It starts with just one Google search.
One instant when you type in “college application process”, then BOOM!
You have 628,000,000 hits in less than a second.
Where do you start?
What do you do?
There’s too much to read and advice from different websites conflicts.
Not to mention, you don’t exactly know how ALL this advice can be tailored to your teen.
In a process this long, you’re inadvertently going to make mistakes. Not just in the process, itself, but even in handling the crazy coming your way.
Basically, because some of the thoughts and actions are what you’re surrounded by.
EVERYONE Googles for information, so why not?
EVERYONE’S kids are taking BOTH the SAT and ACT, so why not?
So, what are some of the most common ways that you accidentally complicate?
METHOD #1: ASKING EVERYONE FOR ADVICE.
This is so common that most everyone does it.
It’s very tempting to ask well-meaning friends and family for advice about what they did when they went through the process, but all that’s really going to do is stress you out.
It’s natural to want to know what’ll happen if your college-bound teen (CBT) has a low GPA or SAT score – will he still get into his first-choice school?
What exactly DOES the college-application process consist of?
Exactly how important is the GPA compared to extracurriculars and SATs?
And so on and so forth.
Here’s the problem with that: Everyone has different experiences. Their teen is not your teen so we’re talking different GPAs, test scores, college choices, sports, community service and life goals.
You’re going to get answers, but exactly how accurate those answers are going to be and how they’ll apply to you is debatable.
That, on top of the information that college advisors and test prep companies provide, and you have information overload.
You basically have all this information thrown at you with no filter and no clear way to organize it.
Does that sound familiar?
So, what does it cost you?
Easy: Your peace of mind (basically, a part of your sanity).
If it’s the first time you’re going through the process, you have little to no idea where to begin, so you try to get your hands on all the information you can.
Overtime, that information just starts to stress you out:
“Wait, colleges recalculate GPAs? What does that mean?”
“My daughter isn’t trying to get into Harvard or anything, but her grades are so low that I’m not sure what the next step is.”
“Where am I supposed to find all these scholarships that everyone’s kids seem to be applying for?”
“What is SUPERscoring?”
You end up surrounded by new words, acronyms and more questions than answers or action steps. Everything seems urgent and deadlines seem to be coming up left and right.
What can you do about it?
Theoretically, the solution to this is simple: Start with your CBT’s high school college advisor.
Most schools have one.
These college advisors serve as liaisons between the high school and the universities. As the middleman, the college advisor not only has a healthy understanding of the high school and your teen, but also of the standards and admissions requirements of the universities.
They’re also the individuals that universities contact with scholarship opportunities or college fair information.
Another benefit? The high school’s college advisors have access to your teen’s academic record, community service information, extracurriculars, and an understanding of the significance of each as they are relative to the school (i.e the hard teachers vs. easy classes, tough sports vs. mehhh, etc.). And since it’s their JOB to know every component of the college application process, they can offer tailored advice.
Ok, you might be thinking, “what if the school doesn’t have a college advisor? Or if the advisor is a dud? Then what?”
In that case, check out the website of a well-known test prep company and speak to a representative. The livelihood of companies like The Princeton Review and Kaplan is getting students into college- this means that in order to get customers, they actually have to know what they’re talking about.
Note: Choose only ONE of the companies listed above to avoid information overload.
Will they know everything?
No, they won’t be able to give you 100% of the answers, but between their websites and the representative (or free hour of consulting), you’ll know at least 95% of all you need to know.
In addition to those two companies, the nonprofit The Khan Academy is also a valuable resource. In fact, Collegeboard – the administrator of the SATs – partnered with Khan Academy to provide students with free SAT test prep on the Khan Academy website.
So, let me tell you exactly how you should approach this step:
- Visit The Princeton Review (TPR) OR Kaplan website (I prefer TPR). Explore all the information available about the college application process. Estimated time: 1 week, 45 minutes/day.
- Visit Collegeboard.org or rather their subsite bigfuture.collegeboard.org. The site will help your teen explore colleges and careers.
- Then follow this link to the Khan Academy’s college application process page.
- Speak to a test prep company representative with any remaining questions you have regarding the process.
Between those 3 resources, you should know at least 95% of all you need to.
I’ll save the in-depth details and breakdowns of the individual steps for a different blogpost so this doesn’t become overwhelming.
Whatever you do, DO NOT GOOGLE IT! The last thing you need are thousands of search results to look through.
You can also sign up for my email list, and I’ll send you the information you need WHEN you need it. You won’t have to worry about information overload or filtering through dozens of websites. I’ll do all that for you.
