With two kids in high school, I’ve got college on my brain. So I’m turning over MommaSaid today to Anthony-James Green, a renowned SAT and ACT tutor and founder of TestPrepAuthority.com, to provide the inside scoop on college prep. — Jen Singer
If you want your child to get into a great college, there are thousands of things that you should do. But often, it’s the things you should not do that are vastly more important; otherwise flawless college applications can be destroyed by one big mistake.
I’ve spent more than 10,000 hours gaining hands-on experience with the college process, and I’ve taken very careful note of the things parents must avoid during this period. Following are the seven most common (and harmful) mistakes parents and students make during the college process. Avoid these “seven deadly sins,” and you’ll vastly enhance your chances of college admission:
1. Starting too late. If your child is a freshman, now is the time to start thinking about college. Many leave the process until junior year — but there’s far too much to accomplish in this little time.
College research, essays, visits, test prep, academic enhancement, specialty selection, recommendation planning…the list goes on.
Start researching colleges that your child might like to attend at the start of freshman year – begin with the end in mind. If not, you’ll end up making sub-par choices due to time constraints.
2. Picking the wrong schools. Remember: college isn’t just a name in US News and World Report. It’s a place where your child will spend four years of his or her life, and arguably the single most important factor in his or her adult development.
Pick schools that truly match the strengths, weaknesses, and preferences of your child. MIT might be perfect for one student, and horrendous for another. Take into account location, city vs. suburban setting, class sizes, extracurriculars, academic specialties, culture, etc.
College is what you make of it. If you go to the wrong school, you’ll end up spending four years of your life at a place that doesn’t develop you or your strengths, and doesn’t give you a chance to shine in the future. And the only point of college is to enhance your future opportunities.
3. Failing to craft a specialty. Colleges don’t want well-rounded students. They want well-rounded classes. Long-dead is the concept of a Jack-of-all-trades student who’s “pretty good at everything.” Instead, colleges want a class of experts in one area — extremely focused, and extremely dedicated to one key region of expertise.
If you can’t fill this blank, you’re in trouble:
You should let in my child because he/she is an incredible _________.
Artist? Writer? Athlete? Leader? Philanthropist? Scientist?
Whatever it is, it needs to be backed up by your child’s activities, essays, grades, extracurriculars, recommendations, etc. And the school you pick needs to be a good match for that type of expert.
Cull all your child’s non-related activities, and do everything you can to start focusing on that one specialty now.
4. Failing to prove interest to your schools. Schools don’t just want to let in kids that they like — they want to be sure that the kids that they let in actually attend.
One of the most important statistics to colleges is admittees/attendees. The higher the ratio, the better the school. Almost everyone who gets into Harvard attends – there’s a reason for this.
If you don’t prove your interest to the schools to which you apply, they might reject you just because they don’t think you’ll attend if they let you in.
Go to interviews at the schools to which you apply. Mention the schools specifically in your supplementary essays. And, above all else, make sure you’re a good fit. Again: if you don’t seem like the type of student who would thrive there, they’ll probably reject you.
5. Failing to get an “inside man.” College applications are always a crapshoot. If you don’t have someone working on your behalf from within the college, you’ll end up being just another folder in the application pile.
As you do your research, reach out to teachers, coaches, and influential students and start a conversation. If you can get someone to speak to the admissions committee on your behalf, you have a HUGE leg up in this process.
6. Including fluff (i.e. BS) in your application. Above all else, be incredibly honest in your application. While it’s obvious that you shouldn’t tell outright lies, many students put “half truths” and “fluff” into their essays.
If you haven’t done something wholeheartedly, don’t mention it at all. If you’ve attended a few club meetings, it’s not even worth mentioning the club. If you’ve done one community service trip in your whole life, don’t even bring it up.
Just focus on your strengths, and weed out all the “filler” that reeks of quantity, not quality.
7. Forgetting that college admissions are about COMPARISON, and not ABSOLUTE VALUE (i.e. not focusing on grades and test scores). Colleges don’t let kids in because they’re good – they let them in because they’re better than the other applicants.
Above all else, the two key indicators of being “better” are still, and will always be, grades and test scores.
Do everything in your power to improve your child’s GPA (and keep it high). Freshman year grades matter, and colleges are horrified by declining GPAs.
Furthermore, start the SAT / ACT prep process early. Often, when students’ test scores aren’t high enough, their applications aren’t even opened – they’re tossed out without any kind of serious review.
Do your best to figure out where your child currently stands re: test scores, then get him or her the help she needs to improve as quickly as possible, based on the standards set by the schools to which you’re applying.
There are lots of moving parts to the college application process, but if you avoid the seven mistakes above, you’ll be well ahead of the pack.
View my free, full guide to college applications and test score enhancement here: TestPrepAuthority.com. Thanks for reading, and I wish you all the best with your college journey.
Anthony-James Green is world-renowned SAT and ACT tutor with over 10,000 hours of experience teaching these tests, crafting curriculum, and training other tutors to teach their own students. He is also the founder of TestPrepAuthority.com. CNN recently named Anthony: “The SAT tutor to the 1%”