Sure, Your Clients Can Pay for College, But Can Their HS Junior Even Get In? Hot

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Juniors Are Rising


It’s the end of February, which means your clients’ high school juniors are gearing up for their college search and section process.


As your client families begin to consider where they will spend the college fund dollars you helped them to save, we thought we’d pass along to you some tips about college application preparedness to share with them.


Class Selection


If a student has not completed the proper private or public high school curriculum for entrance to a desired degree program and/or university by the time they graduate from high school, they may as well not even consider applying to top colleges.


For instance, if your clients’ student wants to enter one of the top engineering programs in the U.S. – such as Georgia Tech, Purdue, MIT, etc. -- math through trigonometry and pre-calculus should be apparent somewhere on their transcript.


Admissions counselors base admissions decisions on coursework completed through junior year. In addition, they want to see a listing of courses that the student will be taking in senior year. 


Your client’s should be very careful to understand the minimum high school coursework that is required for their child to apply. It doesn’t matter how good the student is academically or if he or she has the right board scores. If they don’t have the classes, they are out.  So encourage your clients to check their child’s potential college and degree-program requirements and then adjust their schedule to be on track.




Students who are interested in Meteorology often don’t understand that to complete a Meteorology degree, they must be able to ace Calculus V in college.


This means that the student must show a strong aptitude for mathematics and make sure to include in their schedule the highest level math courses available at the high school, such as AP Calculus.


You are lucky if you’ve never stood in a college hallway with a weak math student who is sobbing because they had a lifelong dream of being a meteorologist and no one ever told them they were going to have to excel in math to be a weather expert.  It’s heartbreaking. But it’s avoidable if the student is advised expertly (and there are lots of meteorology-related pathways that do not require higher levels of math).


Test Preparation


Whether your client’s child is taking the SAT, the ACT, or both, the student should have been preparing for some time. If they have not had strong test prep in their high school or academy, they need to get it now.


In fact, many high school juniors are already lined up to take their first SAT come March, May and June 2014. The best thing they can do at this time is to get ready. Getting ready can take many forms, from picking up a guide that walks them though the exam and gives them test-taking strategies, to taking the College Board online SAT example tests, to completing a formal SAT/ACT preparation course.


Minimally, the published guides are a great resource to help students become familiar and comfortable with the test format and tips on how to do their very best.


If you get the feeling your client’s child will need more intensive help to ace the test (many students who are talented are not great test takers), then coursework and tutors and learning anxiety-coping strategies can also prove to be effective for some students.


Summer Experience


For a good number of students, the summer between junior year and senior year is their last opportunity to gain real-life experience that is relevant to their career interests.


It also provides excellent material for college essays and personal statements where students are asked to explain “Why XXXXXXX major?” and “Why XXXXXXX college?” Students can gain this experience through a job, an internship (paid or unpaid), or minimally they can interview people in their chosen field.




We worked with a student this year who is seeking admission to an accelerated medical school program. He was going to need something special on his application to make him stand out from all the other outstanding applicants with perfect grades and test scores. So we guided him toward participating in medical research. 


He contacted a professor at his state university and asked to work with him in his lab during the summer before senior year.  The professor allowed him to do so, and then wrote a stellar letter of recommendation for the student’s college applications. 


In addition, the professor included the student as an author on the research paper.  As a result of this extra effort and experience, our client has received full rides at several elite universities.


Vacation with a Purpose


Are your clients talking about taking a vacation this summer, perhaps even overseas? Encourage them to visit colleges while they are traveling.


What should you advise them about visiting?

  •  Tell them to make sure to pick up copies of the student newspaper to find out what’s really going on at the school.
  • They should ask questions of the locals to learn what the climate will be like when it’s not summer.  
  • Encourage them to seek out the professors in their child’s area of interest, as faculty schedules in the summer are often less frantic than during the academic year. 
  • This is also a great time to make a positive, lasting connection with an admissions counselor, as summer is a slower time for admissions staff and they have more time to spend with families.
  • While visits are important, many students fall in love with the campus of a college at which they have no hope of being accepted because the right advising has not taken place throughout the high school years. So it’s important that you encourage your clients to help their student maintain perspective. 


An absolutely wonderful student we only started working with at the end of the summer just before his senior year visited Vanderbilt and fell in love with it. He wore the sweatshirts. He told everyone he was applying there. It was his number one choice.


But he wasn’t accepted, because they had come to us too late to let us really affect his admissions outcomes. Frankly, to an admissions insider who understood his real and meaningful goals, it wasn’t the right fit for him anyway. By anyone’s standards, this is an amazing young man who is going to do great things. However, it’s hard to tell that to a kid who set his heart on a goal that he never would have set for himself if he had not visited. Oh well, Vanderbilt’s loss will be someone else’s gain. 


So while it’s important for your clients and their children to visit colleges, it’s also important to make sure that the stage is set appropriately so that inappropriate -- and perhaps crushed -- expectations are not created.


Get Ahead of the Game


Students should begin to familiarize themselves with the degree program curricula for their major and the application requirements for each of the colleges to which they intend to apply.

The two most intensive parts of a college application are the college essay(s) and the letters of recommendation.


Regarding the latter, many students will be asking teachers and others to write their letters. The request for letters of recommendation should be made as soon after the start of school in the fall as possible. This ensures that the student’s request will not be turned away by those teachers who are “favorites” in the school. We will talk about strategies later on to ensure the best letter is written on behalf of the student.


Regarding the essay, many teachers and families still do not understand that there is not a one-size-fits-all essay.  Many colleges now require essays of various lengths and topics in addition to the essay prompts on the Common Application (Common App). 


The development of the college essay should start slowly and build up to the finished product. Too many students leave the essays until the end and those never end well.


Please note that the Common App essay questions for 2014-2015 are the same as those from last year’s cycle, so they are available to start thinking about now (although changes to the individual college supplemental essays and personal statements may not be available until late summer or early fall).  We always suggest that students create a list of bullet points for each question by simply listing thoughts that can be expanded as they develop their essay over the summer and into the fall.


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