Note to High School Parents About the College Application Process: Start Early!
My daughter has always been a top-tier student. She has performed nothing less than exceptionally throughout the years in academics, music, art, performing arts, and standardized testing. She has been dedicated to the academic goals we set forth early on. I honestly have to give myself credit for influencing my daughter to strive for success at all times. As a result, she met her high school graduation requirements going into her senior year and I am very proud of that. Up until the college application process, there was no question in my mind that my daughter would graduate with a full ride scholarship with a full ride to her top university of choice in our state. But as we approached the application deadline to receive an “early decision”, I realized there was so much more I could have done to help my daughter prepare for this process.
In middle school, my daughter was on a great path. She was selected for an accelerated program. This program allowed her and a select group of students to take high school courses and receive credits 2 years earlier than normally scheduled. My daughter had the ability to handle a rigorous load of advanced courses and maintained straight A’s throughout the program. She constantly received very encouraging feedback from her teachers about her progress; they all recommended her for AP class starting her freshman year of high school.
We received several invitations to a variety of magnet programs from different schools from in our county. I was set on simply sending her to the school in our zone because it was A-rated and continued the accelerated program that allowed students to finish high school with an Associates degree. This school was in line with our strategy and goals that were set for my daughter. The bottom line was to earn a full-ride academic scholarship to college. My daughter had the ability to potentially earn an Associate degree without paying a dime for those classes.
During the decision-making process, my daughter expressed to me that she didn’t want to just be “smart”. She understood the importance of academics, but she wanted to explore other talents that may lead her to her success. My daughter had always been into the arts when I thought about it. She had a knack for the arts from playing the instruments, drawing characters in her sketchpad, choreographing dance routines and creating entertaining videos. I didn’t want to stunt her creativity so we accepted an invitation to tour a performing arts school being that they had two programs of interest.
As we toured the Performing Arts high school for the dance program, we passed the professional recording studio and classrooms filled with top of the line equipment. This piqued our interest immediately since I am a music lover and writer myself! Then after the Performing Arts Director told me there was also an opportunity for students in the program to get an automatic full ride to the University of Miami for being in the top 5%, I was sold! I figured it would be easier for my daughter to be at the top of her class in a school that wasn’t as academically as rigorous as the school in our zone.
By the end of my daughter’s freshman year, I learned that the performing arts school wasn’t as grand as they made it seem. Not because of the program, but their academics weren’t up to our normal standards. I knew this would happen, but I didn’t know how but it would be until my daughter wasn’t allowed to take the AP classes she was recommended for. Apparently, there weren’t enough students to qualify for AP so she had to settle for an honors classes, which most likely included students that probably should have been intermediate classes. This set up didn’t allow the teachers to instruct classes at a higher level in my opinion.
My daughter’s tenth-grade year when test prep began is when I should have really noticed that we were at risk. Her PSAT tests scores were not as high as I thought they would be. I called the counselors for my school and they told me it was normal. I asked if my daughter should attend the SAT prep courses I heard that was offered on Saturdays, but she said it was for lower level students. The counselor reassured me that I wouldn’t have to worry about Isis because she was a good student. And like a dummy, I took her word for it knowing that this school had already disappointed me in so many ways.
By the end of my daughter’s junior year, she finally narrowed down her top four universities so I checked the score requirements for each school. Her scores were above average, but they were way lower than the requirements to be considered for entry. She already taken both the SAT and ACT tests twice and still hadn’t hit necessary scores. We knew we needed a tutor, but it wasn’t until after senior year started that college applications were due as early as November 1st! This is when we began to scramble.
I started to call all of her schools right away and asked them questions about the application process. I learned that:
- most schools we were applying to said that the GPA requirements was important as the ACT and SAT scores and vice versa.
- most schools will also allow you to keep submitting your ACT and SAT scores up until the end of December. You have a chance to increase the likely hood of early acceptance if you didn’t do as well on your previous ACT and SAT attempts.
- Some schools super score! Google it if you don’t know what this means.
- the essays are optional, however, it is best that you actually submit one. You can also ask the school if they have a preference as to which topic you submit your essay on. Some schools don’t have a preference, but if you call the school they will tell you exactly what they are looking for.
In order to prepare my daughter for better scores in time for the college application deadline, I hired a tutor next. We only had one week until her next scheduled ACT test and two weeks for the SAT test. I spent $60/hour for a total of 24 hours two weeks leading up to these tests because this was our last opportunity to be able to get a higher score submitted before the applications were due to her top four universities.
Please take the following advice I am about to give you about the college application process. I may not have all the answers, but I want you to be warned how important it is to prepare your high school-aged children with the college application process EARLY. When you are prepared, you don’t have to panic at the last minute like me and my daughter did.
Top Ten Things You Can Do to Prepare Your Child for the College Application Process:
- Devise a plan that includes strategic goals that can position your child for success on their journey to college preparation. Start this process as early as middle school.
- Realize that your child’s success may depend on the academic level of achievement at the schools he or she attends. Choose your school wisely if you have the option. Based on the level, you may need to start college test prep as early as Freshman year.
- Tour colleges as early as freshman year. I’ve heard that when many prospective students experience the campus tour, it inspires them to work harder to meet the requirements for acceptance into their university of choice.
- By junior year, your child should have a list of the top three to five colleges he or she wants to apply to prior to.
- Be sure to have your child apply to more than one school. Your child will need to have back up options in case you don’t get into the school of choice. College acceptance letters go out around the same time. Your child should be prepared to know that everyone will be talking about which colleges they got accepted into. If your child doesn’t want to feel left out, please prepare for this process!
- Know the requirements for the application process for each college of interest. This includes, but is not limited to:
- Application Deadlines
- GPA Requirements
- Academic Requirements
- Community Service Requirements
- ACT and/or PSAT score Requirements
- Essay Requirements
- Recommendation Requirements
- Scholarships and Honors Programs
- Use preliminary test results and your child’s scores as an indicator on how much tutoring your child may need to meet requirements for the college application process for the school(s) of his or her choice. You need to consider how early you might need to start based on those scores. And order the SAT package that gives you the answers.
- Don’t wait until senior year to start preparing. This is one of the worst things you can do for your child, especially if they have their heart set on attending a major university.
- Make sure you are helping your children with the college application process every step of the way. This is not an easy process and can be very stressful if you don’t prepare on-time.
- Know the difference between ACT/SAT tests. Tutoring will help with testing strategies for both.
- Prepare your children to be in a position to receive scholarships, especially if you know you don’t have the means to start a college fund.
I hope that these tips have been helpful. If anyone has any experience with the college application process, please feel free to add helpful comments below.