HOW TO: Manage the college Application Process PARENTS EDITION

There is a swirling vortex of crazy that surrounds the process, try hard not get swept up into it, because in the end, it will spit you out battered and exhausted. Things are not as you remember. If a college education is something you anticipate for your child these are some points to keep in mind, learned the very hard way.
  1. 1.
    Where your child is admitted or not admitted into college is not a referendum on your parenting, or the qualitative merits of your child - Really, this is not an evaluation metic for you, it is not about you at all.
    Repeat the words often in your head like a mantra, as there is an entire industry devoted to convincing you otherwise. Think about your social circle; are they braggy, competitive strivers who define success by brand, or perceived prestige? Find new friends, and remember what they imagine as a great school might not work well for your kid. THIS IS ABOUT THEIR COLLEGE EDUCATION!!!!
  2. 2.
    Life is not fair. Your child should know this already, even if they have never really experienced the full force and meaning of those words first hand.
    A good student will get rejected from a school where, on paper they're a perfect fit only to see a lousy student get admitted. There'll be no explanation offered as to why that is - it just is. This is the first time that you won't be able to intervene or effect the outcome of securing what it is that your child wants and that is ok. Don’t stalk an admissions office - if you have not written 6 digit checks to that school no one wants to hear from you, really. Fair is not part of the equation
  3. 3.
    If you can write checks with 7 or more digits, it can get you pretty damn far. This list is not for you, because life is unfair and you don't need my help.
    Recent revelations in the news, demonstrates that a spot at an Ivy League school begins at $2.5 million and does not actually guarantee anything. NYU are whores and will gladly take your money and won’t even insist that your student attend classes. So if you have that kind of cash to throw around well, give it a try..
  4. 4.
    Find appropriate criteria for selecting a school, letting your student define the priorities. Location, distance relative to home, school size, cost, opportunities afforded by the school that are academic, social and athletic are appropriate. Using a 'top party school' list as the guideline may not be something you are willing to bankroll
    Chat with your student to figure out what they're thinking. A kid who survived a huge high school in misery may gravitate to a much smaller academic setting for college, whereas some kids panic at the notion of either an intensely rural or urban setting. If your student played a sport, or instrument and wants to continue at the college level that may also influence and limit your search. List your criteria and determine what aspects are deal breakers for your student, and for your family.
  5. 5.
    The College Board http://www.collegeboard.org/ has a good website that helps to filter and sort schools out in a very efficient way for a preliminary survey.
    It takes a lot of information into account besides price, location, amenities, social considerations (I.e. Greek life, social or political activism, religious presence) Best of all, it presents you a place that identifies the odds of getting in to a particular school - take note of those figures.
  6. 6.
    Applying to more than 5 schools is absurd - consider the odds. If you have figured out what qualities are important to all interested parties, then sending in more applications doesn’t improve their odds of getting into one. Look at the odds of admission as a duel equation, a 7% accept rate also means a 93% reject rate.
    Each application is expensive in terms of money and time invested in submitting it. Being admitted to all the schools that were applied to, is great but you can only attend one in the end. Pick schools that the student would like to attend so that if it is the only school they get into it is not ‘the end of the world’. Rejection sucks. Don't ’t insist that they apply to schools just to see if they can get in to soothe your insecurities (see step 1).
  7. 7.
    The other issue of considering the odds pertains to the Early Decision / Early Action conundrum.
    There is a slightly better accept rate if an application is submitted early, doing so may commit your student to attend that school and binds them to not apply anywhere else. If accepted, your student promises to enroll without knowing what financial assistance they might be eligible for - It is a gamble and doing so pushes up the timetable by many months, as in early Fall.
  8. 8.
    Find a safety, seriously - as a parent insist on it. Your student is 17 they have no comprehension of the odds. Find a school where they have a reliable certainty of getting in.
    For me, those are odds of a 50% accept rate or better - The hope is that the school meets the criteria that you have now established - there are a lot of schools out there so make the effort to find one that fits the bill. At some point when everyone is overtired and overwhelmed by the demands of senior year and the student plaintively whines "What if I don’t get into anywhere?" you can respond by saying with sincere conviction “I feel pretty sure you will get into x and that will be great”.
  9. 9.
