The year for high school seniors who are working on college applications is moving rapidly to the dates when applications are to be submitted, test scores and transcripts ordered, and scholarships researched. It is never easy, and I am often (really–often– as in many, many times a year) asked how parents can negotiate it all. It is difficult to figure out where to start, what to look for, and how to move forward. But there is help available. I rarely recommend “how to” books, but here is one I particularly like: Get Into College published by Hundreds of Heads Books (“Great Advice from Hundreds of People”) and edited by Rachel Korn and Jennifer Kabat (2009).
Get Into College is a compilation of quotes from students, parents, admissions counselors, educators, experts, people with common sense, and bits of information that can bring some sanity to the process. What I particularly like is that the editors have broken through the recent trends that have sent students scrambling around the country for just the right university, the big name, the specialized curriculum.
Here’s what they say: “there is good news: there are thousands of colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada. Although it feels like a race for the prestigious, “name” schools, those are not always the best places for you. There are marvelous educational opportunities everywhere” (p. 5).
Do you need to apply for “early decision?” (I was asked this not more than two weeks ago.) There is good common sense on p. 36. The answer: for most people, no, and if yes, then only when have narrowed your choice to one school.
There’s good stuff on SAT prep and test-taking. Should you take a practice test? Yes (p. 64). Hire a consultant? No (p.64) although it can help some (p. 77). Drink coffee or an energy drink before the test? Think twice about this one–they don’t allow rest breaks (p. 106-8). If you are not satisfied with your first score, take the test again and study with a test prep book. It may raise your eligibility for financial aid awards that are based on academic scores (that’s my advice–it may be there, but I didn’t see it in the book).
Throughout there is help for parents understanding their students, and students negotiating with their parents (see p. 157). And there is a good dose of reality. Finding a school that has your area of interest is important (p. 391), but most students change their major two, three or four times, and equally important is the general ethos (the social, emotional and spiritual tone) of the school (p. 395). After all, you commit four years to a school. It should be a place you want to live, to be a part of and feel good about.
Throughout there are ‘parents’ pages,’ ‘counselor corners,’ and advice from the experts, most of it very practical. Perhaps some of the most helpful for parents are those pages (chapter 14) where students describe what it is like to be in college now. Its a big transition, but then it settles into the normal routine. Ask any parent when they drop off their second or third child at a university.
Most of us who work in the university world are more than willing to help parents and students find their way through the maze, even if they do not end up at our particular school. Talk to someone who works at a school, ask other parents what worked for them, let students tell you what they are doing and why they choose the school they did. Get Into College lets these ‘hundreds of heads’ offer their experience and advice. It comes from those of us working at it daily.