Every year, the college admission process becomes more competitive, college applications become more demanding, and the cost to attend college becomes more expensive. Needless to say, it is a stressful to be a high school student.
However, there are several steps students and parents can take early in the process to it less stressful and increase the likelihood of getting into great colleges.
1. Start planning early
Remember colleges take into consideration your Freshman - Senior grades and your Freshman - Senior activities. Make sure students get learning support during their Freshman fall so that they develop good study habits and maintain a high GPA. Meanwhile, college love to see students who have been committed to participation in clubs, sports, jobs, volunteerism, etc. for several years. Before students enter the 9th grade, parents should sit down with them to select an activity that fits their passions.
2. Pursue your passions; Mitigate your weaknesses
It's seems pretty basic, but it's an important thing to remember: Not everyone is good at everything. Students don't need to worry about having the perfect resume. Instead, they should focus on fully committing to their passions. If their passion is snowboarding, they shouldn’t just race for the team or hit the slopes on the weekend, they should become a youth instructor, enter competitions, get a job at a local slope, and find ways to give back to the snowboarding community. Meanwhile, it is similarly important to make sure that students weaknesses don't obscure their strengths. If math isn't their thing, they should seek out options to help them survive high school math without it blemishing their application.
3. Get to know your teachers
I am amazed at how often my students struggle to think of a teacher who would know them well enough to write a letter of recommendation. I get it. Us teachers can be pretty intimidating (just watch how students react when they see us out in the real world ... ). However, teacher recommendations are a great way for students on the cusp to get into their top choice college. Students should seek out opportunities to take multiple courses with their favorite teachers and in their best subject. They should also meet with their favorite teachers regularly to ask for help and to build their relationship. Most teachers are also a great resource for students who have questions about the college application process or about the steps it will take to reach their future career goals.
4. Ask teachers to write recommendation letters ASAP
The best teachers get inundated with letter requests. The earlier students request a letter, the more likely it is that the teacher writes them a thorough and thoughtful recommendation.
5. Don’t forget about your counselor
Guess what? High School Guidance Counselors and/or College Advisors play a huge role in helping guide the college process. Meet with the early -- even as early as Freshman year -- to start making a determined plan of attack for building a strong high school resume. They will have knowledge of opportunities that many students would never discover. Many colleges also require a letter of recommendation from a student’s guidance counselor. Students who have build a relationship with their counselor are much more likely to get a strong and original letter of recommendation.
6. Dream colleges don’t exist
There is no such thing as a perfect college. There are certain schools that have better pre-med classes or a stronger business programs. There are other schools that have a better big game tailgating experience or have sunnier weather. Instead of focusing on a dream school, students should build a strong list of schools. College is all about the opportunities you seize, the people you meet, and the lessons you learn once you get into college. I always tell my students: Make a great list, pick the school that speaks to you the most, and make the most of your four years.
7. Be wary of tour guides
As a former tour guide, I know all too well the power of the guide to influence a student’s (and their parents’) impression of a college. A charming and knowledgeable tour guide can leave the impression that everyone at the college is amazing and interesting; a mumbling, lethargic, and possibly hung over tour guide, can leave the exact opposite impression. Neither is true! Tour guides are mainly just college students trying to make a little extra cash. Some are great; others, not so much. Furthermore, the tours typically show you predetermined routes. Essentially, they show you the good stuff. Make sure to walk around campus after the tour is over to get a fuller sense of the student experience.
8. Be warrier still of overnight stays.
If it were up to me, I’d never let my students do overnight stays at colleges. Why? Because it just creates a false impression of the school and too much can go wrong. There’s no rush to get the “college experience.” Students should wait until they actually are in college to experience it.
9. Students ditch your parents
One of the best pieces of advice I can give students is to spend a little bit of time, even just 20 minutes, wandering around campus without their parents. It is amazing how different a school can feel when you aren’t seeing it through your parents’ reactions.
10. It’s not a competition
It is almost impossible for students (and their parents) to not feel some level of competitiveness with their friends and peers during the college process. However, as much as possible, it is important to reinforce the importance of attending a college that best fits a student’s learning style, strengths, and life goals and best fits their family’s budget.