College Prep Advice and Tips – From a Parent Who’s Been There!

We asked one of our parents to answer three questions about the college prep and admission process. Here is the story of Kerrilynne Thomas.

College Bound Parent1. What was your own college prep like years ago?

I didn’t have a support system when I was growing up. I went to 13 schools in 10 years and was bounced back and forth from parent to parent, city to city, and state to state. Neither of my parents were college graduates but both became successful without a degree. I don’t think they thought pursuing a degree was important because they climbed the business ladder without one. My mom just wanted me to get a Mrs. Degree. At the age of 16, I decided to take matters into my own hands and appealed to my high school to let me graduate early. My high school was brand new and didn’t offer any advanced courses. In fact, the highest  it offered was Algebra. So, I attended Junior College in the evenings and took courses in literature and math. I basically begged the high school to accept my debate and forensic experience from my previous high school to count for the Language requirement. It worked. I was allowed to graduate in 2 years, but I didn’t have a plan. I found out in April that I would graduate in June. I went to the college my friend was going to in a major that was not filled.

2. Why are you choosing to solicit help from a professional consultant for your daughter?

I chose to hire a professional consultant to ensure that the choice we made for higher education is correct, as the cost to obtain an undergraduate degree at many private colleges is over $200,000. A professional consultant can also make an otherwise stressful process into a successful, more relaxing and enjoyable experience. There are thousands of colleges in the United States and learning about how they vary is a difficult process without appropriate guidance. I could read so many books on how to get into college or how to write an eye-catching essay. It was overwhelming. A professional consultant helps us avoid costly mistakes by finding the college that is the best fit for our daughter with regards to academics, class size, professor/student interaction, study abroad, size of school, etc. Professional consultants do lengthy and specific research to assure students that they apply to the most appropriate colleges. Professional consultants attend conferences, visit campuses regularly and have a wide array of resources available. The experience and knowledge of a professional is invaluable while navigating the admissions process.

You may be asking, “What about the high school counselor? Isn’t he/she valuable?”

The ratio of counselor to students in many high schools is extremely high, and the school counselors do not have time to individualize the process for each student. College counselors in high schools are bound by the rules, requirements, and job description of their schools. Many high school counselors do not attend conferences, tour colleges or develop relationships with admission representatives. As a result, they are not always current on recent college admission news or evolving admissions requirements.

This is what we experienced at our own high school. We were limited to discussions only about our state schools. A professional consultant visits hundreds of colleges, researches and prepares college lists, assists with college essays, works on activity resumes, advises on campus visits, letters of recommendations, interviews, summer programs, internships and has a better understanding of what the colleges admissions personnel at specific colleges want in their candidates. This is the type of service we needed.

3. What is the best advice you can give other parents?

Visit every campus on your child’s list. Only a campus visit can help you decide if a particular college is the right place for you. In this age of Google, GPS, and virtual college tours, there is still no match for the gut feeling one gets when stepping on a college campus and talking face-to-face with the people who make that community what it is. The campus visit is one of the most important and enjoyable parts of the college application process. On those visits, you need to see the facilities, the academic, extracurricular, cultural and social life, the surrounding neighborhood, and, of course, the students. What may look like “the” college on paper may be a completely different story after your visit.

True story: we visited a popular, highly selective college in NC last year. On paper and online, this was a great school for our daughter. During the opening session, the admissions officer had everyone from out-of-state raise our hands. Then he proceeded to tell us our chances of getting accepted were .3% (point three percent). Even Harvard stands at a solid 6%. Our tour guide was a junior chemistry major (which is what our daughter wanted to major in). He was extremely arrogant, flippant, and couldn’t name one piece of equipment or current research his department was using or known for. He could tell us all about the parties on campus and how smart everyone was, however. My daughter immediately scratched this school off her list. Tour guides should be confident and exude enthusiasm – though not in an insincere way, as this can be just as much of a turn-off as a total lack of enthusiasm.

Tip: Your main objective should be to gather information that you cannot find anywhere else. The school’s student newspaper is a great resource for that. Read it and you’ll learn about the important issues on campus, what students care about, upcoming events, and possibly even campus safety. If this will be your child’s home for the next few years, you’ll also want to understand the campus climate. Examine what is hanging on the walls in the cafeterias, student center, and the academic buildings. What student organizations have a strong presence on campus? What opportunities are available to students? What seems to matter?

For expert one-on-one attention navigating the admissions process, visit the team @CollegeSC.

We thank Kerrilynne for her great advice! Do you have any advice for “new” teen parents out there? Please let us know in a comment!