In Orange County, California, we were rocked by the suicide of a middle school and high school student in the same week. It is horrifying and makes the statistics about the dramatic rise in teen suicide hit very close to home.
Being a teenager can be uncomfortable and at times stressful. The pressure to fit in, please parents, and stay true to oneself can create conflicts and turmoil when coping mechanisms are not fully developed.
Preparing for the college admissions process shouldn’t add to the angst. Applying to college should be an exciting chapter for high school students. It represents infinite possibilities for classes tailored to a student’s academic interests, diverse perspectives, opportunities to study abroad, internships, and lifelong friends.
Yes, studying for entrance exams can be tedious at times, and it takes a lot of hard work and dedication to earn good grades in high school, but our students must know that there is a college waiting for them and all they must do is their best to get there.
Many students come to me and ask what ACT score or GPA they need to get into college. My answer is the same regardless: simply your best. We can find schools that fit any profile because they are out there and the path to becoming a healthy, happy, and financially independent adult does not run through any one school.
It is a fool’s errand for any family to compare their child’s test scores or GPA relative to any other student’s. After all, many of the most selective colleges reject 90% of valedictorians and students with perfect SAT or ACT test scores. Said differently, colleges are looking for more than a GPA or test result.
It is up to us to empower students to follow their passions and create their own paths in this process. This is what admissions officers look for in their applicants, and just as importantly, it removes the artificial pressures of the high school rat race by liberating students to pursue what matters to them. It creates a win-win, as this approach enables students to stand out and earn admission to a college that is a great fit for them.
We must inspire our kids to view the challenges of high school as preparation for their own unique futures and to develop the confidence that they can tackle any challenge or obstacle they face. Their resilience will define their success far more than any transcript or degree hanging on a wall ever will.
Clicking ‘submit’ for the final application brings many seniors and their parents a great sense of accomplishment and relief that the hard part of the process is over. Many parents do not anticipate the emotional roller coaster that accompanies the waiting game for admissions decisions. The fact that colleges makes admissions decisions on different timelines can result in increased stress for those waiting to hear back from their colleges after their classmates have already been notified.
Here are several tips for staying strong and focused on what matters most through this process:
1. Tune Out Other Acceptances
High school seniors treat acceptances like a form of social currency and create pecking orders based on where they are admitted. Every applicant has a unique story to tell. News of another student that has been admitted to your dream college does not necessarily mean there isn’t a spot for you there as well. Colleges admit students to create a well-rounded class. There is room for multiple students at any college—even the most selective—from any high school.
2. Stay Positive
The college admissions process is a great introduction to the life lesson that regardless of how hard we try, there are certain things outside of our control. There is no point in worrying what will happen with specific schools because there is a degree of arbitrariness in the process. People read the essays and applications files and some may be received better than others at no fault of your own. Focus on the fact that you gave the application process your all and showed admissions committees what inspires you or makes you unique.
3. Be Realistic
If your dream school only accepts five or ten percent of its applicants, accept that this means just a handful of the well qualified applicants will actually get in. You could do everything right, and it may still not be enough to earn admission. There are just so many more applicants than spots available at many selective colleges. Recognize this as early as possible.
4. Focus on Long-Term Goals
To become a doctor or embark on any other competitive career does not require a degree from Stanford, Harvard, or any other college that accepts 5% of its applicants. Remember to dedicate yourself to long-term goals and recognize that there are countless colleges that can provide the foundation for you to achieve long-term success.
Seniors, I wish you the best of luck in the next few months as you hear back from the schools you applied to. But more important than luck with the admissions process, I wish you long-term success beyond college.
Frank Bruni, of the New York Times, recently profiled a student who turned down offers of admission from Harvard, Princeton, Yale and other hyper selective colleges to enroll in the honors college at his home state public school, the University of Alabama. The student’s decision to bypass opportunities to study at some of the most prestigious universities in the country for a program closer to home with generous financial aid, that offer small classes filled with other high achieving students highlights a growing trend for students seeking a college within a college experience through honors programs.
Through an honors college program, your child may be able to create a college experience similar to a private school within the confines of a large public university. This includes research opportunities with faculty, small classes, and career and internship guidance.
As the cost of tuition skyrockets and it becomes more challenging to earn admission to many well known universities, consider honors college programs at public universities. They may offer the type of college experience your child seeks at a fraction of the price than you were expecting. College is a growth opportunity. Keep an open mind for amazing opportunities.
