Monday, March 28, 2016

Three Secrets to Beefing Up That College Application


There is nothing more stressful for high school seniors and their families than the college application experience in the Fall and waiting for acceptance emails to arrive in the Spring. Want your child to have the best possible chance? Here are my secrets to beefing up that college application.
  • Secret # 1 Plan and Prepare
Your kids and you as parents cannot just decide junior or senior year of high school that they want to successfully apply to college without proper preparation. If you haven't been planning for and preparing your child way before that, your child may not find him/herself in the best position to being accepted into a four year university. (See my post on Six Ways to Send Your Kid to College.) In my opinion, applying to a four year university does not happen in the Fall of senior year, it starts YEARS before that. I remember reading one research article that stated kids know whether they are going to college or not as early as fourth grade.  


Middle school is probably the most apt time to instill regular study habits. Students are exposed to multiple teachers and different students in classes.  Their daily experience is more like college than what they experience in elementary school. Your primary responsibility will be in MANAGING your child.  With technology providing access to grades and assignments around the clock, there is no reason for you or your students to NOT know how they are performing in each class. Parents should ensure a regular schedule when students come home.  Students should be able to study at least an hour and a half daily. Help your child stick to an at-home routine to develop discipline. Set up a quiet study area free of as much distraction as possible,  provide nutritious food to feed the body and brain, and if your child needs a calculator, set of colored pencils, GLASSES, get them as soon as possible! Your job as a parent preparing your child for college includes monitoring homework completion, being available as a resource and supporting your child in every way possible to provide an optimum study environment.  Monitor how much time your child is spending online as social media and gaming are definite detractors to school success. Encourage your child to read as much as possible. Let them read whatever they are interested in. Reading is critical for vocabulary development, fluency, and translates into students being better writers. 

In middle school, students can already start to take care of the A-G requirements * for the California State University and University of California (UC) schools by taking a foreign language class. Two years are required. In addition, students can set themselves up for taking Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB) or Honors courses in high school, by taking designated accelerated courses in middle school and earning good grades. Past performance dictates future placement

Why is this important? Because the top two factors that universities looks at are a student's GPA and test scores on the SAT or ACT test. Let's look at GPA first.  There is the unweighted GPA and the weighted GPA. The unweighted GPA is the straight grade point average not counting extra points given for Honors, IB, AP classes. The weighted GPA awards an extra point to the grade for being accelerated class. So a "B" grade can count as an "A" grade in these courses. Let's say your child has straight A's but did not take any challenging courses. Compared to a student who did not get straight A's but took the more rigorous curriculum, and say they took AP or IB tests and scored well, this application may be considered as having more added value. Remember that the UC schools are designated for the top 9% of all students in the state of California.  If your child can handle it, have him/her take the most rigorous curriculum they are eligible to take to demonstrate that they are a desirable candidate.

Regarding the SAT and ACT tests, in other countries that highly value education, students go to school perhaps six days a week and after they are done with their regular classes, they may even attend cram schools to prepare for their country's tests. I am not saying that this is what your child needs to do, but I do admire the commitment level and work ethic of the students from these countries. At the very least, books are available for students to practice taking these tests. I would highly encourage becoming familiar with these tests in tenth grade.  Many schools have all of their tenth graders take the PSAT. This allows your child to become familiar with the layout, study test taking strategies, identify the weak areas that need more attention and develop their stamina. In my opinion, students should take a practice test at least twice before taking an official one.  These scores combined with the GPA are the top two factors on a four year college application.

(Note: Parents, if any of these terms that I have italicized are not familiar to you, then you have some homework to do.  Research and read up on the terms that you do not know. Ask friends and family members who have gone through the college application process to educate you.  Attend parent meetings at your child's school that address these items. Make an appointment with your child's school counselor and have your list of questions ready.)

  • Secret #2  Grades and Test Scores Are Not Enough
Other things that universities look at on the college application are summer programs, internships, courses taken at the community college, extracurricular  activities, leadership develop and how one has been a contributing member to his/her community.
How do you as a parent help your child with this?  Teach them how to manage their time and how to deal with stress.  Many students are not born with the skills to keep organized and prioritize activities and be disciplined.  There are going to be plenty of times when your student doesn't want to do what they need to do, but keep the end goal in mind.  As parents, you need to model for them. Help them keep a calendar and schedule. Discuss the activities that will happen during the day, the week, the weekends, and the month so they can allocate their time appropriately and see the daily and bigger picture. If you find their backpack is a mess, help them organize their materials and possessions. Perhaps your child would benefit from using some sort of visual checklist, or a timer that sounds off when it is time to transition to something else to keep them on track. Do activities with them to burn off steam, keep them mentally as well as physically healthy.  Keep their lives as simple and organized as possible.  

  • Secret #3  Those Writing Prompts Can Be The Deal Breaker
For many years, the prompt for the University of California application has been "Describe the World You Live In."  This is the one and only time that a student gets to really express themselves and their personality. Have you endured extraordinary circumstances, i.e. poverty, illness, personal/family issues, adoption, etc...write about it!  Make yourself so interesting that someone becomes your fan and remembers you. If your child has an extraordinary accomplishment in music, athletics, philanthropy, and/or leadership, they should write about it in a way that makes the reader want to meet them in person and say "This kid needs to be part of our school community!"  For example, I remember the boy who gave his YouTube link to his first place competition performance on an Indian musical instrument. I remember the girl who MTV recruited to highlight for one of their segments because she had hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers for her nail art.  That's right, nail art! I remember the girl who created an app for the iPhone and sold it in her junior year.  I also remember the girl who arrived to the U.S.by boat with her parents from Laos.  She barely spoke English and her parents spoke none. At the age of ten, she became the family translator for everything, doctor visits, social service forms, enrolling herself in school practically. When she realized the need for interpreters in her community, she volunteered to become the translator for election poll sites.  Her essay definitely made an impact on me. If grades, test scores, classes taken, and activities are not that impressive, but the essay speaks volumes and maybe can explain why the former are the way they are, it could really mean the difference between that "yes" and "no" for college admission.

(*The powerpoint link to the A-G requirements was created and provided by Lysabeth Luansing-Garcia, a high school counselor, colleague, blogger and good friend of mine! Thank you Lysa!)

I hope this was helpful. I would love to hear your comments! Please enter them below! Thanks for reading!

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