Many families of high school juniors and seniors will be embarking on college visits this fall. For parents just beginning the process of college hunting, it can feel daunting. There are numerous books on the subject, but we’ve compiled 40 tips about the college search gathered from parents who have recently gone through the process with their own children. These are suggestions, not necessarily found in books, that have been gleaned from the actual doing:
1. Juniors are under great stress with their daily schedule as well as college entrance exams, and may have too much on their minds to think about the future. Or they may be terrified by the prospect of leaving home and going to college. So don’t expect your child to take the initiative about college hunting. If he doesn’t, parents should do the research and condense the information for the child, feeding it to him in bite-size pieces. Be sure you have your child’s general approval of what you’re doing along the way though, so he can’t accuse you of barging in and taking over the whole process.
2. Consult with your school’s guidance counselor, but no matter how good her reputation is, remember that she has to deal with hundreds of students. It’s impossible for her to know them all well. Take her advice with a grain of salt — and do your own research.
3. Do, however, encourage your child to get to know his guidance counselor, because often she will have personal relationships with admissions officers at colleges and a good word at the right time can make a big difference down the line.
4. Schedule specific "college meetings" with your child to review choices and plans for visiting schools. If you don’t make actual appointments, your child may find ways to keep procrastinating.
5. If your child is worried, scared, or unable to focus, you can skip the college tour and information session. Most places have self-guided tours, or you can go it alone.
6. You will receive mailings and information from just about every college that exists. For the most part, consider this junk mail and do your own research.
7. Even if your child is sure she wants a small school or a large university, or an urban or rural college, plan to visit a variety of schools. Her reactions may surprise you all.
8. If you want your child to have a residential college experience, make sure the school you’re visiting is not a commuter school where local kids go home for the weekends. At commuter schools, the campus is dead on the weekends.
9. If you’re short on time at a college, skip the information session and go for the tour. If you’re interested, you can find answers to questions online or with a phone call.
10. College tours are tiring, so don’t overschedule yourself. Seeing two schools a day is the maximum.
11. Plan to visit colleges when they are in session. And be aware that weather can make a difference in how your child reacts to the school ,as well. April vacation is an ideal time to go for juniors and accepted seniors.
12. Tour the college when the students are around, i.e., not early on a Saturday morning when they tend to be sleeping. You want to see what the other kids look like, and your child needs to see if he feels he could fit in.
13. Stay to the front of the tour so you can hear the tour guide better.
14. Beware of asking perky and earnest questions during the college tour or in the information session. Teens find it mortifying. If you have a question, try to ask it on the side during the tour.
15. For learning disabled and special needs students, call ahead to make an appointment with Special Services. It will reassure your child, and de-stigmatize him.
16. Although interviews are often recommended at smaller schools, they are not as important as they were when we parents applied to college, especially if your child is not a confident interviewee. Large schools usually can’t accommodate interviews for everyone anyway.
17. Be aware that the tour guides may influence your teen’s reaction to the college. So if you have a choice of guides, pick the one who seems more like your own child. If the guide is really off-putting, make an effort to meet other students in the student center.
18. If your child has a special area of interest, encourage him to email the professors from those departments to get a better feel for the place.
19. Talk to other parents on the tour. It’s amazing what you can find out about various departments, financial aid, scholarships, or other colleges.
20. Try to schmooze with people in the department where your child has a special interest, i.e., music or athletics, especially if you think the school is a good fit for your child. Personalized attention will make your child feel wanted and special, and may influence his decision.
21. Make sure you check out the student center and the bulletin boards for a good barometer of how much cultural and community activity is available on campus and in the area.
22. Check out the campus food (and students) at the student cafeteria.
23. When touring the campus, try to give your child some space and time to explore on her own. Offer to go your separate ways and meet up later.
24. Kids intuitively know what feels right to them. Don’t feel bad if you’ve invested lots of time and money to travel to a college and your child announces in the first five minutes that he doesn’t like it. As superficial as it may seem, the clothes kids wear do reflect their values. Your child has an image of what college should be, so allow him to react.
