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Frequently Asked Questions About Getting into College
Over the years, parents have asked me a wide array of questions about the college admissions process for their college-bound teens. While there are many places to look on the internet for information, it’s important to understand that not everything out there addresses the real concerns and questions of parents who are either first timers, or just want more useful and practical information. I’ve taken the liberty of narrowing down the questions to the top 10 most commonly asked and provide real world practice.
What can I do to help my teen stand out and get accepted to college?
The admissions application is not just about grades and it encompasses several other factors. Colleges look at the overall picture – grades, challenging high school coursework, ACT/SAT scores, application essays, student resume, extracurricular activities both inside and outside of school, community service, sports played in school and outside of school, and summer activities. Even most recently, some colleges are looking at social media as a determination in college admissions. They review each candidate holistically and look for potential, sincere commitments to several charitable organizations and overall achievements throughout the teen’s time in high school.
Is it worth spending hours and hours of time looking for scholarships?
Yes and no. Most scholarships/grants come from the colleges themselves. But, there are also thousands of other scholarships available to college-bound teens. Search online and apply for scholarships that are a good fit. Remember to review local and community scholarships. These are often the easiest to win because there is very little competition. If your child has a special talent, look for talent-based scholarships as well.
How many colleges should be on my teens college list?
Here’s a good formula – two to three reach colleges (colleges where the teen has some but not all the qualifications for admission); six target colleges (colleges that are a good match for the student); and two to three safety colleges (colleges where the student will be at the top of the applicant pool). Having multiple college acceptances gives your teen choices which in turn puts colleges in competition with each other. That translates into you increasing your teens options of admission, and the ability to negotiate with each college regarding the financial aid package.
My son/daughter has just been wait-listed by their first-choice college, what should we do?
Be proactive. Have your teen send a letter to the admission committee via his/her college admission representative and let him/her know how much he/she wants to attend and why. Include any new activities or awards not included in the original application. Make sure the application is completed fully. Contact any alumna who knows your teen and ask him/her to put in a good word by writing a letter of recommendation. There are plenty of places online that you can get free templates to use as a guideline on how to ask for a recommendation and even provide to your referral to make it easier for them to provide it in a timely manner.
My teen is scatter brained and I am afraid he/she will miss deadlines. How can I help him/her get organized?
Being organized is the key ingredient to a successful college application process. At Prep 4 College Now, we use a software program that makes organization simple. It manages the deadlines and the essays required for every college on your teen’s list, including supplemental, scholarship, and honors program essays.
Unlike a lot of online programs, we meet regularly with our seniors during the application process via Zoom. We breakdown the application requisites into manageable “to-dos” so he/she does not feel overwhelmed. We review assignments and gently guide each student and their parent, every step of the way until completion. We brainstorm essay topics and edit essays helping your teen develop a unique and standout essay that will impress the essay readers. We also have systems in place to ensure each application is sent in on time.
Should I fill out the FAFSA even though I think we earn too much money to qualify for financial aid?
Yes. The FAFSA is what colleges use to determine your EFC (Expected Family Contribution), which is used to determine the financial aid package. This package is not just needs-based federal aid. It is composed of scholarships grants, and loans – much of which is merit-aid directly from the colleges themselves. If you don’t fill it out, your teen does not have access to any of that money, including student and parent federal loans.
Should I help support or continue supporting my student financially throughout college?
There are many ways to finance a college education – student loans, work-study, college grants and merit-based scholarships. Most parents qualify for a federal parent loan and all students qualify for federal student loans. However, if your teen carefully selects colleges that are a good fit and are generous with merit-aid, a larger scholarship will ensue. No matter if or how you decide to finance your teen throughout their college years (and beyond), one thing is certain – you must have a clear conversation about money with your young adult. Make it clear how much money you will provide for college and what your teen is expected to do to help finance his/her education. Setting realistic expectations as a part of the pre-college process will help lay a solid foundation for responsibility and independence, which awaits them on the other side of college.
What’s the most important tip you could give me about the college admissions process?
Find the right fit college for your teen. Do the research and evaluate choices based on academic programs, college visits, location, student body, tuition, campus culture, and financial aid. If the college is a good fit, admissions officers will value the student for his/her future contribution and will back it up with money.
My teen’s ACT/SAT scores aren’t that great, will it affect his/her admissions chances?
ACT/SAT scores are only one part of the application. Most colleges review each student holistically. If your teen is a strong student and has many other attributes, colleges take that into consideration. Another alternative is to seek out and apply to test optional colleges. These colleges don’t emphasize ACT/SAT scores and will evaluate your teen on his or her other qualities, activities, and contributions.
To ensure the best scores possible, your teen should spend the time and energy getting tutored. Many local colleges offer classes and tutoring sessions, be sure to check out their website in your community, or give them a call to ask about options. It’s important to begin the testing process in the beginning of junior year. Take the exam no more than three times and remember most colleges superscore the results. That means colleges take the best score from each section of the ACT/SAT and use it when evaluating your teen’s chances of doing well as a member of its student body.
What one thing do teens and parents need to know before choosing a college?
Many teens have a true understanding of their strengths and passions and how they can blend them together into a life of purpose. Spending the time to explore and discover these skills before college is a worthwhile journey. However, if your teen is not sure what he or she wants to do, college can help your teen determine that by choosing a major that allows him or her to explore and gain knowledge in many different arenas. Choosing a college with a strong liberal arts program helps many teens who are unsure of their future goals find purpose. A liberal arts education will ensure a solid foundation as they begin life’s journey. No matter the choice, encourage your child to explore their options and find passion and purpose while using their unique talents and abilities.
“Andi made the college admissions process a breeze! She not only guided my daughter through all the steps, essays and testing, but also helped her decide which colleges would be her best choices. She was accepted to 4 colleges and we are very proud to see her accepted.”