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This is a special 6-week editorial series called “LifeEDU” sponsored by Coca-Cola’s #FortheDream program, where we arm parents with tips & recommendations on how to take advantage of the summer period to positively influence the transition between high school to college…and beyond.
By: Tyrone Sandaal, High School Teacher & “Collegebound” Facilitator at The Nest (Miami, FL) and special contributor for Los Tweens & Teens
Sixteen cycles. Sixteen high school graduating classes with whom I have had the distinct privilege of journeying from students saying, “I am never getting into college!” to “I love my school! Thanks for everything!”
While the emotional process remains unchanged, the details have evolved. Information and statistics have become cheap and ubiquitous, and understandably, fuel anxiety. Single-digit-percentage acceptance rates at the most selective colleges make students feel helpless and overwhelmed.
A college admissions cottage industry has flourished by tapping into that anxiety, so that kids tack on test prep, essay writing seminars, community service trips onto rigorous academic loads. Exacerbating the problem.
The only statistic that matters to me is 100%. I have never known a student who earnestly applied to college fail to gain a single acceptance, and I have known some students with dodgy academic stories. So the great news is that you or your teen are definitely going to college! The bad news is that you or your till still have to take the journey through the admissions wringer. That said, below are four action steps, based on recent trends that I hope lessens the stress a bit.
But before, here’s a special opportunity from our Official College Scholarship Partner, Coca-Cola:
Coca-Cola’s #ForTheDream program inspires and empowers Hispanic teens and families to prepare, plan and pay for college education. The program will award one college tour experience and thirty-four $500 grants via the #ForTheDreamSweeps sweepstakes to help cover education expenses. To enter the sweepstakes participants can post a selfie with someone who is helping them achieve their college dreams on Twitter or Instagram, and tag it using the hashtag #ForTheDreamSweeps. A My Coke Rewards product code can also be submitted as an entry on the website: http://Coke.com/ForTheDream.
“Los Tweens & Teens” creator & publisher, Cristy Clavijo-Kish, asked her twin teen daughters, Sophia & Olivia, about their college dreams. Check it out:
4 ACTION STEPS FOR A STRESS-FREE COLLEGE APPLICATION PROCESS:
Step #1: Look beyond the list the college counselor recommends and the usual suspects on the top 25 lists.
There are over 3,000 4-year schools in the United States. Yet we continue to look to the eight schools in the Ivy League and the Top 25 in the U.S. News & World Report rankings to define success. A seasoned college counselor probably has a good feel on about a thousand of these schools. Great schools abound even beyond their expertise. There is a great fit for every kid that works hard and goes about being a student the right way.
This past year I had two students rejected from highly selective “dream schools,” then gain admission to other schools, schools which they knew a lot less about. They both came away realizing it was the perfect outcome. The truth is that you or your teen will be responsible for getting the most of your college experience regardless of the school.
Step #2: Enter the 12th grade ready to work hard in class and to get involved outside of it.
College prep is about college admissions. For years I have assigned an essay to my students that asks them to reflect on their high school journey and the most common response is that they wish that they had worked harder and more consistently from day one.
Ninth grade matters. Course selection also matters, but here I advise caution. Colleges look to see that the students have pushed themselves academically, but students should not treat the AP classes like buffet items. Students should seek a sweet spot in terms of academic rigor: try to take the most challenging classes available that are appropriate to your skill set, preparation, and workload.
There is such a thing as too much. The consequences are well documented in terms of early burnout, college dropout rates, and most recently, suicide clusters. Learning should always be joyful.
Step #3: Look into both SAT and ACT, and prep for the one that feels like a better fit.
The common practice at most high end prep schools is to have students take practice versions of both the ACT and SAT college entrance exams. The conventional logic is that students will gravitate to one exam or the other. (A quick Google search will provide you lists of differences.)
I advise students not to overdo it on test prep. The gains are minimal, and mainly due to students gaining familiarity with test questions and format. I like to remind parents that the best test prep is school. For the reading and writing sections, read early and often. Math? SAT stops at geometry and the ACT at trigonometry. Remember that 9th thru 12th grade matters.
More interesting is the slowly growing group of SAT-optional colleges, one of the biggest and newest of which is George Washington University in DC. Most of the schools support their decisions by saying that the score expectations scare quality applicants away or that they feel confident in their internal methods for determining the applicant’s ability to succeed at their school. What they have in common is that they are generally schools with strong traditions of being daring, forward-thinking and student-centered. HERE is a full and current list.
Step #4: Choose two readers that you trust will give you good feedback and not take control of your essay.
The college application essay is the place to let YOUR voice speak. I have observed a troubling trend with my students and their essays. I am the first reader by design; we ask juniors to submit a draft in response to one of the Common App prompts. By the end of the process, their essays are unrecognizable. They have been edited by counselors, parents, siblings, multiple teachers, friends, the bus driver, Siri, etc. The essays sound the same.
Admissions officers are looking to piece together a class of individuals. The essay is crucial to them for getting a sense of the person beyond the resume and numbers. When you try to sound like what you imagine they are looking for, i.e. the perfect child, you lose valuable opportunity to stand out.
I hope that this makes you feel slightly better about the college process. Remember that it is a process and in the end, you will be rewarded for the hard work and due diligence. Regardless of the school your teen attend, she/he will quickly find your tribe, be inspired by the freedom she/he have to chase their dreams, and most importantly, make the most of the opportunity.