College Admissions

7 Simple Strategies for Getting Your Kids Excited About College

Being a parent is time consuming.


Whether you are a latte-fueled Supermom shuttling your kids between eight different after-school activities or an overworked professional who is feeding your kids macaroni and cheese for the second time this week because you just can’t find the time to stop at the grocery store, you are probably feeling overwhelmed by life.  

And, just when it seemed as if you couldn’t possibly fit one more thing into your schedule, it suddenly dawns on you that you should be encouraging your kids to plan for college.


Okay, don’t freak out just yet. Put down the box of mac and cheese, take a sip of your latte, and take a deep breath. It is going to be okay.

You’ve got this.

All you need is a little balance and a way to get started. 

Planning for college doesn’t have to be stressful and it doesn’t have to consume every moment of your life. In fact, the main reason that helping your kids prepare for college seems so overwhelming is simply because you don’t know when or where to begin.

Knowing when to begin is the easy part: You should begin now. And when I say “now,” I don’t mean that you have to plan every little detail and sink months of time and energy into it.

Don’t try to do everything all at once.

In fact, you should resist the urge to feel like you have to do everything. Whether we like it or not, applying to college is your kid’s job, not yours. You are there to supervise, to help, and to encourage your child. These are things that take time…lots of time. So start early.  

All of us want our children to be happy, to experience success, and to feel supported. In fact, you’ve been there for them since the day they were born to change their diapers, put Band-Aids on their knees, and to protect them from the dangers of sugar by secretly eating their Halloween candy after they are safely asleep in bed.


But for most kids, choosing which schools to apply to and filling out college applications is the first major “adult” decision that they will have to make in their lives. And applying to college isn’t something that happens overnight. Your child needs time to learn about college and to understand what choices they have. This is a process that takes years, not months.

Instead of spoon-feeding your teenager information about colleges, you should empower them to seek out information and to learn what interests them. Ideally, you should start doing this sometime during their freshman or sophomore year of high school.

As a college admissions counselor, one of the first things that I usually discover when I meet with a new client is that the student I am helping knows very little about college. Most of them can’t name more than two or three local universities, they don’t more than a handful of careers that college can prepare them for, and most of them have never even stepped foot on a college campus.

No wonder they don’t know what schools they want to apply to or what they want to major in!


The fact of the matter is simply that most students don’t know how many amazing and fun options are available to them. To remedy this lack of knowledge, here are 7 ideas that you can put into action today that will get your child excited about their college applications and help them learn more about the limitless options that they can choose from:


1. College Campuses are Fantastic Places for Entertainment

Take your child to events on college campuses. One of the biggest perks of living near a college or university is the fact that you have year-round access to world-class entertainment and performers. Whether you and your family love going to sporting events, hearing the world’s greatest classical musicians, listening to lectures by prominent intellectuals and world leaders, or immersing yourselves in theatre and dance, most campuses host hundreds of events every year that are fun and family-friendly. In fact, many major universities have world-class entertainers visiting their campus and tickets are usually cheap and easy to buy.

This cello changed my life. 

This cello changed my life. 

Still not convinced? In my time as a college admissions expert, I’ve laughed my way through Jerry Seinfeld’s standup routine, I’ve been spellbound by the music of 18-time Grammy award winning musician Yo Yo Ma, and I’ve sat riveted in my seat as I listed to Paul McCartney and Jimmy Carter speak. 

And here is the kicker…tickets to the majority of those events cost less than $20 and a few of them were even free.

So what are you waiting for? Take your kids to a college campus to have some fun. Try to make it a routine to do something on a campus at least once a year. 


2. Wear College Apparel 

While you are on campus, take some time to visit the bookstore and have your child pick out a sweatshirt or hat to take home.

It may sound silly, but even something as simple as wearing a hat with a university’s logo on it can make a teen feel invested and excited about a school.


When I was growing up, someone gave me a sweatshirt with a Notre Dame logo on it. I would wear it after soccer practice and sometimes at home when I was playing video games with my friends. In a way, Notre Dame became a regular part of my life. I also had a pen from UCLA that I used when doing my homework. It wasn’t even a very nice pen…but I loved it anyway.

To be honest, I don’t even remember who gave me those things. And, even though I didn’t go to either of those schools, I’ve always felt a sense of excitement and investment in UCLA and Notre Dame. And because I was excited about those schools, I started paying attention to other schools as well.

