The road to college
By May S. Ruiz
You’d have to be living under a rock if you hadn’t heard about the college admissions scandal that unfolded a few weeks ago. Some of the most highly regarded universities were implicated in a coach-bribing scheme which parents were resorting to to get their children accepted. It spectacularly demonstrated how college admission is neither equitable nor merit-based and displayed the lengths to which parents will go to interfere in a process that shouldn’t have involved them to the extent it did. It wasn’t enough that rich people could donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to the school to which their children are applying, they had to hire people to sit the tests for their children. And, as if that weren’t enough, they had to bribe the coaches.
I can certainly understand that we want the best for our children. For people, like me, who don’t come from wealth but are self-made, we want to make our children’s lives easier than we had it. Rightly or wrongly, we think we’re doing what we believe is for their good. That said, I also think the college application is something we should let our children do on their own. I write this college search guide for parents (and students who might not have easy and consistent access to their school’s college counselors) so they know where their children are in the process.
When my daughter was applying to colleges, I was in the dark about the whole process. My husband and I met with her school’s college counselor a few times – to get us apprised of what she and my daughter have decided to do as regards the schools to which she was applying and to obtain our approval. My husband and I assured her that we wouldn’t get in the way because she, the school’s college counselor, knew what would be the best fit for our daughter based on her grades and interests.
My daughter went through her entire schooling – from kindergarten to college – without once seeing a tutor. She learned what she needed to learn at school; if she didn’t comprehend a lesson, she asked her teacher to explain it until she understood it. She didn’t take any ACT or SAT-prep courses; she prepared using the practice tests ACT or SAT provided when she registered for the test.
We felt that we were providing our daughter the tools she needed – matriculation to the best elementary and high schools to which she got accepted, the freedom to choose the courses in high school and extra-curricular activities that interested her, the autonomy to pursue the college degree she wanted – to help her succeed in life. However, she was responsible for using those tools to achieve her goals. We were giving her the chance to try and fail because that was how she was going to relish her accomplishment.
Then again, I am not about to tell other parents what they should and shouldn’t do for their children. As I mentioned earlier, this guide is exactly just that – a guide.
I hope your children used their spring break actually getting some rest. As parents it’s our responsibility to look after our kids’ physical, mental, and emotional well-being. I know that today’s high schoolers have so much going on that I’m really surprised they can think straight. As important as it is for them to do well in school and be prepared for college application, it is as equally crucial that they are well-adjusted and happy individuals.
The school year is winding down. Your 9th graders should be on track on all their academic grades and extra-curricular activities. They need to put extra effort into getting the best grades they could muster. They also should have already lined up summer activities – enrichment programs, summer camps, volunteer work or part-time jobs.
All these – grades, arts, athletics, community work, employment – from 9th through 12th grade, will be recorded on the transcript that your children’s high schools will send to the colleges to which they apply.
Make sure your children have registered for all the standardized tests they need to take in May or June (Possible SAT II tests for 10th graders are Math, Chemistry, History and Foreign Language. These are the subject tests that selective universities require.) Deadlines are April and May for tests in May and June. Students are responsible for registering through the College Board website: www.collegeboard.com.
They need to plan their summer activities. If they are taking an Art elective, or are interested in a particular art field, they should consider a summer program in that course to put on their resume.
This is the last complete academic year admissions officers will see when your children apply to colleges. They want to see grades that are improving from year to year, so the 11th grade final marks should be the highest on the report cards. If your children had gone on college campus tours during spring break, they should also know the academic requirements of the colleges to which they are thinking of applying. They need to look at where they are grades-wise to figure out if the school on their list is a realistic goal.
Make sure your children have registered for the SAT, ACT (www.act.org), SAT II, AP especially if they are thinking of applying through early action or early decision.
They should have all their summer activities lined up – enrichment programs, summer camps, volunteer work or part-time jobs. Remind your children to continue the pursuits they started in freshman year as admissions officers look for sustained interest, which is a reflection of what they are truly passionate about.
If your children aren’t getting enough time with their school counselor, there are several outside resources available for them. One of these is CollegeVine (www.collegevine.com) which offers near-peer mentoring for high schoolers. What separates them from all the other college counseling companies is their consultants – they are current or recent graduates of the schools your children may be applying to. They know the lingo, can relate to what your children are experiencing, and have access to the most current methods to guide students through this complicated process.
Greg Kaplan, a college application strategist from Southern California, wrote a very informative book called ‘Earning Admission: Real Strategies for Getting into Highly Selective Colleges,’ a step-by-step guide for parents and students. Among other things, Kaplan discusses how your child can select and take classes in high school to stand out from other straight ‘A’ students and how your child can secure hundreds of thousands of dollars of merit scholarships or need-based grants even if your family earns over $100,000 per year.
Some universities have sent out their decision letters in mid- or late-March. If your children are lucky enough to be accepted to all the schools to which they applied, they deserve a big congratulations! You can all exhale now!
Now comes the part where your children get to choose the school they really want to attend. During the application process, your children were hoping the colleges to which they applied accept them. Now the colleges that accepted your children would like your kids to choose them! In this rank-obsessed world of American universities, the schools encourage all students to apply to them (they actively recruit students they would never even admit because the more applications they receive and the more rejections they send out, the higher they’re ranked.) Now the tables are turned because once your children get the schools’ acceptance letter, these schools would want to ensure your kids actually attend their college. This is the yield: the higher their yield, the higher their ranking.
If your children are applying for financial aid or scholarships, now is the time to compare schools’ financial aid or scholarship offers. If a particular school really wants your children, you might have the opportunity to ask for a better package than what it originally extended.
If your children have been waitlisted to a school they are determined to get into, they need to respond quickly to let the admissions officers know that they are very interested. Your children should send a follow-up letter to express that the school is their top choice and that they will definitely enroll if accepted.
Demonstrated interest is all the more critical at this juncture as your children want to ascertain the admissions officers keep them in mind. Encourage your children to work with their high school’s counselor to make sure they send the transcript for the first semester, and any updates on awards and honors received after they sent their application. Your children need to keep in constant touch with the admissions officers.
The admissions office requires a decision from accepted students on May 1st. Make sure your children accept the offer of their second choice school where they have been admitted, and pay the required deposit. If your children are later accepted to the school to which they were waitlisted and accept that offer, they will lose the deposit on the other school. But it’s their guarantee that they will be attending a college in the fall.