4 Tips to Help Your Student Prepare for the College Application Early

As adults, we’ve filled out numerous job applications. While tedious exercises, they are the equivalent of a handshake with a potential employer. They are the first impression we make before we have the opportunity to make one in person.

Most college applicants have little experience at successfully applying for jobs or college. That’s why it’s important for students to think about being a good applicant for college while still in high school. The process can be unfamiliar and daunting, so plenty of preparation is important.

Below are four tips for helping your students eventually shine as standout applicants for the school of their choice.

1. Talk about College in a Positive, Expectant Way

College may seem far off to you. It will seem even further off to your student! The typical ten-year-old has trouble imagining high school, let alone college. However, it’s never too early for kids to see your expectations and confidence that they are college material. More students than ever are going to college and not all are getting four-year degrees. Many are earning certifications, two-year degrees, or associate’s degrees. Let children know, early and often, that you believe they can be successful in college.

2. Help Students Promote Their Accomplishments

Students typically have at least 10 or 11 years of academic work, and 16 or 17 years of life experiences to highlight in a college application. Some students are not naturally “self-promoters,” but now is the time to overcome that. Colleges need to see your student in the best light—with all of their successes and strengths. They’re looking for well-rounded students who can add diversity, in every sense of the word.

One helpful activity is to have your student create a list of his or her five greatest academic accomplishments. Academic accomplishments might be test scores, grades, or success in advanced classes. Think of examples of achievement, like the time the student started tenth grade history with a “D” on the first test, but worked hard, sought the teacher’s help, and eventually earned “As” and “Bs.” This will take some effort, but will save time and get better results when the application process begins.

Now, add accomplishments outside of school to the list. Here are some questions to help your student generate ideas:

  1. What service projects have you participated in?
  2. What clubs or organizations have you been a part of?
  3. What sports have you played?
  4. For how long?
  5. Were you an officer or a leader? In what capacity?

Don’t forget to include middle or elementary school activities:

  1. What badges did you earn in scouts?
  2. What musical instruments have you played?
  3. What shows or performances have you been involved in?

What will emerge is a list of how awesome your student is and the journey that has led your son or daughter to this point.

3. Decide Which Schools to Apply To

Have students write down their top choices—include about five to ten schools. Their target schools should be ones they want to attend, not just those they can easily get into. Categorize the list as follows:

  1. Aspirational: Schools I might not get into but would really like to attend
  2. Best Fits: Schools where my academic interests and skills fit best
  3. Fallbacks: Schools I know I will easily get into
  4. Curiosities: Schools that are interesting, quirky, or have some element of whimsical appeal to me

Here’s an example of my son’s list from a year ago:

Aspirational: Stanford, University of Florida, Georgia Tech

Best Fits: University of West Virginia, Virginia Tech

Fallbacks: Marshall University, Shepherd University

Curiosities: South Dakota School of Mines, Colorado School of Mines, University of Guam

One note on this list: Don’t rule out an institution because of expense. Financial aid tends to flow in greater amounts to students who attend expensive universities and colleges.

4. Earning College Credit in High School

The landscape has changed in the past ten years. Advanced Placement® (AP) courses used to be the standard for earning college credits during high school, but now there are additional options.

Dual-enrollment courses, in which students earn both high school and college credit for their work, have exploded on the national scene in the past five to ten years. These courses may be offered at your child’s school, online, or on a local college campus. Dual-enrollment courses often transfer better and are more helpful than AP courses in preparing students for their upcoming college experience.

According to a National Student Clearinghouse Research Center 2007 study, 66 percent of students graduate within four years if they earned college credits prior to being a freshman. So, whether students dual-enroll in college courses or take AP classes, either option will set them on a course to graduate college on time.

Lastly, keep the process fun and emphasize that it is a process. College decisions may feel like the most significant rite of passage for your student—and understandably so! At the same time, the college your student begins with is exactly that, a beginning. Most students change majors, and a high percentage attend two or more colleges before earning their degree. College is an important part of building a career but, ultimately, it is just one part.

Good luck to you and your student, and please comment below if you have questions or need additional advice.

Featured Image – Anton Petukhov / CC by 2.0

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