April College Search Guide

Johns Hopkins University. – Courtesy Photo

The road to college

By May S. Ruiz

This time last year, what we were all talking about was the college bribing scandal that rocked the country’s educational system. Today our concern is the COVID-19 outbreak, which has wreaked havoc in everyone’s life. Suddenly, the world we knew very well has been turned into something we barely recognize. We are all in uncharted territory and how we navigate this could very well determine what the future will look like. Let’s all do our best and help each other in ensuring we come out the other side in good shape.   

Your children are on an extended spring break riding out this storm at home, albeit with no definite date when it will pass. School administrators have put in place a system for delivering remote teaching and teachers are hard at work putting together a curriculum for their class.

While there are several things that may have changed in regard to the daily interaction that normally happens in the classroom, teachers, parents, and students have to go on as before – preparing for college applications and beyond – because that is still what high school is about.

FRESHMAN

The school year is winding down. Your 9th graders should be on track on all their academic grades and, hopefully, they managed to get in some extra-curricular activities before they all got scrapped. They need to put extra effort into getting the best grades they could muster. Assuming that things will have come back to normal by then, 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.   

SOPHOMORE

The College Board has made updates in light of the coronavirus outbreak (read it here) so please be aware of what your children need to do. Make sure your children have registered for all the standardized tests they have 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.

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.

JUNIOR

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 (read College Board updates on AP tests here) 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.

– Courtesy Photo

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, which I wrote about three years ago, highlighting their peer-mentoring program years ago. The founders started it in 2013 when they discovered that most high schoolers don’t have enough support to make informed decisions about getting through high school and the admissions process.

They decided that 2020 will be their last year because paid services aren’t affordable for most students who need expert guidance. For the next college application cycle, CollegeVine has taken their data points and learnings and turned them into an online guidance platform that’s free and accessible to all. They’re transforming the admissions experience for all students with an easy-to-use platform and expert advice.        

You can also pick up a book written by Greg Kaplan, a college application strategist from Southern California, 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.   

A company that comes highly recommended by a monthly College Search Guide reader who posted a comment on our website is Crimson Education, an online service that serves students all over the country. They work with students as young as 6th grade on foundational skills all the way through 12th grade and the college admissions process.           

SENIOR

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.        

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