Here’s Your Mantra to Tackle the College Admissions Process: A.C.E. I.T.

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post on September 18th, 2016.

The college application process can bring out the worst in families, with its high stakes, countless unknowns, and a mountain of work to surmount. Kids procrastinate. Parents nag. Kids procrastinate some more. Parents nag some more – that is until conversations become screaming matches and nothing gets done.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

As someone who can bring both wisdom and unconditional love to the table, you can help your child by developing a game plan. By breaking the process down into small, realistic steps, your child will get his work done, and done well.

While it is always better to start early, all is not lost, even in the fall. To figure out how to guide your child while keeping your relationship intact, just remember this acronym: A.C.E. I.T. – Applications, College Choices, Essays, Interest, and Tests. These five pieces will allow you to get perspective, get organized, and get through application season.

Applications – These online forms come in all shapes and sizes, and despite their names, not every school uses the Common or Universal Applications. To figure out what you need to do, create a Common Application account and work through the different sections. The information you gather can serve as a proxy for all of the other applications your child has to complete.

And don’t forget the résumé. These documents are becoming an increasingly integral part of the process, allowing students to showcase their accomplishments and talents in ways that many applications don’t. If you don’t have a résumé for your child to imitate, Google templates and pick a non-flashy one that fits his background. This will eliminate the stress of having to format!

College Choices – With over 4,000 colleges out there, how can your child possibly decide where to apply? Rather than freeze up or rely on the rankings, figure out what your child wants in a college experience. Then use those preferences along with his GPA and test scores to identify options using online databases and search engines like the College Board’s Big Future or Peterson’s. Once your child has researched and whittled down his choices, generate a list of no more than 10 schools more or less evenly divided among Likely, Target, and Reach School options. That way you’ll ensure that he will not only be happy with his options, but that he’ll be going somewhere next year.

Essays – Let’s face it. The essays are absolutely the most demanding part of this process – not only because there are so many of them to write, but because students have to dig deeply into their values, thoughts and feelings in order to share personal stories with complete strangers, who will judge their suitability for admission based on what they say. That would scare any reasonable adult!

So, here’s how you can help:

First, collect all the essay prompts from your child’s applications in a single document and look for overlapping themes. If you have trouble doing this, College Essay Organizer will do it for you!

Second, pace your child based on the number of new essays that he has to write. If only 6 weeks remain between now and his application deadlines, divide the number of essays by 4 or 5 to allow your child to have at least one week of time for revision.

Third, don’t write your child’s essays for him. Let your child speak! Colleges want to hear about his 3 P’s – philomathy, perseverance and passion – in his own words. And trust me, colleges can and will deny students if they suspect the essays are not their own.

Interest – This has become an increasingly important part of the process, and can be very time consuming, when done properly. Colleges care if students reach out and show interest in them. It’s a lot like dating – you can’t just pop the question, “Will you admit me?” Your child has to court the schools – call the admissions office with questions, attend a local information session, interview, visit campus, follow them on Twitter, and like them on Facebook. Then, if the schools see that your child is serious, then and only then, will they potentially say, “Yes.”

Tests – The SAT and the ACT. Subject Tests, IB exams, and AP scores. And not to mention the TOEFL or IETLS for non-native English speaking foreign students. No part of the admissions process provokes as much fear and loathing as testing. It’s expensive, it’s variable, and it’s often independent of what your child is learning in school. And now he has even more studying to do on top of everything else. My one piece of advice here is: Prepare. Prepare. Prepare.

If, however, your child is a terrible tester, all is not lost. An increasing number of colleges are becoming “Score Optional,” meaning students don’t have to submit SAT or ACT scores. Seriously. So, if this sounds like your child, check out the FairTest website for a list of amazing test-free (or test-flexible) options!

Now that you understand the key components of A.C.E. I.T., there’s one last thing you need to remember: this is a mantra of positivity. The worst thing you can do is throw your hands in the air in frustration. So whenever you’re feeling upset or overwhelmed, return to your game plan, and you and your child will get through this process.

Posted on September 20, 2016 at 12:57 pm

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