October College Search Guide

Rice University. – Courtesy photo

The Road to College

By May S. Ruiz

The road to college involves four years of complicated planning and complex scheduling. High school students are extremely busy – homework, extra-curricular activities in art and sports, campus clubs, all compete for their time. As if all that weren’t difficult enough, they have to make sure they get excellent marks in their courses and on the standardized tests. Their GPAs and SAT/ACT scores have to impress college admissions officers to really consider their application. If standardized test scores are no longer required by the schools to which your children are applying, their GPA is all the more crucial – it becomes the single, most important component of their transcript.         

This year, the pandemic has added yet another stress-inducing element to the college application process. Most of your children are distance learning and some need assistance with their coursework. As I mentioned in last month’s college guide, remote learning means parents are practically home-schooling their kids – one more responsibility on top of their already full plate. Parents can’t reasonably be expected to help their children with all their lessons so tutoring companies (and I don’t mean those offering test prep, which is a multi-billion dollar industry) have become, of late, a booming enterprise. Find one that offers options to fit your student’s specific need and your family’s budget. A company called Mundo Academy provides excellent tutoring services in the Pasadena and San Gabriel Valley area.

Likewise, socially-minded high school and college students have created free tutoring services and learning platforms to help children during the coronavirus pandemic. Two of these organizations include Sailors Learning and Wave Learning Festival, which I have written about.                     

If you’re overwhelmed, as most of us are at this time, please reach out for assistance. The CDC has put together a resource kit for parents, divided by age group, to help them ensure their children’s well-being. The site also has links to other resources that cover various concerns. Another CDC website is dedicated to helping parents manage stress during the coronavirus pandemic.

That said, let me get back to the purpose of this college guide. I know several parents who enroll their kids in SAT prep courses as early as ninth grade and some independent counselors recommend that students sit for the SAT in 10th grade. However, I feel that taking the SAT this early isn’t necessarily the best course of action – students still have so much to learn and aren’t really ready for this test. Unless there are extenuating circumstances (if the SAT is a requirement for an advanced math course, for instance) that necessitate them to take it, I would suggest waiting a bit. My daughter took her SAT and ACT the summer before her senior year. By then she had accumulated as much knowledge as high school covered.

FRESHMAN

Encourage your children to keep their focus on their schoolwork. By this time, they should have figured out what extra-curricular activities they are interested in pursuing and what sports they want to participate in. Give them guidance as they navigate this new phase in their school life, and support the choices they make.

SOPHOMORE

Depending on your children’s course choices and load, there could be standardized testing required of them. Your children should be taking AP and SAT II exams following completion of the course while the knowledge they gained in class is still fresh in their minds. The best preparation for both AP and SAT II exams is for your children to make sure they understand the subject matter and do well in all tests the teachers give in class. If there is something they don’t understand, they should right away speak to the teacher to ask for clarification or, possibly, find a tutor for additional help. The results of these standardized exams are required by some colleges.       

Courtesy photo

JUNIOR

Your children should be aware that junior year is the last complete year of high school performance that college admissions officers will see. They have to put more effort at doing well and getting good marks.

They should register for and take the PSAT, which is also the qualifying exams for the National Merit Scholarship. It is also a good time for your children to meet with their school counselor to make sure they are taking all the courses they need to graduate and apply to college.

Your children should also be keeping up with their extra-curricular and sports activities (or alternate activities due to the pandemic). College admissions officers look at several components as they try to assemble an incoming class made up of the best candidates to add to their student body. 

Before the lockdown, several area high schools held college fairs on campus. This was an excellent chance for you to see what the different colleges and universities are offering. Students got to meet and speak to admissions officers – usually the same people who would be reviewing your children’s application, reading the essay, and sitting around the table – who would be making their case for your children during the all-important decision-making rounds. Find out what opportunity your children’s school is providing in lieu of the in-person college fair.    

SENIOR

Your children should now be in the process of completing the common app, and finalizing their essay topic or personal statement. They should have provided the teachers who are writing their letters of recommendation with stamped envelopes.

Depending on what course your children are applying for, they may be required to send supplementary material (auditions or portfolios) with their application and they need to get those ready. Audition tapes for arts performance, for instance, can be uploaded on YouTube for easy access. Your children should check the website of the college or university to which they are applying about supplement material requirements. Your children’s school counselors are also a great resource as they are always in contact with college admissions officers.

Be on top of application deadlines; most schools offering early action or early decision have to receive your children’s application by the first of November.  

You and your children should be researching scholarships. Some websites include: CollegeXpress, Fastweb, Free Application for Federal Student Aid, National Merit Scholarship Corporation, Scholarships.com, Scholarships360, Student Aid on the Web. You should also attend the financial workshops being offered at your children’s high school. Most high schools offer on-site guidance, with specialists who can answer your questions.

Your responsibilities as parents are limited to offering encouragement, guidance, and moral support as your children go through this stressful time. But while you need to let your children manage this process, you should also express your concerns and expectations. Communicate with your child, the counselors, and the teachers when you have inquiries. 

Be there for your children but learn when to get out of their way. Never try to communicate with the college admission officers as it is the surest way to sabotage your children’s chances for admission. Do not be overzealous about getting your children accepted to their dream university; there is a school out there that’s the right place for them. While this may sound hollow now, the counselors at your children’s school and the admissions officers at the colleges, or universities to which your children are applying, are actually the experts at finding the best fits.         

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