Research Paper - Prepping for College

Parents take on a lot of responsibilities. They teach their kids to say please and thank you and share with other children. As role models they show them how to be kind to strangers, animals, and respect the elderly. But they have basic responsibilities like education, health care, food, shelter, and clothing they are also accountable for. It is the responsibility of providing quality education that, in today’s economy, has most parents worrying; specifically, college education. How much will it end up costing? How will it get paid and by whom? How much can we afford? Should we take out loans? What are 529 Plans? The list of questions goes on and on.

However, because of the extra financial uncertainties in today’s economy, the financial aspect is what they think about most. The questions that parents do not have in the front of their minds are questions like will their children get accepted into the school of their choice? What can they do to increase their chances? How do they prepare them for collegiate success? How do we ensure or at least give our children the highest leg up possible to be accepted into their dream school?

As the mother of three boys, all of these questions have been weighing heavily on me too. Moreover, my oldest is only four years away from attending college and I feel very unprepared. We have not been planning. There is preparation time for my two youngest as they are barely in toddlerhood, but time goes by quickly. I need to start planning now. But how do I begin planning for the son who will go off to the oasis of college dorms, parties, fraternities, and hopefully classes, in four years? Where do I begin? How do I ensure college acceptance? Is there still time? The answer is “yes”. It is never too late.

There are two major areas parents have to concentrate on in order to enable collegiate acceptance success. First, are the steps our children need to take in order to be accepted in an accredited institution. Second, is the financial portion of college. You might think money should be the first issue but if the child does not get into college, then paying for it is no longer a problem. The five priority areas for college acceptance are classes, grades, test scores ACT and/or SAT, applications, and work and/or extracurricular activities. Additional considerations include interviews and college admission counselor relationships.

Preparing a child for college can start as early as the 7th or 8th grade. Some students take the PSAT at this time which offers practice for the SAT. Additionally, some schools offer classes that count for high school credit in the 8th grade. These classes and grades become the first pieces of their official high school record. It also allows them more class options once they reach high school.

Class types, grades, and class standing rank as the most important criteria for college acceptance. Planning and developing a strategy is key. Initially a high school student looking to go to college needs to plan to take four years of math, science, history, and English. This type of course schedule is considered college prep. They are also encouraged to take four years of a foreign language. Additionally, a student should take as many Advanced Placement (AP) courses as he or she can handle. These can give a student a leg up on the competition. Moreover, these are bonus classes because they can count as college credit and help prepare for college level courses. Parents and students should look at the "How To Select Your Courses" article on the CollegeBoard web page. It outlines specifically the types of courses a college bound student should take.

Once the student has chosen their classes, their grades must be and stay excellent. Colleges understand teenagers want to have fun and keeping up grades shows dedication and good time management skills. These good grades will also land the students at the top of their class, which is another factor college’s use when deciding on admissions; class rank. It is important to understand that universities want to admit students that are motivated so they will stay the entire four years until graduation. Additionally, top students help colleges in their academic standings within the collegiate community and help maintain a quality student body.

Now that the student’s class schedule has been settled and their grades are being kept up, the next step in our action plan is taking the ACT and/or the SAT tests. These tests are important because a great score can help boost a student’s probability of getting into their top college choice. So prepping for the course is vital. Have the student enroll in an SAT or ACT preparatory classes and take practice tests to see where improvement is needed. Taking the more challenging classes, as discussed above, will also help get a top score on these tests as will additional reading. You can even sign up for SAT questions of the day and SAT words of the day to help improve knowledge and skills. If the student does not do as well as they need or want, do not fear, they can take it again in hopes of raising their score.

The college application consists not only of personal data and statistics but often requires writing an essay and submission of personal recommendations. Each university’s application will be different. Be sure your child reads each one carefully and answers all questions thoroughly and honestly; include everything requested and keep it neat and legible. When writing the essay, the student should keep the paper focused while expressing their personality. They should not write what they think the university wants to read. Asking a teacher to provide feedback can help with the final product. Personal recommendations are an excellent way for a student to present themselves uniquely in an application. The application will specify the type of recommendation required, i.e. a teacher, counselor, or someone outside of school. Pick the people who know the student well and can give specific information regarding character, academic skills, personal and scholastic accomplishments, and time management skills. Lastly, pay attention to the application deadline. It will not do any good to go through the application process just to turn it in late.

A student’s life outside the classroom is another important element of collegiate acceptance. Outside jobs and extracurricular activities can reveal a lot about a student. They can demonstrate time management skills, peer evaluations and opinions, and a student’s level of dedication and motivation. Encourage your student to find groups that fit his or her interests; have them volunteer within the community or obtain internships over the summer. These activities can help set your student apart.

When filling out the college’s application, make a complete list of all high school activities and group memberships. Do not forget to include any volunteer work, service hours, or compatible hobbies. Perhaps the student worked a part-time job throughout high school. Include their responsibilities and specific skills learned on the job. Again, the student needs to be thorough, up front, and honest.

Not all colleges require an admissions interview. For the ones who do, your student must be well prepared to answer and ask questions. Be sure they know their academic history, extracurricular activities, and can discuss their importance and relevance. Encourage them to do a practice interview and establish potential questions. They should not be late and they should dress appropriately. Have them ask questions of the interviewer. A personal interview is a great opportunity for the student to clear up any discrepancies, elaborate to the school why they want to attend, and detail why the school should want them.

Creating and building a relationship with potential colleges is another way to increase a student’s chances college acceptance. The student should make initial contact with the college’s admissions counselor and ask questions regarding the school. Schedule a campus visit and a meeting with the counselor. Colleges offer summer programs or camps for students. If possible, have your student sign up. If the college recruiter visits the high school, be sure the student takes time to attend their meeting. Lastly, the student needs to keep in continual contact with the counselor to update pertinent school information and develop a good rapport. By taking these extra steps, the college will notice the student’s interest in attending. Remember, all contact between the university and the student ends up in the hands and eyes of the admissions counselor.

So you have done everything right so far and are still concerned. Is there anything else that you can do to ensure your child’s college acceptance? Nothing is guaranteed, but here are a few more ideas that just might make your student stand out among others: look at applying for early decision or early action, “maintain academic momentum” by keeping up their academic performance all the way through their senior year, and do not take off the summer before starting college. Additionally, since universities do revoke college acceptances due to a drop in academic performance (along with other issues like disciplinary problems and double depositing), encourage them to sustain their grades.

One final consideration in our “connected” lives and our future college student’s lives is social networking and college acceptance; they can affect one another. Not all schools surf these sites looking for student information but it is important to note that some do. Inappropriate content can affect a student’s acceptance or even lead to the withdrawal of initial acceptance. Discuss these sites with your children and their potential negative impact. Explain to them that what they put on the Internet is not necessarily private and you can never really tell who is looking. It is better to be safe than sorry. Good advice: encourage your student to use the site to their advantage by positively marketing themselves and increasing their chance of college acceptance.

Helping our children reach college can be a daunting task for any parent. But it is one worth pursuing. Class schedules, grades, test scores, college applications, work and extracurricular activities, college interviews, relationships with colleges and their admission counselors, and social networking are all critical pieces of the college acceptance puzzle. By planning for all of these elements, our children are provided the essential steps to master college acceptance and maybe even learn a thing or two along the way. GO TEAM!!!

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