College Planning Guide: A Roadmap for Parents

We are still reeling from the “Operation Varsity Blues” college admissions scandal.  The first reaction was shock, followed closely by disbelief. As the media continues to hammer away at the story that is still sprouting ugly, far-reaching tentacles, we are amazed at the scope of the scheme and the depths, both legal and moral, to which parents will sink to ensure the “best” for their children.

As a bona fide optimist, I believe that something good can come out of even the worst situation.  Here at Winter Park College Consultants, Rose-Marie and I are pleased by the conversations our parents have initiated in the wake of the scandal.  They have opened the door for discussion about the RIGHT THINGS PARENTS CAN DO TO HELP THEIR CHILDREN GET INTO COLLEGE.  Here are some tested and proven strategies for parents to employ:

Believe in your children!

How must those students from Varsity Blues feel about themselves, knowing that their parents didn’t think they had what it takes to get into college on their own merits?  Ouch! Parents, your child has many unique gifts that will most certainly be appreciated by the right school. Even though your teenager seems to shrug off your criticism, know that they hear you on the very deepest level and internalize your feelings about their worth.  They will continue to hear you in their heads long after they have left your physical sphere of influence. Concentrate on and give voice to all that is good and right about your student – the dividends will be many

Encourage your child to challenge themselves with a rigorous education and ACT and SAT preparation.

Colleges look at students in the context of their own high schools, with students in the toughest classes available getting the highest consideration.  Of course, you don’t want to set your child up for failure in classes above his ability, but students should take the hardest classes in which they can do well.  Your child’s teachers are usually happy to provide advice or a recommendation for the next level course in their subjects. Pay close attention to academic schedules: “Early Release” and “Late Arrival” are not options for students who wish to be competitive in college admissions.  The only exceptions are students working to support their families or assisting in the care of a family member.

Even though the “test-optional” trend is growing in our country, the fact is that most colleges and universities still rely on the SAT and the ACT as a means of evaluation for admission.  Determine which test best reflects your child’s academic ability by having them take both the SAT and the ACT. The scores results can be “concorded” to determine which test best suits your student.  A concordance chart is available at this link.

Then, concentrate on improving areas of weakness and retaking the test of choice.  Test preparation is important and available to all, no matter what the budget. From private tutors to free online programs, resources are plentiful.  Most students are already familiar with Khan Academy. The College Board reports that “20 hours of practice on Khan Academy is associated with an average 115-point increase from the PSAT/NMSQT to the SAT, nearly double the average gain without Khan.”

Need a jump start?  Listen to this podcast by Ethan Sawyer, The College Essay Guy. Here Ethan interviews Ted Dorsey, Tutor Ted, for practical tips to improve ACT score by 2 points in 20 minutes.

We are happy to provide recommendations for local tutors who have successfully worked with our clients.

Listen to your children about their interests and empower them to develop their talents. Encourage altruism.

What extracurricular activities do they want to pursue?  Where do they want to volunteer?

Music lessons, Little League, Boy Scouts, summer science camps, and lemonade stands all provide valuable opportunities to develop a child’s gifts.  Honed skills in any area and character qualities such as leadership are highly desirable in college candidates.

Once talents are identified and cultivated, encourage and model ways for your child to use them to give back to the community.  They are poised to invest themselves for the greater good, to become leaders, agents of change, difference-makers. The “Making Caring Common Project” from the Harvard Graduate School of Education produced the 2016 report, Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good through College Admissions.

Choose the right college for your child.

Focus on the fit for your child, not the buzz from conversations at work, church and cocktail parties.  Just because a particular logo and bumper sticker dress up your car, doesn’t make the institution a good match academically, socially or financially.  Ballyhooed rankings are not nearly as important as impressions from in-person campus visits.

Go to local college fairs – Valencia College East and West campuses host large fairs each fall, and the National Association of College Admission Counselors (NACAC) offers annual college fairs in Central Florida. This year NACAC will be in Orlando on October 5, 2019.  The college fair is free and open to the public. Visit this site for details and registration information.

Do your due diligence and research schools where your child’s ACT or SAT scores and grades are comparable to those in the top half of students recently enrolled.  Pay close attention to acceptance rates – for the most competitive (low acceptance rates) schools, your child’s qualifications should be in the top 25%.

Choose the right college for your finances.

We’ve heard it said that paying for a college degree used to be like buying a car.  Now it can be more like buying a house! Put aside your natural reticence to discuss money and have frank discussions with your child about what you can afford to pay for college expenses.  Make use of the net price calculators that all colleges are required to offer on their websites to determine actual costs. (Enter “Net Price Calculator + the name of the college or university” in your search bar.)  Call college financial aid officers directly – they are willing and able to help you with every question you’ve considered along with those you haven’t!

Explore the advantages of in-state tuition and the Bright Futures Scholarship Program.

Look for colleges that award academic merit scholarships to students with your child’s grades and test scores.

College Planning for Parents

Bottom line, parents do not “get their children in,” but they can help them put their best foot forward to demonstrate why they deserve to be admitted by schools that are good fits for their abilities.  With over 5,300 colleges and universities in the United States, the odds of finding the perfect spot are excellent!

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