College can be a mind-blowing, confusing,
anxiety-ridden part of life — and I’m just talking about the application
process. I just went through this for the first time with my oldest daughter, and
even though we sought out help at every turn, there were still things we didn’t
learn from any of the guidance counselors, friends or the 5,000 articles we read on the internet. Here are a few things that might help you in
We had no idea anyone would be asking for
this, and no one had ever mentioned it, which is why we found ourselves up at 2 a.m. one night scrambling to help our daughter put one together in order to make a
submission deadline. (But it turned out to be a great exercise for her in
preparing a professional resumé.) She ended up taking it with her to several
college meetings and auditions, and tucked it in with requests for transcripts.
Bonus: It’s a real confidence booster when a student sees — organized in
chronological order — all that they’ve achieved.
Formatted in much the same way as a job resumé, the student resumé lists your GPA, SAT/ACT scores and any academic
achievements and school activities. Here’s a general outline:
Go off the grid during your college tour
College campus tours are great, but if you
only stick with their schedule, you might miss some great opportunities to meet
key people and gain insider knowledge. (No, this is not an endorsement of
illegal behavior, like sneaking into the Dean's Office and rifling through his
filing cabinet.) We made it a point to take time after the tour was over to
explore the department our daughter was interested in (music) and talked to
everyone from tech personnel to security guards.
On one visit we struck up a conversation
with a student who was working in the reception area, and she and my daughter
bonded over their shared musical tastes. She mentioned that she happened to be
on her way to deliver some papers to the head of the department and would we
like an introduction? Of course we said yes, and that led to a half-hour,
informal meeting with the department chair. A few weeks later when my daughter
went for her audition, that same person was one of the three people she had to
perform for, and he remembered her. (She got in!)
Get all of the essay prompts from each school you apply to before you start
The dreaded college essay. Almost all
schools require one and will often provide a prompt that they want the essay
focused around. Here’s a valuable tip that was given to my daughter by her SAT
tutor: If you’re applying to several schools, it would be time consuming to
write an individual essay for each school, so organize your prompts ahead of
time and see if you can cover several of the themes with one essay.
For example, if you’re applying to 10 schools and one of the schools provides a prompt that reads, “Tell us about an
accomplishment or experience that is important to you and how it has shaped you”
and another school gives you, “Discuss an accomplishment or event that marked
your transition from childhood to adulthood,” these are similar enough that you
can touch on both of these themes in one general essay, just altering small
details to customize for each school. That way you’ll be writing maybe three to
five essays instead of 10.
Find a financial aid workshop and attend early. Way early.
This is painful to admit, but we really
missed the boat on this one. By the time our school held its financial aid
workshop, it was literally days before some of the applications were due and
many scholarship deadlines had passed. They offered a lot of valuable information
and tips, so if we had known better we would have attended a session in our
daughter’s junior year or sought out another high school that was offering a
workshop (most will allow students from other schools to attend.) If your
school doesn’t have one scheduled or if it occurs after the winter break of
your senior year (which we found was too late), look elsewhere.
Talk to people — lots of people — about your choice of colleges
Everyone will have an opinion once you
mention your child’s choice of colleges, but here’s the surprising part — some
of it is actually useful! Listen carefully to what alumni have to say about the
school — what they thought their actual return on investment was, what the
social climate was, their specific likes and dislikes.
I mentioned on Facebook a certain (very
pricey) college my daughter had been accepted to, and it prompted an
acquaintance to message me with her thoughts. After her daughter’s four-year
stint at this particular school, she thought she had come out with very few
real-world skills compared to her peers who had attended other colleges. It
made us take a much closer look at the school and dig deeper into their
curriculum — and we decided to pass.