The Road to College
By May S. Ruiz
It’s almost winter but for lots of sunshine, blue skies, and no rain in the forecast. Yet, the calendar says it’s December and all the stores are enticing us with every kind of sales promotion. And, of course, children are eagerly anticipating the Christmas season and winter break.
As we head towards the end of the year, some students are finishing up on the first semester and grateful that they are halfway through this school year.
What a relief it must be for your 9th grader – he or she has survived the first semester of high school. While your children’s thoughts may be all about Christmas holiday, this would be a good time to evaluate their progress. Remind them that while first semester grades don’t show on the final transcript, these are barometers of their academic strengths and weaknesses. Encourage them to use the winter break to plan how to improve where needed and how to build on their successes going into the second semester.
If your children are taking AP courses they should also have taken the AP and SAT II exams. They should take the time to meet with their college counselors for guidance on how to improve their test scores, if necessary. Now is the time to look at their interests to determine what college course they might be suited for. Based on their aptitude and grades, they will have to start planning on their course options for 11th grade. They can also start looking at which colleges offer the course they might want to pursue.
This is an all-important year for your 11th grader and it is one of the busiest of their high school career. Your children should be able to successfully balance their academic and extra-curricular responsibilities. They should have already taken rigorous course loads, participated in campus activities, and moved into positions of leadership in whatever extra-curricular endeavor they chose.
Your children should start preparing for the ACT or SAT exams either by taking practice tests online or by taking a prep course. By this time, college counselors have met with you and your children, and given you an overview of the college application process. They should already have been to at least one College Fair and have met with a few admissions officers.
It might also be an opportune time to visit some colleges, at least the ones in California, before the spring break when you might consider going to out-of-town universities. If you haven’t thought about college visits, now is the time to put it on your calendar. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is for your children to see the campus for themselves. There is nothing more unfortunate than for them to matriculate to a college only to be miserable after the first few months. Adjusting to life away from one’s parents and the reality of college life is bad enough; finding out they are in the wrong school is just an added disappointment.
While kids all around are excited about the Christmas holidays – thinking about what movies they want to watch, and where to spend their time during their winter break – your high school senior is sweating over his or her personal essay or feverishly writing all the supplemental essays colleges are requiring when they submit their college application.
This is a crucial time for every senior. He or she needs as much encouragement as elbow room to get their applications ready for sending. Your children should be in constant communication with the school counselor to ensure that all transcripts, teacher recommendations and supplemental material are sent to all the colleges to which they are applying. They should be on top of application deadlines for all the schools to which they plan to apply.
If your 12th grader has received an acceptance letter from his or her first choice – whether through Early Action (EA) or Early Decision (ED), then he or she must be ecstatic. An ED means your child is legally bound to matriculate to that university, and his or her college search is over. Whew! If your child was accepted to a school through EA, he or she can either accept that offer or still go on to apply to other schools.
Accepting an EA offer relieves your children of pressure so they can enjoy the Christmas holidays but it doesn’t give them leverage if they are qualified for scholarships. The best scenario is to apply and get accepted to several colleges so your children can pick and choose where they get the best financial offer or scholarship.
If your children are fortunate enough to have heard from their school, and have been offered admission, it would be mindful of them not to brag about their acceptance. Some of his or her classmates may have applied to the same school and are hoping for admission. The university to which your child was accepted might be his or her classmate’s first choice. It would be very hurtful to then boast that he or she has been accepted but is not planning on attending that college.
On the other hand, if your children have been deferred on the EA or ED round, there are some things they can do to enhance their chances during the regular round. They can write a strong letter of interest and intent – all colleges and universities are concerned about their yield. If they are assured that your child will matriculate if accepted, they will look at him or her in a more favorable light (that is, if your child fits the profile they are looking for). They can send any updates on any significant changes since they sent their application – a letter from a counselor about their first semester work or a letter from a senior teacher. They can also send in their first semester grades, especially if they have received some As in the meantime.
Provide encouragement to your children if they have been deferred – the school isn’t rejecting them, they have just been put in the pool for the regular round. Remember that these admission officers have thousands of applications to read. They wouldn’t want to go through your children’s application again if they weren’t interested in the first place: they would have just outright rejected them.
Your children should research all available scholarships, and start completing the FAFSA.
Some useful websites are: CollegeXpress (www.collegexpress.com); Fastweb (www.fastweb.com); Free Application for Federal Student Aid (www.fafsa.ed.gov); National Merit Scholarship Corporation (www.nationalmerit.org); Scholarships.com (www.scholarships.com); Scholarships360 (www.scholarships360.org); Student Aid on the Web (www.studentaid.ed.gov).