25. Bring a file folder along on your college visiting trip to keep all the view books and brochures organized. Take photos, and attach them to the pertinent brochures. Photos help job the memory, particularly after several tours of similar-looking campuses.
26. Never ask how your child likes the school or batter him with questions after the tour. And don’t offer your own opinion until he asks for it or until he has expressed his, and then offer it gently.
27. Encourage your child to jot down a few things he likes and dislikes about the school right after the visit. If you schedule several college visits in a row, he may get them mixed up. These notes may prove helpful if he decides to apply later.
28. Parents should not try to force their child into an early decision school in order to increase his chances of acceptance unless the child really falls in love with the school and it seems like a good fit.
29. Despite the fact that most schools say they are "need-blind", success for the admissions office is determined by its yield, i.e., what percentage of those who apply actually attend the college. (U.S.News and World Report recently decided to cease including "yield" as a factor in its annual ranking of colleges). So when a financial aid applicant applies to the college, the admissions committee knows that student will be comparing financial aid packages from different schools and may not accept theirs. Applying for financial aid may affect your child’s chances of admission, especially in this economy when colleges’ endowments are down, so if you can get through freshman year without financial aid, try to do so and then apply for aid in sophomore year. However, some good colleges are finding that their yields are down because students are accepting financial aid packages elsewhere. As a result, they are offering financial aid to woo students they want. So if your child’s profile is above that of a school he’s interested in, consider not applying Early Decision, where chances of being awarded an early scholarship package are small. He might be offered a financial enticement to attend the college, even if you don’t apply for financial aid.
30. Encourage your teen not to wait until the final deadline to send in his application. Admissions officers are reading hundreds of applications and towards the end of the process, they are undoubtedly becoming burned out. If an admissions officer was impressed with your child’s application towards the beginning of the process, on the other hand, it is more likely to be remembered.
31. Don’t compare the college hunting styles of different children in the same family.
32. Make sure your child visits and applies to safety schools he likes. But don’t apply to safeties too far below his profile or he will be rejected. The school will presume that he will not attend and may not offer admittance because it will affect its yield.
33. Don’t make any firm decisions about which colleges to apply to until you get your child’s SAT or ACT scores. Then, if you live in Westchester and want to ensure a better chance of success, select colleges where your child is in the top 75 percent of the college’s average SAT scores. Since Westchester boasts some of the best schools in the country, students applying from our area have to compete against one another.
34. You don’t have to visit every college before applying. Your child can always apply, then visit if he is accepted.
35. If you know a student at a college your teen is interested in, try to arrange a visit for an upclose and personal view of student life.
36. Encourage your child to make overnight visits to the colleges that accept him before he makes a final decision. It’s the best way to get a true feel for the kids and the campus. Overnights can be arranged through the admissions office.
37. As a parent, do some soul searching to make sure that you’re not pushing your child toward what you want to see him do.
38. If you do apply for financial aid and your child is accepted, know that you can re-plead your case for aid to get the package enhanced.
39. Remember that selecting a college is not irreversible. If the college your child chooses turns out to be a bad fit, he can always transfer in sophomore or junior year. In Harvard Schmarvard, author Jay Mathews says that a third of undergraduates transfer colleges at least once and most universities welcome transfers.
40. Most important of all, try to maintain some perspective about your child: he is not his SAT scores. In the end, he will be accepted by some schools and rejected by others, but to get through this stressful time, he will need to know more than ever that you love him no matter what.
