If you saw last week’s post, you already know we’ve just returned from an exhausting round of college tours with our son, who is a rising senior. In that post, I shared what we learned from the tours. This week, I’m focusing on what I’ll do differently between now and four years from now when we start this process again with our daughter.
Here’s where I’m coming from: My husband and I have been active in the education of our children from the time they started kindergarten. Between the two of us, we’ve held the office of PTA president, coached Odyssey of the Mind teams, built sets for school plays, started programs where we saw the need, written successful grants, volunteered behind the scenes, and, among many many many other things, once we even won the volunteer of the year award together.
But when we returned from the college tours I spent about three days asking myself this: How could I have spent literally thousands upon thousands of hours insuring that my child got the best education available to him, without spending more time thinking about, and preparing him for, the all-important crossroads he would reach when he finished secondary school? How?
Well, the good news is that I think my son will probably get into a good school despite the fact that we could have done some things differently to give him more of an edge. But you always want your child to have the edge, right? That edge is important for scholarship applications. That edge might make the difference between getting into your top choice school and your second choice.
Since our son goes to boarding school, it is going to be hard for me to change anything about his application process, but here are some things we’ll do differently next time around:
1. Take your child on college tours during his junior year in high school, or even better, the summer before. You can always visit campuses again later, closer to the application deadline.
Here’s why: Our son really didn’t know much about any colleges. He knew he was on track to go to college, he knew what one or two campuses were like from summer camps and going to football games with grandparents. But he never got to see a college campus through the eyes of a college kid. You get this when you take campus tours. Before we went on the tours, college was a somewhat abstract idea. Now he has much more concrete ideas about what the college experience will be like. He is more excited about the opportunity than before. The bottom line: If we’d been able to get him more excited earlier, he’d have made more progress on the dreaded college applications by now!
2. Enable your child to pursue one of his or her passions.
Here’s why: It seems that schools are looking for students who take action. They want students who DO. A few years ago our son brought up starting a community garden on a large piece of property our church had just acquired. Instead of enabling him to move forward with this, we said something like, “The deer will probably eat the crops.” (I know… we get an F for that response! I mean, there are these things called fences…) Looking at the applications he’s trying to complete, something like “Starting a community garden” would have been a great thing to add. Even better, imagine the feeling of accomplishment he’d have had if he’d been successful in his attempts, or what he’d have learned if he failed. When our daughter comes up with a similar idea, we’ll help her figure out HOW to do it, instead of HOW NOT to.
3. Enroll your child in an SAT prep course.
Here’s why: We never bothered with this because our son’s math and critical reading scores were already strong. And who cares about the writing scores anyway? Oh, I’ll tell you who cares: the people who set up the guidelines for National Merit Scholarships. Last year, our son ended up being something like four points away from being named a National Merit Semifinalist. If you are a National Merit Semifinalist, you can list that on every college application, even if you don’t make it any further than that. And, it turns out, some colleges really DO care about those writing scores too…Anyway, if we could do it again, we’d enroll him in an SAT prep course, despite his strong scores. Top tier schools and scholarships at all schools are very competitive. Who knows? An extra hundred points can make a big difference. Sometimes, an extra four points can.
Okay, okay. A list of three things to do differently isn’t too bad, is it? And our soon-to-be-college-bound son is amazing! He’ll get in the school that is right for him! Still, what’s the good of making mistakes if you can’t learn from them? And once you learn something, you might as well share your knowledge.
We’ll be doing at least one more installment on this college admissions theme. Until then, for all of you other parents watching your children struggle with the college decision… good luck!