Prepare Early for College App Process
Published: April 29, 2017
By: Paige Townley
For many high school students, college probably seems too far away to even think about, much less plan for. But even in the ninth grade, college is much closer than they think, and thinking about the application process early on can greatly benefit the student when the time comes to officially apply.
It’s never too early to begin the preparation. Here are seven tips to jumpstart the planning process to help get your student into the school they most desire.
Middle School Indicators
Middle school is too early to start the college prep process, but it is a good time for parents to gauge their student’s academic abilities. Paying close attention to courses in which a student excels – or fails – can help determine the type of academic path the student should be on in high school. “You wouldn’t throw an average student in an AP course too early in high school if they haven’t demonstrated they can handle the regular course first,” says Amy Hayes, director of admission for Birmingham-Southern College. “Parents should look at what subjects their child is strong in. That tells the story of the classes they need to start out with in high school.”
All Grades Matter
Oftentimes, students think college admission counselors don’t care about the grades they make until their junior or senior year. That line of thinking is completely false: early high school grades are typically reviewed as well. “It’s important for students to have the framework going into high school that every class counts,” Hayes says. “While not all colleges look at grades for the ninth grade, many do. Most schools in the state of Alabama do. So going into high school knowing that all grades count is important.”
It’s Not All About Academics
While grades are obviously important, it’s not all about academics. Getting involved in extracurricular activities and clubs and volunteering at community organizations can help a student stand out in the college application process. “Students should find something to get involved in and really get involved,” says Bobby Deavers, counselor at Oak Mountain High School. “There’s a difference in just being a member of a group or organization and having no involvement and truly being connected and involved to that group or organizations. It’s obvious when you’re part of a group just to help fill a resume.”
Hayes suggests students use their ninth and tenth grade year to try out various activities to see what they are most passionate about and then really lock in to the group or groups that interest them by the eleventh grade. “It looks better on a resume to see a student focused in by the eleventh or twelfth grade,” she says. “That’s why students should get involved early so that they have time to find what best suits them.”
Make Summer Count
It’s important to take time during the summer months to relax and have fun, and students should take advantage of summer to participate in a camp that interests them, which is a great addition to a college resume. “If there is a potential major that interests a student, he or she should find a camp on that topic,” says Deavers. “If they are interested in pharmacy, attend a pharmacy camp. If they like technology, find a technology-focused camp. That makes the student more appealing to a college if they can see the student’s true desire to research a potential major or program.”
A summer camp can also be a prime opportunity to begin getting on college campuses, adds Hayes. “Many camps are held on college campuses, and attending would give the student an opportunity to think about what it would be like as a student there – all while building their college resume,” adds Hayes. “There are a number of short-term camps and events that students can get plugged into.”
Talk About Money
Going into the junior year, students should start narrowing down the specific colleges they are interested in. Before the actual application and/or visiting process begins, it’s important that parents have talked with their student about their financial ability to pay for college. “Parents shouldn’t be afraid to have discussions with their student about the amount of money they can spend for college,” says Oliver Aaron, college counselor at Vestavia Hills High School. “That conversation needs to happen early so that the student has a realistic idea of what they can afford and what their real options are.”
Let the Student Take Charge
While parents are certainly involved in the college process—taking the student on official visits and most likely helping fund it—it’s important that parents take a step back and let their student take charge of the application process. “It’s obvious when parents fill out the application,” notes Hayes. “The student should spearhead that effort. A little independence in the application process is important.” That doesn’t mean parents should be completely hands-off, however. Parents can help make sure students don’t miss the ever-important application deadlines.
Make Friends in the Right Places
Besides their parents, there are other people who are important for students in the application process. One specific asset for students is their college counselor at school. “School counselors are a great resource that students shouldn’t overlook,” Aaron added. “Counselors can help provide all sorts of critical information, such as deadlines, application requirements and scholarship and grant opportunities.”
Another significant relationship for students to build is with the admission counselor at the college they are applying to. “Admission counselors will advocate for students for certain scholarship opportunities or space in a program, but if we don’t know then well enough to advocate for them, they might miss out,” Hayes explained. “That’s a big reason as to why students should build relationships with admission counselors.”
Admissions counselors are also great resources to go to with any specific questions about the school, such as deadlines, scholarships and financial aid – and that relationship should start building much earlier than typically thought. “It can be beneficial for students to visit the schools they are interested in and connect with the admission counselor when they enter their junior year,” said Brian Kennedy, director of recruitment for the office of admission at Samford University. “This is often the best way to find out what a successful applicant for admission and scholarship looks like.”
Paige Townley is a Birmingham freelance writer.