As the acceptance rates at top public and private universities across the United States plummet, many parents ask, “Is there anywhere my child would be a preferred applicant?” Sadly, the answer is probably no, unless your uncle has a dorm named after him at an Ivy League school, or your child is the next Serena Williams of tennis.
However, many of the most highly regarded colleges in the United Kingdom actively seek American students to add diverse perspectives to their classes, with some of the most prestigious schools boasting acceptance rates three times as high as their American peer schools.
To facilitate the process of Americans applying to UK colleges, some of these schools are making the process easier by accepting the Common Application (the application form used by many American colleges) and considering students’ SAT and ACT scores as part of the application. Said differently, applying to a school like St. Andrews or University of Edinburgh aligns with what many high school seniors will do when applying to public and private universities closer to home.
Students considering the UK for college have similar choices for campuses, majors, and settings as they do in the US. Depending on what a student seeks in a British college, they will find colleges offering gothic and historic architecture, close-knit campuses, city locations and internationally recognized STEM and business programs.
As tuition costs skyrocket across the United States, it’s worth noting that tuition at many of these UK schools actually work out as less expensive than the in-state tuition for public universities. For international students from the US, the tuition at St. Andrews — arguably one of the most famous and prestigious colleges in the UK — costs less than the in-state tuition for some flagship state schools.
What does going to a UK school mean for job prospects for American students? While it may be more difficult to obtain a visa to work in the UK after college, a UK college student originally from Los Angeles recently told me of a job fair for Bank of America held in London. American multinationals routinely recruit grads from top UK colleges.
The dramatic rise in competition and cost for attending colleges across the United States requires creativity. For some, attending college across the pond may provide a world-class education at a lower cost than available to them at home. As globalization continues to drive economic growth, many students will find an international college experience invaluable for their careers and personal growth, which is what college is truly about.
I found spending a semester of college in Argentina to be one of the most defining experiences in my life. Getting out of my comfort zone and developing fluency in Spanish opened up incredible opportunities for me. I never would have landed a job on Wall Street after college but for studying abroad in Argentina. Drawing on both my own personal experience and a strategic approach to the application process and beyond, I am excited to support students who seek similar international experiences for their education.
Succeeding in the college admissions process is as much about standing out from a sea of other highly qualified applicants as it is about developing the foundation for long-term success. As we begin 2018 and students return from winter break, set healthy college admissions resolutions that will not only improve your child’s odds of admission, but empower them up to achieve their goals in college and beyond.
Here are four resolutions I suggest every high school student adopt and stick to in 2018 to turn their college admissions goals into a reality.
1. Make a Plan
Given the fierce competition to earn a spot at selective colleges, it is critical to create a plan to stand out. Students who sign up for every AP class offered learn the hard way that they have little time to do things to stand out beyond their transcript. Approach every class, activity, and test strategically to ensure that your child can dedicate time to the things that matter the most to her and will deliver the highest return to her applications.
2. Develop Passions and Skills
Admissions officers have many talented applicants to choose from when admitting applicants. Admissions officers are not looking for well-rounded students. Rather, they are seeking passionate specialists, which together, create a well-rounded class. To stand out and earn a spot at your child’s dream college, focus on the areas that matter the most to your child, and look for opportunities to excel in them. Earn recognition wherever possible, and think of creative ways to demonstrate an ability to make a difference in whatever your child naturally enjoys doing.
3. Gain foreign language skills
If you are worried about good jobs being shipped overseas, your child should become fluent in a foreign language so she can be part of an international team. Admissions officers and employers are impressed by applicants who demonstrate an interest in foreign cultures and who have made an effort to connect with people out of their comfort zones. Foreign language fluency can lead to higher pay and more robust career opportunities that do not exist for people who do not speak a second language.
4. Focus on yourself, not classmates
A collective group panic sets in somewhere in eleventh grade as students become nervous about their odds of admission. To reduce stress levels, to the extent possible, try to ignore other students’ or parents’ stress and focus on your own individual plan for earning admission. Colleges do not look for multiple copies of the same applicant. They will build a dynamic class comprised of students with different interests and skills. Avoid the temptation to do what everyone else is doing; following the crowd is likely to be counterproductive and lead your child to blend in with other applicants.
By staying true to yourself and creating a plan to develop skills and passions that admissions officers covet, your child will position herself for success, both for college and beyond. Best of luck in this process in 2018!