An Early Love of Learning is The Real Secret Behind a 1600 Perfect Score
By Renee Cho
1600 Perfect Score: The 7 Secrets of Acing the SAT (Harper Collins, $25.95), on sale this month, is really a misnomer for the new book by Tom Fischgrund, Ph.D., president of Management Recruiters of Atlanta. Though it sounds like another test prep book to help high achievers attain perfection, it’s actually an enlightening and interesting study of the profiles, habits and families of students who scored a perfect 1600 on their SATs. It contains information that can help all parents guide their children, beginning at an early age, to perform better not only in school or on the SATs, but in life. Dr. Fischgrund, a former educator, conceived the Perfect Score Study, a comprehensive survey of students who received perfect 800s on both the verbal and math sections of the SAT. With the cooperation of the College Board, the author interviewed 160 1600-scorers and spoke to many of their parents as well. He also conducted a survey of a control group of average students. He hoped to learn who the perfect score students were as individuals, how they studied and what made them successful. What he discovered was that acing the SATS requires a lifelong approach to learning. And while 90 percent of the students were not pushed by their parents to be overachievers, almost all agreed their parents had motivated them to learn when they were young and had given them the tools to motivate themselves in high school. The lessons derived from the study, Dr. Fischgrund writes, "are really applicable to all parents — regardless of a child’s academic potential." Dr. Fischgrund found that perfect score students are not grinds buried in books, but rather kids who achieve a balance in life between "studying and socializing, between reading and sports, between seeking the advice of friends and seeking the counsel of parents." They share traits Dr. Fischgrund calls the Seven Secrets of Perfect Score (PS) Students…
1. They’re self-confident, self-effacing and self-motivated. Their parents usually set high expectations for them from the start. By believing in their children, these parents helped them have strong self-esteem. But the parents were careful not to offer too much praise for too little accomplishment, enabling their children to have a healthy understanding of their limitations. PS students also said that their parents provided just the right amount of assistance during elementary school, and allowed them to become self-reliant when they entered high school. Parents were then supportive of their self-motivated high school students and continued to provide intellectual stimulation. 2. They are intellectually curious and excited about learning new and different things. PS students’ parents helped their children develop creativity by providing creative outlets and being role models for creativity. They cultivated curiosity by encouraging children to question assumptions and take sensible risks. Most PS students said their parents provided them with resources throughout their lives, taking them to the library weekly, reading to them regularly, getting educational materials if schoolwork was not challenging enough, and exposing them to culture. 3. They read quickly and voraciously, following their interests wherever they lead. PS students spent an average of 14 hours a week reading, while average students spent only 8 hours doing so. PS parents looked for early signs that their children were ready to read regardless of age, and worked with them. Parents also spent time with their child figuring out what the child wanted to read about, they read to their preschoolers aloud, and they listened as their older children read to them. These parents refused to dumb down conversation and vocabulary for their children. PS students also spent less time watching TV than average students. 4. They develop a core group of passions, pursue them eagerly and excel within them. PS parents allowed their children to develop their passions naturally, but supported that passion through conversation and a commitment of time, such as shuttling them to sports practices or dance classes. 5. They’re proactive; they create their own luck. PS students studied more for the SATs and took the test prep more seriously than did average students. They have a conscious awareness of how they learn best and what they must do to reach their full potential. 6. They develop a social network of friends and family that gives them critical support. PS students are socially adept and rely on friends for emotional support. By high school, most PS students’ parents faded into the background of their social lives. Family stability, however, proved to be one of the strongest factors in determining SAT scores: 89 percent of PS students came from intact families, compared to 69 percent of average students who scored 1000-1200. PS students’ parents gave their children the experience of a normal childhood and served as role models and support systems. 7. Their real goal isn’t to ace the SATs, but to succeed in life. Most PS students have some sense of self-identity and where they want their lives to go. They know what’s most important and feel life has a purpose — although they may not yet know the specifics of what that is.
The author also includes the PS students’ top 10 tips on taking the SAT, ranked in order of importance. • Read everything. • Buy an SAT book and take practice tests. • Relax, it’s only a test. • Memorize vocabulary. • The night before the test, don’t study, but do get a good night’s sleep. • Pace yourself. • Identify and focus on weaknesses. • Double-check your work. • Study early, preferably a year before taking the SAT. • Take a prep course.
Dr. Fischgrund concludes that the well-rounded student who is happy in school and in life learns for the sheer joy of it, not to get a perfect SAT score or to get into a good college. Parents who are able to imbue their children with the love of learning at an early age and have taught them how to learn have given them a good start. Success now rests in their hands.