As I’ve gone through the college application process twice over the years, I feel compelled to warn parents: Things have changed dramatically since we applied to schools.
That day, I applied to two private universities and submitted my test scores and transcript to the most important public institution in my state. This was enough to be offered admission to public school and scholarships at the time. My son, who also applied to the same state university, had to complete a detailed joint application with several additional papers. Prospective students now apply to an average of six colleges. It is much more competitive and much more work than before.
I learned some things in the game that I wish I had known earlier. For parents and students still facing this gallows, here are my top tips for making this time a little less stressful than it normally is:
1. Start early. Start building a college roster in the summer before senior year. Meanwhile, start brainstorming a few essay ideas for your personal expression. The fall semester of the final year is a busy period for students. The sooner you start, the less stress you’ll have on deadlines.
2. Prepare to write. One of the biggest changes I’ve noticed is the amount of writing required for submissions. Many selective schools require additional essays and short answers in addition to the personal statement. Applying for scholarships requires even more experimentation. Try doing five minutes of free writing for each of the questions to get around the typing block.
3. Love your safety school. It is important that you have at least one substitute school that you know will be accepted and that you would be happy to attend. While the most elite colleges have lowered their acceptance rates to the low single digits, most colleges still admit most students. Find at least one of this group and focus on reasons you’d enjoy going there.
4. Expect some parental involvement. Most public school counselors are responsible for so many students that they don’t have time to offer much personalized help. Ask a parent or guardian to review or correct the articles and each part of the joint submission before they are submitted.
5. Seek early advice from teachers. Some are overflowing with requests and need to set deadlines so that they have enough time to write all the letters.
6. Learn the language. There are many different types of admissions: early decision, early action, early action constrained, single choice early action, regular decision, and sequential admission. Unless you’re strictly committed to a school, use early action, regular or continuous admission.
7. Indecision is good. It’s okay if you don’t know exactly what you want to study, what career you want to pursue, or even where you really want to go to college. Unless you’re applying to a highly specialized program, writing an essay on an area of interest or ticking the box for a major doesn’t mean you’re locked out. Many students find answers to these questions along the way or explore a new career. the road after graduation.
8. Prepare your answer. Wait for people to start asking where you’re going to college before you even make a single application. It is important that parents respect their children’s privacy. Ask them what information they’re comfortable sharing, and they’ll have a standard response.
9. Money is important. Be honest about what you can afford. Be realistic about what it means to borrow large sums for loans and a bachelor’s degree, especially if you plan to specialize in a field with low starting salaries.
10. Make a calendar. Create a calendar and share deadlines with your parents, as there are many deadlines, including financial aid forms like the FAFSA and CSS. Break the application process into smaller steps, such as filling out general information, creating a resume, starting a list of activities, brainstorming a personal essay, asking for advice, and compiling additional articles. There is a lot of demographics and information that every university needs, even when using the common app.
11. Normalize rejection. With many more students applying to more universities, rejection can be expected. Acceptance rates at highly selective schools are lower than ever. Rejection should be a normal and expected part of the process. Colleges turn away many gifted students, and some criteria are completely out of your control.
(Aisha Sultan is a St. Louis-based journalist working on parenting in the digital age while trying to keep up with her tech-savvy children. Find her on Twitter: @AishaS.)
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