Applying to college is a family affair, a process that can easily consume several years and dozens of dinner-table discussions. Parents’ wise support throughout high school can potentially improve students’ admissions results and minimize stress.
Helping students establish appropriate academic coursework and activities, assisting with researching schools early – and equally important – setting the proper emotional tone for this process, can reduce anxiety and pressure and enable college options. There are also limits to and ways to abuse parental power and influence that disable kids’ chances of admission to great schools. With every major element of the application process, there is a delicate balance between assistance and over-assistance. How can you establish positive patterns of behavior to optimize your kids’ admission opportunities?
First, Know Your Child
A true, honest understanding of your child’s personality, academic abilities and talents is the most important part of the admissions process for your household. It builds appropriate expectations. Dreams and aspirations can sabotage success if they are unrealistic. Overinvolved parents pushing their kids to perform above their abilities can set the students up for failure with misdirected academic and activity preparation, unattainable goals, and unnecessary pressure. Although high anxiety is inevitable for everyone, the right family relationship with college admissions can better outcomes. Students nurtured to maximize their unique selves develop self-confidence and a positive self-image and consequently perform higher.
Establish the parent relationship in early high school: Should you be a supervisor, partner, dictator, or absentee? You may need to let your go-getter kid take initiative. You know your child best to know which one to choose, but also enlist other advisors, such as teachers and college guidance counselors. Let them share in helping you and your child. It takes a village. And it can keep parent expectations in check.
Select Academics – the Core of the Application
High school coursework dominates the college application. And the more elite the college, the less forgiving it can be about academic missteps: poor grades and/or poor course choices. Parents must help students to take the right curriculum each year.
Admission to a top college demands that students take the most rigorous curriculum available at their high schools – and earn A’s in those honors, AP or IB courses. I am frequently asked, “Is it better to get a B in an honors class or an A in a non-honors class?” I try to smile kindly and say, “It’s best to get the A in the honors class.” There’s just no way around it.
Realistically, though, this is a tiny percentage of students. Most are more talented in math and science and less so in the humanities, or vice versa. If a child would still earn a poor grade in an honors class, even with tutoring, it is wiser to take the non-honors course. Forcing students into classes beyond their capabilities only yields a weak transcript and frustration. This is a lose-lose for everyone. There are many great schools that accept students with strong grades in a mix of honors and non-honors courses.
Try to guide your kids to take the most challenging curriculum that also matches their needs and skills. That will produce the best GPA/course difficulty balance and raise chances of admission to a great college.
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