The college admissions process is intimidating, complex, and anxiety-producing. The following 10 points can help guide families with students approaching college.
The college application season starts when the senior year of high school starts. Applications are filed electronically and usually include one or more essays. In addition, students should have their transcripts sent to the colleges by their high schools and their test scores sent by the testing services.
Colleges accept both the SAT and the ACT. They do not require both, nor do they care which test is taken. Highly-selective colleges often require additional testing (SAT Subject Tests), teacher recommendations, and interviews. Because the Subject Tests are similar to final exams, no additional preparation is necessary, but students should take the tests at the end of the high school course (May or June), not months later (October).
The SAT/ACT score is important, but it is not all-important. Although public universities rely heavily on test scores, private and highly-selective colleges use a holistic approach that considers activities and each applicant’s personal, human qualities in addition to academic potential. Nevertheless, students should prepare for the SAT/ACT seriously, using individual tutors if possible, spending at least 3 hours of practice for every 1 hour of training.
Teacher recommendations are the most underappreciated and overlooked pieces of the college admissions process. Students should get to know their junior-year teachers well and should approach some teachers to ask for a recommendation before the end of the junior year.
The main college essay – a personal statement – should be written and completed, if possible, during the summer before the senior year. The time requirements and pressures once students return to high school distract from completing essays in a timely and effective manner.
Essays are not creative writing assignments. They are persuasive writing, intended to influence the reader to accept the applicant into a college. Style should follow content.
Interviews can be determining factors in the college application process. They can distinguish between candidates who look similar on paper.
High school guidance counselors are busy helping many students. Parents and students should not expect counselors to have time to provide significant personal attention to any one person’s college effort. Private college consultants have more time (and often more experience) to provide individual attention to students.
Touring colleges can be valuable, but can also be time-consuming and expensive. Formal information sessions are unnecessary as all important information is available online. Guided tours are also unnecessary; with a little research and a map, students and families can walk around a campus by themselves. Online tours can provide valuable information quickly and for free.
Selecting a college that has the right “fit” is more than looking at rankings and finding schools with a strong academic department. College environments vary dramatically, and each student’s optimal personal growth requires the right environment. Because few teenagers truly understand their abilities, personalities, preferences and tendencies, professional assistance can help students understand how to make the first important decision of their adult lives: where to go to college.