Tip Hotline for Applying to College

college-admissionsI know some of you have already been through the college admissions process with your children – and from what I hear, it’s an arduous, stressful time for all.  I have a high school sophomore, and Elaine has a junior.  I know junior year is the year of discovery – doing the homework to determine that list of colleges that seem to suit, getting prepared for and taking the SATs, and ACTs.  While my son is a good year away from being in the thick of it, I find myself getting very keyed into any conversations I hear about preparing for college – and I know that we have a great deal to learn from each other – strategies to help us maintain our sanity.

To that end, I’m going to create a category called College Tips.  I know many of you have wisdom to share, and I would love to hear about your insights whether it is through the comments on this blog, or if you would like to be a guest blogger we would welcome it at anytime.

Thus far, following are some tid bits that have been shared with me:

1.  PSATS do matter.  PSATs are typically taken for practice in the fall of sophomore year. In the fall of Junior year, they are taken again, but this time the results are used to identify National Merit Scholars.  With a certain score, students can be eligible for National Merit Scholarships.  If warranted, this makes me think we should invest in a SAT prepatory course prior to PSATs.

2.  Wrap up the SAT spring of Junior year.  Take the last SAT in the spring of Junior year, so it’s behind the student when they have many other stresses upon them Senior fall. One parent told me to sign up my son for SATs every month in the spring – March, April, May, June.  While this may be overkill, most students typically improve every time they take the test, and again, the goal is to be done by the end of Junior year.

3.  Ask teachers and coaches for college recommendations in the spring of Junior year.  The teachers become inundated with requests Senior fall – and it is more likely that a recommendation can be inadvertently overlooked, potentially making an application incomplete – and thereby late.

4.  Spend the summer before Senior year writing one stellar essay. Landing on the right topic and story that differentiates a person takes lots of time and lots of drafts.

5.  Prepare a student resume. My son’s guidance counselor gave him a sample resume and suggested he create his own.  Apparently some colleges do request these resumes, but I also believe it’s a great tool to use early on to help (1) capture activities, honors, etc. that  may be overlooked or forgotten about when it comes down to application crunch time and (2) it helps identify the “holes” that may currently exist so the student can focus on filling in some important gaps.  Community service may be an example of this.

So that’s the start of this category.  As I learn more, I will add to the list.  And I know there’s a lot of wisdom out there to share, so please do!


  • Stacy Says:
    10-26-2009 08:15:37


  • Cathy Says:
    10-26-2009 13:10:06

    I would add another task to the already busy Junior year – college visits. It is impossible to judge a school when the campus is empty during the summer, and if you wait until Senior year it will be difficult to squeeze in visits and know whether you want to apply early (usually in November.) Use school vacations and weekends during Junior year to visit colleges while students are on campus; take a tour, attend an info session, walk around on your own, eat in the dining hall, strike up conversations with the students and get a feel for the school. Then you’ll be ready to revisit any favorites and start your applications at the beginning of Senior year.

  • Amy Schafrann Says:
    10-26-2009 15:58:37

    As a college counselor, here are some tips I recommend to the families I work with in Westport, CT:

    1.Throughout the college admissions process, it is important to develop/show your “personal brand”

    What’s different/special about you
    Your connection with each college
    Teamwork – ability to work well with others

    2.Set up a separate e-mail address for college with just your name, no cute nicknames!
    3. When you visit colleges, set up meetings with professors so your answers to “why this college” can be very specific
    4. Admissions people would rather read about local community service in essays than one week trips that cost $$$$
    5. Consider founding a club or creating a program, independent science research, launching a blog, consider other unique opportunities
    6. Register early for SATS and/or ACTS so you can take at your school or one near you. Consider private tutoring or use an excellent group tutoring service. Some colleges use an SAT/ACT cut-off before even looking at applications.
    7. Internships can be valuable available if you know where to look
    8. Most colleges make decisions based on: (In rank order)

    1. Difficulty of courses and grades in those courses
    2. Overall GPA
    3. Standardized tests
    Importantly, #4 serves as tie-breaker for admissions:
    4. Interviews, outside activities, work experiences, summers, essays, recommendations (guidance and teachers)

    9.Students need to sell themselves in each part of the college process. Always try to do an interview on campus if the college offers one – do a practice interview at a local college first if possible and always do a mock interview
    10. Consider early decision carefully –major advantage for some colleges and some colleges fill one third of their class that way

  • Anne Says:
    10-27-2009 08:22:15

    Thanks to Stacy, Cathy and Amy for sharing a lot of great wisdom around the college search process. I will probably highlight your comments in a future post.

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