College Acceptance

College entrance has changed dramatically in recent years. Students now spend a lot of time and money just preparing for college admissions. As a caring and involved parent, you should know HOW you can help, WHEN you should help and WHAT your child needs to do for themselves. Current research points to a list of items that may seem like common sense but will make a huge difference in your child's successful pathway to college.


Adapted from the book by Gen Tanabe: Get into Any College: Secrets of Harvard Students. 7th ed. 2010. Supercollege, Llc.

1. Visit a college NOW

Get your child excited about college by visiting a nearby campus early on. Make it a point to visit at least one college every year, beginning in at least middle school. Being on a campus and exposure to college life will give your child the personal experience needed when finally applying to college. Many high school academies incorporate college visits into academic fieldtrips and you can do the same with family vacations, especially out-of-state trips. It opens up a whole new world on which to base future decisions. Choosing a college based only on website information is a poor way to choose the site for your child's next 4 years.

2. Encourage good grades in rigorous classes (honors, AP, IB)

Encouraging your child to get good grades is not a new idea - if you're on this website, you have probably been doing this all along. But you also need make sure that they are taking challenging courses including some Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate (if the program is offered at your school) and honors-level courses, primarily in the 11th and 12th grades. Data from the College Board and the UC System has shown that successfully passing just one AP course with at least a "C" and stepping up to take the exam (with ANY score) has exposed your child to the rigor of college and almost doubled their chances of being accepted into and graduating from a 4 year college. Passing a second AP or IB course predicts further increases their chance of success. Avoid demanding that your child take the hardest courses offered all of the time, especially if they really are too difficult for him or her. Also avoid making your son or daughter do nothing else besides study. What seems to work best for creating good study behavior is positive reinforcement.

3. Be prepared to pay for test prep (we're here for you)

Your child will be taking a battery of pre-college assessment tests including the following: SAT Reasoning Test, ACT Assessment, SAT Subject Tests, AP, IB and the PSAT. There are many books available to assist your child in preparing for the ACT and SAT exams, as well as numerous test preparation courses. If you can afford it and your child wants to go, you should consider a test preparation class. The best time for students to take these courses is a couple of months before they plan to take the actual exam. This is usually during the winter or spring of the junior year or the summer between junior and senior year. No test preparation course can guarantee top scores (a good test preparation course can increase an SAT score by 100 points or more) but by systematically studying for the exams and becoming familiar with their structure, your child will have a chance to do their BEST on the actual test.

4. Help your child remember past activities and accomplishments

The college application form is the "stats" sheet for college admissions officers and includes personal data such as test scores, academic honors, extracurricular activities and work experience. Help your child recall all the things that he or she did during the last four years. Parents frequently remember significant events that their children overlook. But don't just list everything. You should advise your child to choose the most impressive information about his or her accomplishments within the very limited space of the application form. To do this, your child should highlight academic achievements because this will indicate academic readiness for college. Your child should also emphasize the leadership roles that he or she has played in school and extracurricular activities. Admissions officers like to see that students are not just participating in activities but are also leading them. Keep in mind that leadership does not mean only elected positions. Any time that your child took on responsibility could be an example of leadership. Your student should focus on any projects that were self-initiated and any special contributions he or she has made.

5. Become an editor for your child's college essay

If you sometimes feel that you don't understand what goes on in the mind of your teenage son or daughter, here is an opportunity to find out how your child thinks. The essay—usually 800 words or less—is the admissions officers' window into the thoughts of your child. It allows them to form an image of the applicant beyond impersonal test scores and straightforward biographical information. The college essay can be a very personal piece, and depending on how your child feels, he or she may not be comfortable sharing it with you. Respect his or her decision. It may sound strange that your son or daughter is willing to allow such a personal essay to be read by unknown college admissions officers and yet does not want Mom or Dad to see it, but it is not uncommon. Don't take it personally. If, however, your son or daughter does not mind, then make yourself available for editing and proofreading the essay.

6. Don't pester your child's recommenders

Aside from bribery (which we strongly disapprove of), there is not much you can do about recommendation letters. Fight your parental urge to intervene since it certainly won't help to badger your child's potential recommenders. They are the last people you want to annoy. Trust that your son or daughter has a pretty good idea of which teachers will write favorable evaluations. You can help remind your child to make sure that these evaluations are handed out to the evaluators early (two to three months before the application deadline) since it takes time to compose a solid evaluation

7. Become a practice interviewer

Interviews, which are required by many schools, can be downright frightening. Unlike the other components of the admissions process, interviews require interaction with real life admissions officers or alumni. One of the best ways you can help prepare your child is to do a mock interview. At first, your son or daughter may be hesitant or embarrassed to do a mock interview with you as the interviewer, but encourage him or her to try it. The most important thing to remember is to give your child constructive feedback on his or her performance. Do not concentrate on weaknesses as much as strengths. Tell your student which questions he or she answered particularly well as a confidence booster for the real interview. Also, never under any circumstances, go into the interview with your child. Some parents have the mistaken idea that it will help their child if they go in and explain what a good son or daughter they have and why he or she deserves to attend X University. Such attempts have a 100 percent chance of failing. The college interviewer wants to interview your child, not you.

8. Stay positive...

Even the best students are not accepted by every school. Depending on each college's individual pool of applicants and needs, admission officers may accept your child or they may be looking for a student with slightly different, not necessarily better, skills. Avoid only considering attendance at one of the highly selective schools, and don't equate being denied with failure. Remember that even if your child does everything right, he or she may not—for reasons totally beyond his or her control—get accepted. The truth of the matter is that college admissions is always a gamble to some degree. Even the most qualified and deserving students are sometimes denied, simply because the college does not have enough space in the freshman class.

Plus, as you already know, success in life is not dependent on where you go to school but on what you do there. All colleges (including Harvard and other ivy-league schools) produce their share of losers. In the end, the best rule is to support your child in his or her decision and to be positive throughout the application process.

9. Give your child the freedom to choose

Once your student has been accepted to several of the schools to which he or she applied, give your child as much freedom as your checkbook can allow in making the final choice. After all, it is your child—not you—who is going to be at the school for the next four years. Obviously, since you are probably the one who will foot a good part of the bill, you can express your preferences to your child; but for the most part, let him or her choose among the schools you can afford. Be as supportive as possible about which school your child wants to attend and emphasize that you are proud of him or her, whatever the final decision may be. After all, it matters less which college your child goes to than what he or she makes of the experience.

10. Create a roadmap to finance college

Of course you want to focus on the admissions side of the whole college equation; but as a parent, it is also your responsibility to look at how to pay for it. While there are many options and strategies (we encourage you to explore the other guides on this subject), the best advice that we can give you is to create a plan and then share that plan with your child. You need to address the challenge of paying for college and how it will affect you as a family. The only way you can expect your son or daughter to pitch in is if you clearly explain the family's financial situation and what each of you will need to do in terms of saving, working and applying for scholarships and financial aid to make college affordable.

In Conclusion...

As you can see, successful college students are not created overnight. Truthfully, there is no regimen that you should have been prescribing for your child since birth. But preparing for college admittance in advance does allow your child to select courses, get involved in activities and cultivate relationships with teachers that will help him or her tremendously when it comes time to apply to college. By becoming knowledgeable about the admissions process yourself, you can encourage your child to make decisions that will make him or her a stronger candidate.