The road to college
By May S. Ruiz
It has been feeling like summer the past couple of weeks but we’re only approaching spring and I’m sure your children are already looking forward to spring break. While it is an opportunity for them to relax, it is also a chance to evaluate where they are on their schoolwork.
Following last spring’s infamous college bribing scandal, several universities, including the UC and Cal State systems, have dropped the standardized tests as a requirement for college application. While some perceive this as leveling the playing field, a great many are not convinced; the jury is still out on this issue. At the same time, several administrators are advocating for a method to gauge college readiness and some form of testing is necessary. Whatever the case may be, your children have to apply themselves to studying and working hard because their GPA may be the only academic benchmark for admission.
I’m including reminders for the ACTs, SATs and APs in the college search guide as they are still requirements at some universities.
Your children should have all their grades on track. They need to concentrate on maintaining good study habits now to be better equipped to handle the rigors of the workload in the coming years. If they haven’t been reading much, they should seriously consider taking up reading as a hobby during spring break to help them increase their vocabulary which they will need to take the SAT, and as preparation for writing their essay.
They need to line up their summer activities. Their grade dean should have some ideas on how they can explore their passions and research summer opportunities. Consider looking into international experiences.
Tenth graders who are taking AP courses need to register for the AP exams administered in May. While there is a slew of small independent tutoring schools offering courses to prepare for the AP tests, some children do not need to take on this additional burden on their already busy schedules. Your children have enough on their plate with the intensive homework associated with an advanced placement course. That said, your kids will still have to show competence on the AP exams as all scores are submitted to the College Board; all the colleges to which your children apply will see the AP scores.
Your children should also take the SAT subject test. Your children’s teachers could provide guidance on what they need to prepare for. They might want to ask the teachers in that particular course for study suggestions, review packets, and sample tests. There are also test prep books available in bookstores and online.
It’s also a good time for your children to consult their class dean regarding summer activities – academic enrichment programs, volunteer work, or part-time employment. College admissions officers are looking for students who explored their passions while getting good grades.
There are outside resources for your children to plan ahead for the admissions process. A college preparation service called CollegeVine (www.collegevine.com) offers near-peer mentoring from ninth to 12th graders. Their consultants, who are recent high school graduates themselves, provide expert guidance. They are near in age to the children they are helping and have recently applied to college themselves.
If you’re looking for a counselor who can meet in person with you and your children, I would recommend Greg Kaplan. He is a native Southern Californian and has been holding free college application workshops in the San Gabriel Valley. He is available for a personal meeting for the initial conference and thereafter confers with you and children via Skype.
Likewise, Kaplan’s book “Earning Admission: Real Strategies for Getting into Highly Selective Colleges” is a useful resource. It offers your children a guide on how to best present themselves to admissions officers.
Besides registering and preparing for the SAT or ACT, your children should use the spring break to visit college campuses. If possible, they should have a prepared college visit checklist with a page or several pages allotted for each school. For each of the schools, they will need to write their overall impressions – what they liked most or least.
They should write their observations by categories: the intellectual atmosphere (Do students enjoy their courses or are they stressed-out? What is the advising system for freshmen? Are there opportunities for independent study/study abroad?). They should note the social climate (Do students stay on campus or do they leave on weekends? What are the facilities for socializing? Is there an active Greek life?). They should observe the campus life (What are the living arrangements? Is there guaranteed housing for four years? What are the dining options?).
One major concern for parents and children should be security on campus (Can outsiders gain access to the library, the fitness center or student union? Are there video cameras around the school periphery?). Of course, the most serious threat to students’ well-being may actually be within the confines of the institution. This topic has become part of the national conversation and some universities are addressing the topic up front. I, personally, would want to know if officials have safeguards in place to prevent such crime from occurring. Do administrators disclose information about it or do they hide and blur the facts? What consequences does the school impose on perpetrators?
Some children know right away when they visit a campus that they don’t see themselves thriving there. It could be that it isn’t the right intellectual or academic fit for them; or the environment doesn’t suit their lifestyle. But it’s a good thing to know before they decide to apply.
As I expounded on last month, some colleges will be sending out decision letters sometime in March or April. Your children should keep their wits about them as they await word from the colleges they applied to.
After the marathon they finished, your children could be quite restless and anxious to know if they have been accepted to their school of choice. Remind them to use this quiet time productively by keeping their focus on academics and their grades. They should still engage in other worthwhile activities like sports or arts.
Tell your children that they might be getting letters of rejection from some schools. While you might be more disappointed than your son or daughter, avoid showing it as that sends the wrong message. Not being accepted to their first choice isn’t the end of the world. In fact, while it may not seem like it at first blush, it usually turns out to be a blessing in disguise because, in most cases, they end up in the school that is the right fit for them.
You and your children should research all scholarships and grants available to them. Many colleges offer merit scholarships to applicants with excellent academic records to motivate them to matriculate. The package usually includes the full cost of tuition and fees and may also cover room and board.
Universities also extend need-based grants to applicants who demonstrate a financial hardship. These reduce the cost of a college education and do not need to be repaid. Your children should complete the Federal Application for Federal Student Aid (www.fafsa.ed.gov). Other schools may also require a college-specific financial aid application.
Here are some useful websites to help you get started in your research: CollegeXpress (www.collegexpress.com/); Fastweb (www.fastweb.com); 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).