things that your child needs to do solo. More on this later, but first let's look at what you can do.
The best thing you can do to get your child excited about college is to visit one. It doesn't matter if it's a future prospective college or just the one nearest your home. Walking on a campus, absorbing the environment and maybe even sampling the dining hall food will give your child the reference points needed to make the critical decisions regarding where to apply when he or she is a senior. Even better than visiting local colleges is to plan a college visit during a family vacation. Then your child can see what an out-of-state college is like and whether or not it is appealing.
Every year we meet seniors who are scrambling to figure out to which colleges they will apply. Often they have little real experience to guide their decisions. Choosing a college based only on a brochure or website is a terrible way to pick the place your child is going to live for the next four years.
This is not a radical idea; but naturally, the harder the courses and the higher your child's grades, the better. If you're like most parents, you've been badgering—ah, we mean encouraging—your child to get good grades. Keep that up! But what you also need to do is make sure that he or she is taking challenging courses. Don't overdo this though. Avoid demanding that your child take the hardest courses offered all of the time, especially if they really are too difficult for him or her. (Most students take between one and four honors courses a year depending on what is offered and what they can handle.) Also avoid making your son or daughter do nothing else besides study. From others' experiences, this usually results in triple-bypass-level arguments at best and total rebellion at worst. What seems to work best in instilling good study behavior is positive reinforcement.
Your child will take what we call an alphabet soup of standardized tests. These are tests with enough acronyms to be the ingredients of alphabet soup including the following: SAT Reasoning Test, ACT Assessment, SAT Subject Tests, AP, IB and the PSAT. There are many books available that you can use to assist your child in preparing for the ACT and SAT exams, as well as numerous test preparation courses. In general, if you can afford it and your child wants to go, allow him or her to take a test preparation class. The best time for students to take these courses is a couple of months before they plan to take the actual exam. This is usually during the winter or spring of the junior year or the summer between junior and senior year. Don't expect miracles from any test preparation course (although they have been known to happen occasionally) but do expect that by virtue of systematically studying for the exams and becoming familiar with their structure, your child will perform better on the actual test.
Gen and Kelly Tanabe
Founders of SuperCollege and authors of 13 books on college planning.
By: Gen & Kelly Tanabe
The only how-to book which shows all students how to get into the school of their dreams. Based on the experiences of dozens of successful students and authored by two graduates of Harvard, this book shows you how to ace the application, essay, interview, and standardized tests.