    Applying to a reach school is like buying a lottery ticket. The idea of a ‘reach school’ is perpetuated by the college industrial complex, promoted by shiny brochures, relentless e-mail, and marketing departments that rival anything soft drink companies employ.
    If your student is a perfect applicant with achievements, awards, wondrous qualities and talents, as well as a stellar academic record, it does not insure that they are getting into a very elite school. In fact, that elite school becomes more ‘selective’ by rejecting your student but they are pimping themselves out, soliciting as many applications as possible to inflate their reject pile. Rejection doesn't feel great. Schools suggest that it is not personal - it just feels that way.
  10. 10.
    The school’s website gives you a good insight to the school itself - This is the school presenting what it finds important to the world, it gives you a first impression of the school and a feel for the place. Have your student spend some time on the website of schools they are interested in.
    Is it easy or intuitive for you to navigate? Do you find the information and the material posted online interesting or useful? If the web site annoys you, because it is hard to find the information you need, like say, a comprehensive breakdown of the cost of enrollment, I guarantee that you will hate the payment plans or administrative chores that pertain to your student’s attendance at that august institution.
  11. 11.
    Visit anyway - There are many adults who are quick to point out that they never went on a college sight seeing tour and they turned out just fine. True. There are numerous resources to provide you with the information you need to make a good, well informed choice it is not necessary.There are may compelling reasons to make a trip.
    Good on paper my not provide an accurate representation of the place. In the same way that a 17 year old can't understand what the odds mean, they may have a vague notion of what big, small, rural, or urban campus means but standing there it sinks in & takes root. Similarly, that kid who can’t wait to get out of the house & far away from that monster that is you really comes to appreciate what a 6 hour drive each way is going to mean when they're re in the car for 4 hours and aren't there yet.
  12. 12.
    Visiting/touring school is time you get to spend with your soon to be adult, focused on an activity that may shape their future.
    Try to listen more than you talk, ask open ended questions to get their read on a place, not impose your view on them. I'm a hisser & can’t seem to keep my opinions or questions to myself while touring the campus, so I don’t and let my kids form their own impressions about what they see, and hope that they can imagine themselves on campus without their vexing mother at their shoulder. Enjoy this time with your student, the cliche holds true: the journey is more valuable than the destination.
  13. 13.
    While your student is touring you, as the parent and underwriter of this endeavor should ask some hard practical questions about money stuff and the quality of their career counseling and job placement programs.
    Ask about the school’s endowment, the number of students receiving financial aid,what is the debt load those students are allowed to carry.Even schools that claim to cover full tuition still have kids carrying debt because they push the burden to the family, which may not be able to subsist on ramen and dust for 4 years. How many graduates find employment in their field, how long after they walk in cap and gown? This inquiry allows you to assign value to the merits of an expensive education.
  14. 14.
    Get started as early as possible which is not to say begin to get hysterical their freshman year.
    Grades do matter, quality and rigor of classes are also important but if you student hates math with a white hot passion, forcing them into an accelerated program to suffer through tears for the sake of a college application is a disservice to everyone. Don’t insist they live their lives to impress an admissions officer but be ready to have them explain the choices they made and do the very best that they can.
  15. 15.
    Find a shirpa guide, usually another parent or a teacher you respect who knows the administrative quirks of the school - and have them help you navigate them.
    Have there been issues with getting transcripts out in years past? Is your student’s guidance counselor a renowned slacker a little slow in managing the flow of recommendations? Put it on your radar as something to be cognizant of.That shirpa may know of great classes, teachers and resources in the school, as well as the personnel who can help you resolve issues that come up during the course of your student’s education. Make sure their knowledge and information is current.
  16. 16.
    If your student is enrolled in AP classes during their Sophomore or Junior years sign them up for the SAT II subject exams after they sit for the AP-
    APs are administered in May they can take the SAT II in May or June, your have to pay for it and register with College Board. By preparing for they AP they are also getting ready for the SAT subject tests. The more competitive colleges will require subject test scores as well as a standard SAT or ACT exam. Having to take them senior year long after taking the class is yet another thing to deal with so get them out of the way sooner, have them in the bank if you need them
  17. 17.
