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.
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
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.