At this point in the fall, many high school seniors are well underway—in some fashion or another—on the college admissions process. As a group, they tend to want to push their parents to the sidelines as they gradually assume ownership of their lives and this major decision.
Parents worry, legitimately, that their daughters and sons are not really talking enough with their guidance counselors, or spending time on Naviance (many Berks County high schools make this college admission software available) to research choices carefully, or taking time to visit campuses.
As an independent educational consultant, I see some basic areas in which parents can be influential and helpful to their children, well in advance of the hectic and pressurized senior fall:
- Visit colleges early, even in the freshman or sophomore year. Take the official campus tours, and encourage your child to think ahead, well before the pressure is on.
- Many colleges have an area of their websites where students can request to be on the mailing/email lists. Again, this gets good information moving directly at students well before the senior year
- Summer programs are a great way for a young high school student to experience campus life well in advance. From sports programs to academic enrichment and SAT/ACT prep, these experiences foster independence and expand horizons simultaneously.
- Parents can purchase hard copies of the “Fiske Guide To Colleges” or “The Insiders’ Guide To Colleges” to be left casually in shared spaces in the house, encouraging grazing of information.
- Focus on school performance and attitude is essential. Any drop in high school grades should be treated as a serious matter. The GPA is the essential vital sign for college admission officers. A high GPA and average SAT/ACTs are the earmarks of an industrious student, while a modest GPA and high scores signal a slacker. Those rare students with high GPAs and scores are likely to have excellent college choices.
- Besides schoolwork, nothing better prepares students for college than reading. Reading for pleasure is a habit parents can absolutely pass on, by being avid readers themselves and keeping tv and social media out of their children’s bedrooms.
As the costs of even public universities is climbing, how best should parents prepare for college costs?
Since colleges base financial aid awards on the Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) as calculated by the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), parents who file the form just after the new October 1 deadline will get an early read on what they can expect. Income from student employment is part of the equation. Aid awards will include student loans, and parents should look carefully at those allocations. Too heavy a debt burden leaves young college graduates struggling to buy a car or even rent an apartment.
Naviance also provides information on merit scholarships offered at various colleges. Savvy parents know that if they are willing to have their child “drop down” a level in terms of college selectivity, they enhance the possibility of a generous merit award. Of course, varsity athletes are often treated generously in award designations.
I deeply believe that a “best fit” college makes an important difference in a young person’s life, providing challenge, support, inspiration, real knowledge, career preparation and mentoring. The quality and seriousness of the student body has direct impact on your son or daughter’s education. It’s hard to be a scholar at a party school, and it’s not easy to be a lightweight among a culture of scholars.
Plan ahead. Pick carefully.
Sarah C. Reese – Informed Educational Solutions