    Have your student take the SAT in February or March of the their junior year. If they do well enough on it they never have to tackle that beast again. If they do less well then there is time, they can take it again in June (sign up early for those dates they go fast) or in the Fall
    Remember it's a single test & doesn't define your child’s self worth. Some kids are great testers & others who are generally good students find the experience torturous. There are a lot of schools out there that no longer require a standardized test score in their application. Try not to stress your kid about their score because once admitted to college, nobody gives a shit about what it was (except for people you despise who share this information to support their assertions of excellence).
  18. 18.
    Try and have your schools visited and narrowed down by the end of Junior year - at a minimum define what it is that you are looking for by then
    Having a rough idea at which schools you are looking at also begins to define a list of requirements from test scores, to the number and length of the essays, the filing deadlines, and the cost of applying. Good information to form a timeline and manage expectations.
  19. 19.
    The Common Application has a primary essay, and each school asks for supplementary essays of various lengths - start early, as in June of the Junior year
    It can’t be emphasized enough, writing essays can’t be a half assed undertaking. If you don’t have a constructive writing dynamic with your student then out source the editing/proof reading responsibilities to someone else, a teacher, another parent, a paid professional. Have them save their work in word files and cut and paste into common app when submitting DO NOT COMPOSE AND SAVE ON COMMON APP it is an unstable medium prone to crashing.
  20. 20.
    Schools that don't take the Common App will be an absolute pain in the ass, and will be arduous in many other time consuming ways.
    Think service academies, MIT, those places want congressional nominations or have special sections for your patent applications. Art and music programs require audition materials and/or portfolios finicky to produce, with exacting requirements.
  21. 21.
    Make sure your computer is in perfect working order, your internet connection is efficient, and you have a good system for recording passwords.
    The application process is mostly paperless; colleges have your student access portals, communicate exclusively online, and testing sites will require a username and password also. Keep track of them all, as well as payments made, millions of kids apply to college networks crash, things do get lost, have records.
  22. 22.
    Acknowledge that this is a difficult process that requires a considerable amount of self reflection and negotiating tedious details; some kids are suited to it and others find it exquisitely painful. As you read this are you certain you absolutely know what you want to be when you grow up?
    It is time consuming and stressful. Try to keep as much of this a private as possible discourage posting your student’s process on Facebook on their page as well as yours - it simply compounds the swirling vortex of crazy. Try to be patient, don’t make big plans for the winter holidays as some procrastination will creep in and there will be some last minute scurrying to get things done by the January deadlines. Visiting grandma won't make it easier.
  23. 23.
    Then there comes the waiting, which is nerve wracking. There will be a high level of cranky going around, think of it as Mother Nature’s way of helping you feel better about bouncing your chick out of the nest.
    It is the worst part of the process, without a doubt. Your student is being judged and evaluated in the darkest greyest days of winter, some of their friends have already been accepted and are blithely running around secure in their future plans somewhat insensitive to your kid’s anxiety or fear (know those friends are monsters - it’s o.k. to wish a vicious case of food poisoning on them).
  24. 24.
    If you are applying for financial aid, get your taxes done as early as humanly possible because you've got to fill out the FAFSA forms, the federal forms that will calculate what you can 'afford'. You can actually file FAFSA starting in October if you expect your financials to be the same and amend when you file your taxes.
    Every school starts with FAFSA which is as fun as filing your taxes. Some require forms processed through College Board which is as invasive as a visit to the OBGYN. Don't think about sending all your financials out to the world to schools that will reject your student or where they won't attend.Filing for money is first come fist served don't slack,get on top of it. When the money is gone well that's it.
  25. 25.
    Hope for a definitive yes or no, getting waitlisted is not an accept (even at Harvard, but they do send an excellent letter on gorgeous paper that can be used as a template for future break ups - it’s us not you, it’s us...) Getting waitlisted means your student may need to repeat some of the steps in applying
    Schools often ask for more information, the most recent achievements, transcripts another essay, more letters of recommendation …begin by considering the odds, how many slots are there really, where is your student placed on the list.. Some schools share that information, others hold it as a highly guarded state secret (Harvard). How much more effort does your student want to exert to get into that school? Let’s hope they got in somewhere else and drop the waitlist from their consideration.
  26. 26.
    As a parent you will be there to pick up the pieces if your student faces rejection and relish their joy when they get in.
    Like pregnancy, this process ends and you are on to a new era of your life and theirs, so if possible celebrate the children that they were, while you come to know the adults they are about to become. Wishing you luck