A few years ago one of my clients announced that she was quitting her job to help her daughter prepare for college. I was shocked by her decision. Why would she stop working now after going through, what I imagined, were some of the most challenging years as a parent? Now I know!
The college preparation process is definitely one of the most stressful experiences I have endured as a parent. My daughter is currently a freshman at a prestigious university in Boston. She decided to go there because when she was accepted she was awarded a full-tuition scholarship! Now that I've gone through the process and know what to expect I believe that my experience with my son (a sophomore in high school) will be much less taxing. So I felt compelled to share some of my learnings with those of you with kids who are in middle school because the process to "stand out" starts the first year in high school.
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Starting with freshman through senior year, both of my kids enrolled in honor and AP classes offered by their high school; they consistently got good grades and they were involved in a few extracurricular activities (sports and community), without being over scheduled. My advice to them was to focus on what they love and excel in and to stick to it because colleges like to see consistency. Spanish proficiency (speaking, reading and writing it) was another constant and it definitely helped differentiate them from other students!
Sophomore year my son has already signed up for College Board, which was a great college planning and preparation resource for my daughter.
Junior year, during the fall semester, I would attend a college prep event. I also spoke to parents who had already gone through the process as well as my children's guidance counselor. During the month of October of their junior year, students take the PSATs to qualify for Merit scholarships and programs. My daughter was among the top 5000 top scoring Latinos recognized by The National Hispanic Recognition Program (NHRP) andt his is what resulted in her getting the full tuition scholarship for her university (not all colleges offer this particular program).
In the spring of their junior year, students register for the SAT and ACT tests and prepare. My daughter took the SATs three times as most schools take the highest scores. She took a class to help her for the tests but she concluded that the best way to prepare for these tests were to take practice tests over and over. After their junior year is when the process intensifies.
Over the summer prior to senior year my daughter was advised to prepare a list of colleges she'd like to visit. Most schools have a software program called Naviance which provides students with an assessment of which colleges they have a shot at getting into (reach); can most probably get into (target) and can most definitely get into (safety) based on grades and other criteria. We visited seven schools, went to their information sessions and campus tours. Three of her choices offered NHRP Scholarship programs.
The fall semester of senior year is the most intense. The process of applying to colleges begins and consumes students up to Thanksgiving or beyond!
Spring semester of senior year is when students find out what colleges accepted them and which they did not get into and with the acceptance letters you find out which schools offer scholarships or the most attractive financial aid packages. I have two best friends going through this process now and regardless what happens, they can probably breathe their first, deep sigh of relief in months!
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