Choosing the Right College For Your Teen, Part II
Once the choices have been made, the applications process begins. Gear up for a long, exacting procedure! Patrick DeBenedictis, senior admissions counselor at Gordon College in Massachusetts, suggests submitting applications at least a month before the deadline. This "reduces the chance of not being admitted due to a lack of space," he says.
According to DeBenedictis, most colleges follow the same basic hierarchy of admissions criteria:
- GPA will be looked at in reference to competitiveness of curriculum and class rank. Also, International Baccalaureate, Advanced Placement and honors courses always look good in addition to core curriculum. High-level course work and a good GPA are good indicators of competitive students.
- Strong SAT/ACT scores are very important, but they're not likely to override poor classroom performance.
- Extra-curricular activities are a strong point. These activities may be deciding factors in borderline situations and scholarship programs.
When completing the actual application, the critical essay is often an anxiety-builder for college applicants. "One thing we tell our students is that the college essay is a chance to help the admissions committee to put a face to the facts of their applications," says Amy Rosenstein, director of admissions programs at Kaplan Inc. "The key … is that all pieces of the application should reflect the same message … something that demonstrates to the admissions committee that [the students] are a perfect fit for that particular school."
Financing college is a big challenge for many American families. If one does not know where to begin, available financial aid and scholarships may seem few and far between. Judie, mom of a 17-year-old daughter, says the financial aid process was stressful. According to Judie, her daughter's high school did not do enough to inform the students of available financial aid. "It was left up to the students to search for things that they could/should apply for," she says. "It is too overwhelming to expect [the students] to be responsible for such an enormous task." Learning from her own mistakes, Judie would advise parents to begin looking early, search the Web and go to their child's school for assistance in finding financial aid.
"The admissions office and financial aid office at each college should provide you with everything available from the college itself," DeBenedictis says. He advises making sure "you know which forms are required and when they need to be completed. Most colleges expect you to be working on these before the student is even accepted." In addition to the college resources, DeBenedictis suggests checking your guidance office and local library for software that can identify available outside scholarships. Also, check with your employer, local newspapers and places where the student may have worked. You may be surprised at where possible scholarships and financial aid are hiding.
While in the midst of the application process, many students and their parents put the emotional side of going to college on the back burner. Once the applications are in, suddenly they have time to think about what it all means. New and exciting adult responsibilities will be taken on, as will frightening and challenging ones. "Even my daughter -- when talking of graduation night -- said she felt she was still just a carefree high school kid as she walked across the stage," Judie says. "Then it was all over as they handed her diploma to her."
Rosenstein suggests planning a family vacation before your child goes off to college. This may be comforting for someone who is a little scared to enter a strange, new environment. Also, she says, give your teen some time and space to hang out with friends and say goodbye to those she won't be seeing for a while. Make plans for your teen's first trip back home. This will give him something to look forward to and might relieve some of the separation anxiety.
"We still struggle with the issues of best friends going away out of state, college financial arrangements and such, but we will survive that all," Judie says. "I am sure college will hand out its own unique challenges, but maybe by then she'll be … prepared to handle it on her own, but I'll be here just in case."