So, with that said, let’s move on to SELF-SABOTAGE METHOD #2.
METHOD #2: THINKING THAT SATs AND ACTs MEASURE INTELLIGENCE.
If you didn’t say it out loud, then maybe you thought it.
“How could my kid do SO badly?”
Or, “damn, I’m so glad my daughter is smart.”
And the occasional “Her son did awful, wow, sucks for her!”
Here’s the reality of it: the SATs and ACTs DO NOT measure intelligence!
I’m not going to get into the different type of intelligence or anything, but here’s what you should know: the SAT only measures how well you do on the SAT and the ACT measures how well you do on the ACT, THAT’S IT! It’s not an intelligence game. With practice, either test can be mastered.
Let me break down each component for you:
Since a majority of students have bad experiences with math, they have trouble recalling the concepts learned or realizing that they never learned a topic in the first place. There’ve been so many times that I’ve looked at a student and said, “Wait…WHAT do you mean you NEVER learned it? How did you advance to Algebra 2 if you never learned the VERY basic Algebra 1 concept?!”
The reality of it is, they don’t really know. It’s not until the SATs or ACTs that students come across the holes in the fundamentals levels of their math knowledge.
Sometimes it’s a bad teacher. Someone who is a great person but just doesn’t do a good job of communicating math.
Other times, it’s because the school has a weird curriculum designed that would ensure that the students learn XYZ by the time they graduate but notby the time they need to take their ACTs. Of course, if you switch teachers or math difficulty levels (regular vs. honors vs. advanced) between grades or math courses, you’re thrown off course.
Sure, it could be that the student also just doesn’t have great recall, but that’s rare. In a MAJORITY of the cases, I’ve found that it’s one of the two (or both!) mentioned.
This portion for both the ACT and SAT simply consists of memorizing and applying about 10-15 grammar rules. Students usually mess up on this because:
a) We don’t speak, hear or always see proper grammar demonstrated. Think of the last time you heard a popular teen song that didn’t have blatant grammar errors. The ‘errored’ way of speaking has become so common that teens don’t even realize they’re not speaking properly.
So, what does this mean for the tests?
These sections are designed so that students have to identify grammar errors. The wrong words and phrases used in the texts line up with spoken ‘errors’ so unless there is an obvious mistake in the text, teens are less likely to locate the grammatically correct multiple-choice option.
Of course, this also means that…..
b) …..they haven’t ever taken a proper writing course and thus far have been able to get away with improper grammar.
The old SAT essays were the equivalent of 8th grade essays: here’s a prompt, give me an intro paragraph, 2-3 examples (could be fake or TV references) and a 2-3 sentence conclusion (that can be copied and pasted from the introduction). Yet the quality of writing for a good chunk of these essays (we’re not even going to get into the handwritings) from 10th, 11th, & 12th graders was awful! It may have been due to the time constraint, but sadly, the most common mistakes were in spelling.
Honestly, some of those essays made me wonder what these students were learning in school (same goes for when I meet students who don’t know what 4×7 is…..*sigh*…….you should know that there is a non-calculator section on the SAT).
This section requires ZERO science background. All the student needs to know is how to interpret charts, graphs and data, then answer questions based on them.
So why would a student not do well on this?
Going back and forth between the charts and the questions is easy, but very time consuming. Students have 35 minutes to complete 40 questions, so in a rush to get to the end, students miss small details.
This section is fairly straightforward for both exams: can you read the passage and answer the questions based on said passage?
Now, can you do it within this time-constraint?
What does believing that the SATs and ACTs measure intelligence cost you?
Peace of mind and possibly your relationship with your teen. If you think that the SATs measure intelligence, then if your teen does badly, you’ll basically communicate that you question their intelligence.
Sure, sure, teens do a lot questionable things, but overall, even if you don’t say it with words, your actions will tell your son/daughter that you think they’re ‘not smart enough’.
Not to mention, your own anxiety about it is going to cause you to become pushier.
What can you do about it?
Bottom Line: Yes, the tests need to happen, so genuinely prepare for them.
But, don’t turn it into a topic to stress about. Like everything else, it needs to get done, and it will get done, so plan out a study schedule or get help, but don’t panic. And know this: not all college and universities require a test score, so at the end of the day, your CBT is going to college!
METHOD #3: PUSHING YOUR TEEN INTO OVERLOAD.
When I first decided to write this post, it was because I realized that I’ve had too many students [or their friends] suffer from breakdowns during this time.
I’ve had parents call, text or e-mail asking what they should do during these breakdowns – they’re worried and not sure how to handle it. What if they say the wrong thing?
