By Kristin Hiemstra A shameless believer of human potential, Kristin is as dynamic and energetic about career issues as a nice person can be. She combines real world knowledge from her many years of hiring experience in Washington, DC with a decade of college admissions experience.

10 Tips in Making it Through the College Application Process

By Kristin Hiemstra Posted September 15, 2011 at 12:54 pm

College application season is upon us and finally all that hard work is going to pay off. Students are busy writing their essays, moms and dads are busy trying not to nag, and college admission’s counselors are traveling at neck breaking speed around the nation trying to encourage applicants to apply. Here are a few tips that can help this process go smoothly for everyone involved. 
  1. Get Organized. Your young adult is going to handle the college application process the same way they have handled all academic assignments in the past. If they habitually procrastinate and wait until the last minute to do things, they will do the same during this time. You can help them by providing organizational tools such as a wall calendar with deadlines so they know when to do things like: request transcripts, take the SAT, request recommendations, attend meetings, etc… 
  1. Have an angle and a plan. It’s no secret colleges are competitive. Each college is looking for a well rounded student body not necessary a well rounded student. Decide ahead of time which aspect of your student you want to highlight for example, academics, trumpet playing, sports, passion for classical languages, etc… and develop a plan to showcase that talent. 
  1. Set restrictions up front. If your have certain financial and geographical restrictions let your child know so they don’t waste their time researching schools that are off-limits. However, be aware that financial aid is available for most schools and scholarships are often given to students who exceed a school’s admission requirements.   
  1. Partner. The college application process should be spearheaded by your young adult and supported by you. In an ideal world, your young adult will be the one arranging college visits, tours, and interviews. In an ideal world, he should also be the one in contact with the colleges. There are many reasons for having your young adult spearhead this process but among the most important are the fact that admission’s officers prefer hearing from students and not parents. Hearing from students gives them a chance to establish a relationship, and second, the more work a student does to realize his dream the more invested in the process he becomes. Encourage your child to seek your help and see you as a resource. (i.e. – “Mom, I would like to go visit these schools can you take me?” “Sure, let’s sit down with a calendar, what dates do you have in mind?”) Or, as one local mom shared. “I asked my daughter if I could ask her about college applications one day a week.” 
  1. Cheerlead. Establish how you want the process to go mentally ahead of time and talk about it often. Parent: “I’m very proud of the way you have handled this process. You have made it easy for both of us.” Let your students know when they are doing something right. Not only will it change how they view themselves in this process but it will change how you view them as well. If your child has the resources necessary, knows what expected and how to do it, yet doesn’t lift a finger, consider the possibility that they are not ready for college yet and a gap year might be a good idea. Having taught college freshman, I can say with certainty that students who are not ready for college will waste the opportunity. 
  1. Search for the best fit. Chapel Hill is an academically goal oriented town with intense pressure and pride built around academic success and college acceptances. However just because a school has a good reputation, like UNC for example, does not mean it is a good environment for your child. Some kids will do well in large classes and extensive use of teaching assistants and others will flounder. In my experience, success at larger schools requires a very motivated self-learner who will not let the professor stand between themselves and their learning. Take the time to necessary to make sure the school aligns with your child’s learning style and temperament so that success is probable. Explore things like living learning communities, class size, etc… 
  1. Talk about the future. College is one of many important stepping stones in life. Since day one, we talk to our kids about how they need to do well in school so they can get into a good college and get a good job. BYW- they can recite this verbatim. However, few of them can articulate what the future looks after college. Now it’s time to create new goals and intentions. Start talking about what the college experience will look like, ask question like: what have you considered as a possible major? What about travel abroad programs or internships? Mention how fun it will be to meet new people of differing political opinions, backgrounds and experiences. By doing this you are helping your young adult look forward to leaving high school and thus generating more energy around getting that application out the door. This type of transformation will also help both of you move more confidently into the future. 
  1. Listen. Reflective listening is a technique taught in every mental health facility, mediation program, and sales training. When you listen reflectively you seek to understand another by repeating back what that person has said minus any judgment or personal input. In other words, listen to your children vent but do not let them off the hook for what needs to be done. Venting allows for a student to dump their emotions, regroup mentally and move on. For example,
    student: “applications sucks”
    parent: “it must be a pain to have yet another thing on your plate”
    student: “it is, I don’t feel like I have the time to do them’”
    parent: “so it feels like you are under a lot of pressure, huh?”
    (note the parent did not offered to make the problem go away, they only listened) 
  1. Call in outside help if necessary. Your relationship with your young adult is one of the most important possessions you have in life. While it is completely possible to breeze through this process, and many families do, it is also not unusual for both student and parent to experience stress during this time. If the stress turns to anger and hostility than it is time to seek outside help. 
  1. Enjoy it. In the end, this is a year to be celebrated by both of you so schedule sometime to just enjoy each other.
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