After working with hundreds of students as a high school counselor and now as an Independent Educational Consultant, I’ve witnessed many mistakes families make when approaching the college admissions process. Below are some of the most common, and what you can do to avoid them.
Number 1: Waiting until Junior year to begin the process
Junior year is arguably one of the busiest years of high school. Your student most likely is taking more challenging courses than ever before, preparing for and taking the SAT/ACT, holding a leadership position, and/or a job, among other things. I have seen many students who academically overload themselves to the point of exhaustion, which ultimately helps no one. Two of the most critical factors in college admissions are grades in academic courses and course rigor. This makes being proactive in planning out classes, as early as ninth grade, crucial. Prior planning also helps students obtain the mindset that every grade and every course matters. With this mindset, it can remove some of the pressure from Junior year. It is also helpful to take an exploratory college visit or go to a local college fair during Sophomore year, so your student can begin thinking of the most important factors to them in a college.
Number 2: Only considering public schools in-state schools
For Georgia students, if your student is eligible for the HOPE/Zell Miller Scholarship, it’s easy to justify your reason for considering in-state public schools. While HOPE covers about 80-85% of tuition and ZELL 100% of tuition, families are still responsible for fees, books, room/board, and personal expenses. This makes 1-year at a public school still $13-21k/year, for students who live on campus (see HOPE/Zell Award charts here). There are many out-of-state public schools, as well as private colleges, who offer incredibly generous merit-based scholarships for students who would be eligible for HOPE/Zell Miller- it just takes a little digging.
Number 3: Only visiting colleges after your student has been accepted
College is one of the most substantial investments your family will make. It is often the first significant decision your high school student makes in their life. The college they choose will ideally be their home for four (or more) years. More than likely, you visited your house more than once, while shopping for a new place to live. You most likely looked at the neighborhood, the town, the amenities, the schools, etc. Shopping for a college should be a similar process. Plan to spend at least half a day (ideally a full day) on campus. Ideally, your student will visit when school is in session. This will allow them to possibly meet with a professor from their intended program, check out the residence and dining halls, and talk to students (not just the tour guide). Check out the town the night before, go to a sporting event or play, and allow your student to immerse him/herself in campus life. While admitted student days are often an excellent way to learn about programs, they should not be the first time you see the campus. They may not provide the most accurate portrayal of the institution since they are trying to “woo” your student into enrolling. Also, many schools consider demonstrated interest in the holistic review. Campus visits are one of the best ways to show interest in the school.
Number 4: Doing your student’s application for them
College applications have a lot of pieces and parts. Your senior will be busy in the fall. Most deadlines occur between October 15-January 1. It will be tempting to take some of this off of their plates. Please don’t. They are more than capable of submitting their own college applications. This includes making sure they submit required documents like test scores, transcripts, and letters of recommendation. You can help keep them motivated- maybe create a calendar or checklist for them. Sending reminders. But don’t do it for them. When I was at the high school, I had multiple seniors tell me they didn’t know where they were applying to college because their mom was doing it for them. I had a parent get mad at me because their son’s application was rejected from an institution. It turns out the dad used his social security number instead of his son’s, and the dad had a degree from that school. Another parent sent the wrong twin’s test scores to a school, and their student missed out on merit scholarships. Just don’t. If you really don’t trust your student to apply, you should consider if they are ready to go to college. Or let me know- I’m here to help 🙂