Instead of telling you how to handle a breakdown (which may or may not happen), I’ll show you how to make a preemptive strike.
Let’s take a look at the last 2 years of high school from your teen’s perspective:
- You’re taking AP or advanced classes, doing community service, and playing a sport or two.
- Thanks to all of that, you get <6 hours of sleep per night.
- Your school’s college advisor wants you to submit your community service hours, complete SAT/ACT, and figure out which colleges you actually want to go to…..oh, and do you know what you’ll be majoring in?
- Test and college application deadlines are coming up, so on top of getting your AP work done, you’re now scrambling to write a great college essay, get your teacher recommendations submitted, and figure out just how much time you have to study for your SATs.
- Your friends are starting to get anxious about the SAT/ACT testing, their grades, and want to know how the hell the “dumb” kid got a high score on his SATs, while they bombed. They’re comparing scores, gloating or dejected, and everyone seems to be upset that they don’t know what to do with their lives. Accounting? Art? Medicine? Business? Maybe we’ll just be bums together.
When you finally get home, all you really want to do is eat and sleep. Maybe watch Game of Thrones.
Except you can’t. You have homework that needs to get done. Due tomorrow (of course).
Wait, mom and dad are calling you downstairs, they want to have a conversation about your future……..right now.
In my time as a tutor, I’ve learned one very important fact: despite all the FaceBooking, SnapChatting, Instagramming, procrastinating, and general goofing off, teens have A LOT on their plate.
These are the years they’re developing as individuals and are sensitive to peer-pressure, being liked, and avoiding embarrassment.
On top of that, they may or may not know how to manage their stress, are NOT well-rested, and are experiencing emotions about their futures that they have no idea how to handle.
So, when you constantly ask if they’ve done such-and-such, or submitted so-and-so, it’ll cost you.
What exactly does it cost you?
Your teen’s mental health…
…Your relationship with your teen….at least temporarily. They’ll go out of their way to avoid you.
Parents want only good things for their children. I know it and I get it. You want your kids to succeed and want to provide them with all the resources you can to make that happen.
BUT here’s the thing:
At this point, your college-bound teen (CBT) needs ONE thing more than anything else: A BREAK.
The college application process is overwhelming for you, but it’s much more overwhelming for them. Time they can spend NOT thinking or just mentally processing it would be a huge relief.
So with that said, DON’T constantly ask your CBT for progress updates. It just stresses them out further.
How do you know you’ve been pushing?
When you hear something like: “Mom, back off! I know what I’m doing!”
Or the opposite, when your teen is very reluctant to talk about it.
What they really mean is, “I’m scared & excited, I’m stressed, I have no idea what I’m doing and it’s supposed to be a big decision in my life. What if I mess up? Or worse, what if I’m not good enough?”
It’s basically a salad of emotions.
They need reassurance and space, so if they spend more than the normal amount of time angry or upset with you, you’re pushing it.
What can you do about it?
Am I saying you shouldn’t bring up the topic with your teen? Or that you should leave them to it and pay the fees as they come?
No, absolutely NOT.
Push hard for at least a 10-15 minute check-in every other week for your junior or senior. Decide on the day and the time in advance, that way, your teen has time to mentally prep for it.
During the check-in, come up with 1-2 action items that need to happen between now and the next check-in. You can even turn this into a bonding activity by doing some of the action items together during your check-ins (i.e researching potential colleges or understanding FAFSA).
In between the check-ins, just remind your teen every now and then that even if he/she doesn’t get into the first-choice college, it’s not the end of life. There are multiple paths to success. Most teens tend to lose sight of that.
If your CBT has a history of taking initiative and taking care of his/her own issues with grades, teachers, etc, then trust them to do the same for the college application process.
If your teen normally needs an extra push, then sit down with him/her and let them know that you expect them to take initiative. You’ll help and provide any support that you can, but that if they’re responsible enough to go to college, then they’re responsible enough to go through the process to get them there.
But, DO NOT MAKE DECISIONS FOR THEM.
Talk to your teen before registering them for test prep courses or test dates or college visits. Better yet, have them do it themselves!
That was a lot of info to take in, but I hope you enjoyed reading it all as much as I enjoyed writing it.
There’s more cool and non-boring (no kidding!) content coming your way as I make the college application journey with you.
Also, thank you for signing up for my email list! If you haven’t signed up, please do so.
Because I’ll serve as your guide through this wondrous – yet tedious and gut-wrenching- process. Instead of loading you up with information, I’ll break it down bit-by-bit and send you what you need to know when you need to know it. But if you’d rather opt-out of that option, that’s completely fine too. :]