Sometimes the little things can make all the difference.


3. Get Online, Get Mail, and Get Educated about College

Have your child go to four or five college websites and look at the admissions pages. Even if they don’t think they want to go to a school, have them fill out the prospective student form so that the university can start sending you brochures and other literature about life at the school.

Most universities will send your child glossy brochures and newsletters about the admissions process at least twice a year. Most teens don’t get much mail, and they aren’t old enough to experience to horror of paying bills, so mail is still an exciting and enchanting thing for them.

Colleges and universities spend millions of dollars each year on these mailings. Why? Because they are effective at getting young people interested in their school. Use that fact to your advantage.


4. Like and Follow Colleges on Social Media

Like us on Facebook.

Like us on Facebook.

Encourage your kids to go on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets and follow some schools that interest them. This is a great way to hear about upcoming events and to get engaged.

Plus, taking an interest in a college on social media tends to have a ripple effect. If your child “likes” the University of Chicago Facebook page, then they will probably start getting suggestions for other universities that they might “like.” Hopefully, this will introduce your child to schools and news sources that will help them learn more about applying to college.


5. Take a Tour

Every college and university offers tours of their campuses. Most of these tours are led by current students and you can often get an inside look at the important buildings on campus.


Tours can also be fun as well. As one of my fellow admissions counselor recently said to me, campus tours “are the best free vacation that money can buy.”

Be sure to stop by the admissions office at the end of the tour to pick up brochures and to say hello to the staff. Some admissions offices keep track of who visits and who takes the tours and having that sort of “demonstrated interest” in a school can make a positive, albeit small, impact on your child’s admissions chances.


6. Sit in on a Class or Lecture at a Nearby University


Most colleges allow high school students opportunities to visit classes. There is nothing quite so eye-opening for a high school student than to spend an afternoon sitting in a college lecture hall learning about something that interests them. Even if a college doesn’t publicize information about visiting classes, most admissions offices will be more than happy to help your child plan a visit.


7. Meet with a Current College Student

Create opportunities for your child to interact with college students. Many schools have student volunteers who will give high school students personalized, 1-on-1 tours of campus or take them to classes.

There are even schools that invite high school students to stay the night in their dorms so that they can get a feel for college life.

You also probably have family members or neighbors who have kids in college. Most of them will be more than happy to meet with your child for a coffee and to tell them a little bit about college life.

The important thing here is that you find a way for your high school student to meet and interact with a real college student instead of just relying on third-hand information. 


These are just a few of the hundreds of practical steps that you can take as you get your child ready for their college applications. However, at the heart of these suggestions are a few key concepts that need to be kept in mind. If you are going to be successful with any of these techniques, you will also need to:

  • Know your child.
  • Listen to them.
  • Make it personal.
  • Do your own research.
  • Appeal to their interests.
  • Know when to step back and let them lead. 


Did I miss any important practical steps in this list? Did you have success with a different technique? Join the conversation and share your tips by posting in the comment section below. Or, if you want personalized 1-on-1 help with college admissions, click here to get started today.



Posted by Matthew T. Riley, Ph.D., Director – Ivy Academic Prep

Matt has 15 years of experience helping students and families apply for college. He is also is a former Yale University faculty member, an award winning teacher, and a father.

What Are Freshmen Thinking? The Beloit Mindset List.

This year’s class of college Freshmen are the last of the Millennials. Yup, that’s right, they are the last group of students to be born in the 1990s.

For them, Bill Clinton is just Hillary’s quiet husband and Family Guy has always been on TV. They’ve never had to suffer through the warbling whine of a dial-up modem and they are more likely to think of a “phone” as something that gives you directions and connects you to Facebook than as a device used for making actual phone calls.

Feeling old yet? To help faculty and clueless parents how to better understand this year’s incoming freshman class, Beloit College has released its annual Mindset List for the Class of 2021. Here it is:

1.     Their classmates could include Eddie Murphy’s Zola and Mel Gibson’s Tommy, or Jackie Evancho singing down the hall.

2.     They are the last class to be born in the 1900s, the last of the Millennials --  enter next year, on cue, Generation Z! 

3.     They are the first generation for whom a “phone” has been primarily a video game, direction finder, electronic telegraph, and research library.

4.     Electronic signatures have always been as legally binding as the pen-on-paper kind.

5.     In college, they will often think of themselves as consumers, who’ve borrowed a lot of money to be there.

6.     eHarmony has always offered an algorithm for happiness.

college students dont use floppy disks.jpg

7.     Peanuts comic strips have always been repeats.

8.     They have largely grown up in a floppy-less world.

9.     They have never found Mutual Broadcasting or Westinghouse Group W on the radio dial, but XM has always offered radio programming for a fee.

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10.  There have always been emojis to cheer us up.

11.  The Panama Canal has always belonged to Panama and Macau has been part of China.

12.  It is doubtful that they have ever used or heard the high-pitched whine of a dial-up modem.

13.  They were never able to use a Montgomery Ward catalogue as a booster seat.

14.  Donald Trump has always been a political figure, as a Democrat, an Independent, and a Republican.

15.  Zappos has always meant shoes on the Internet.

16.  They are the first generation to grow up with Watson outperforming Sherlock.                                                                                

17.  Amazon has always invited consumers to follow the arrow from A to Z.

18.  Their folks have always been able to get reward points by paying their taxes to the IRS on plastic.

19.  In their lifetimes, Blackberry has gone from being a wild fruit to being a communications device to becoming a wild fruit again. 

20.  They have always been searching for Pokemon.

21.  They may choose to submit a listicle in lieu of an admissions essay.    

22.  Dora the Explorer and her pet monkey Boots helped to set them on the course of discovery.

23.  The seat of Germany’s government has always been back in Berlin.

24.  Jet Blue has always been a favorite travel option but the Concorde has been permanently grounded.

25.  By the time they entered school, laptops were outselling desktops.

26.  There has never been a Coliseum in New York, but there has always been a London Eye on the Thames.

27.  Once on campus, they will find that college syllabi, replete with policies about disability, non-discrimination, and learning goals, might be longer than some of their reading assignments.

28.  As toddlers they may have dined on some of that canned food hoarded in case of Y2K.

29.  An ophthalmologist named Bashar al-Assad has always provided vision for the Syrian military.

30.  Whatever the subject, there’s always been a blog for it.                         

31.  U.S. Supreme Court decisions have always been available at its website.

32.  Globalization has always been both a powerful fact of life and a source of incessant protest.

33.  One out of four major league baseball players has always been born outside the United States.

34.  Carl Sagan has always had his own crater on Mars. 

Carl Sagan smiling.jpg

35.  A movie scene longer than two minutes has always seemed like an eternity. 

36.  The Latin music industry has always had its own Grammy Awards.

37.  Ketchup has always come in green.

38.  They have only seen a Checker Cab in a museum.

39.  Men have always shared a romantic smooch on television.

40.  They never got to see Jimmy Kimmel and Ben Stein co-host a quiz show or Dennis Miller provide commentary for the NFL.

41.  As toddlers, they may have taught their grandparents how to Skype.

42.  The image of Sacagawea has always adorned the dollar coin, if you can find one.

43.  Having another child has always been a way to secure matching tissue to heal an older sibling.

44.  There have always been Latino players on the ice in the NHL.

45.  Napster has always been evolving.

46.  Nolan Ryan has always worn his Texas Rangers cap in Cooperstown, while Steve Young and Dan Marino have always been watching football from the sidelines.

47.  The BBC has always had a network in the U.S. where they speak American.

48.  There has never been a sanctioned Texas A&M bonfire.

49.  There has always been a Monster in their corner when looking for a job.

50.  Wikipedia has steadily gained acceptance by their teachers.

51.  Justin Timberlake has always been a solo act.

52.  U.S. professional baseball teams have always played in Cuba.

53.  Barbie and American Girl have always been sisters at Mattel.

family guy television logo.png

54.  Family Guy is the successor to the Father Knows Best they never knew.

55.  Motorola and Nokia have always been incredibly shrinking giants.

56.  Melissa has always been too nice a name to be attached to a computer macro virus.

57.  The Mars Polar Lander has always been lost.

58.  Women have always scaled both sides of Everest and rowed across the Atlantic.

59.  Bill Clinton has always been Hillary Clinton’s aging husband.

60.  Paleontologists have always imagined dinosaurs with colorful plumage.


Did they leave anything out? Want to add your own item to the list? Leave us a comment below.

And remember, if you are planning on going to college, Ivy Academic Prep can help you with your college applications.