4 Ways to Help Your Child Prepare for College Admissions

Do you remember teaching your child how to ride a bike? Despite having training wheels and a helmet, they needed you to keep cheering them on. Children may know the plan, but they need their parents’ support and encouragement to stick to it. Nearly all kids grow up and leave home eventually. It’s your responsibility to make sure they’re ready to face the world when they do.

College has become a second home for most kids who attend. Even the ones who don’t live on campus end up spending more time there than at home. Helping your child prepare for college admissions will help them thrive in their new environment. The dedication and determination they develop in this process can set the stage for a successful future.

During the college admissions process, parents need to encourage their children without spoon-feeding them. This is a delicate balance, and overzealous parents can end up hobbling their children instead of enabling them to soar. Here are four tips to empower your child and help them make the decisions that are right for them.

1. Help Your Child Set Their Sights

When it comes to attending college, the biggest question is usually where. This choice can be driven by many factors: size, setting, academic offerings, campus culture, cost, and more. Your child might initially keep their options open but try to ensure they’re not wasting their time. A 2.9 student probably won’t get into Harvard, and a D1 sports hopeful shouldn’t be looking at rural liberal arts schools. If you need help identifying good fits, a college admissions consultant can provide recommendations customized for your child.

Give your child a realistic budget so they know what is possible and what isn’t — and be aware that doesn’t necessarily mean a state school. If your child can get in, many prestigious institutions offer generous financial aid. Consider making a spreadsheet to make cost comparisons easier. Tuition at one school may be higher, but housing may be more affordable, and so on.

Even if your kid has a dream university in mind, encourage them to have a Plan B in case they don’t make it. Be positive, yet practical. Research all the candidate schools that are within your budget. Go for campus tours with your child and pay attention to the college culture. It’s not just about campus amenities and high-profile professors; they also need a supportive and conducive environment to focus on learning.

2. Help Them Work Smart

A high-grade point average is a prerequisite for getting into a good college. To achieve one, encourage your child to develop healthy study habits, like creating a distraction-free study zone. Instead of relying on last-minute cramming, they should adopt techniques for memorizing and retaining information.

There are visual learners and auditory learners, early birds and night owls. Have your child try various study methods to see which one is most effective for them. And no matter how they like to study, good sleep habits will enable them to do their academic best.

While standardized tests like the SAT and ACT are becoming optional, they are still a potent way for your student to showcase their strengths. To improve their testing performance, your child can utilize online resources such as practice exams and tutorials. Getting a high score would be a bonus for their application as well as good preparation for rigorous college classes.

3. Accentuate Extracurriculars

While academic grades and test scores are important, don’t forget to balance them out with extracurriculars. Here colleges are looking for genuine passion, not just a list of activities in which your child is mildly interested. That said, activities such as internships or community service can provide a boost to nearly any application.

When it comes to extracurricular involvement, college admission committees will look at the depth and length of your child’s commitment. If your kid signs up for senior year for every club their school offers, they won’t fool seasoned admissions officers. Whether it’s music, sports, or community service, students who demonstrate leadership and dedication stand out from the rest.

When asked about their extracurriculars during an interview, your student shouldn’t exaggerate their achievements. Instead, they should discuss how their hobby or sport has had a positive impact on their development as a person. Admissions officers want to see that candidates were authentically engaged in their extracurriculars, not just ticking off a checklist.

4. Be an Emotional Anchor

The admissions process can be daunting, and there will be times when you and your child will feel low. As a parent, you need to lift their spirits and keep reminding them of your unconditional love and support. Reassure them that their inherent value as a person doesn’t depend on their getting into Stanford or a full-ride tennis scholarship.

In a similar vein, prepare them for rejections and being put on waiting lists. A rejection does not have to be a dead end. It can merely be a detour toward their eventual goal.

Too many parents want their children to complete their own unfulfilled dreams. In this process, they forget what is best for their child. Stay connected with your child and take a break from the college talk if you think the pressure is affecting their mental health. Don’t be biased toward a college just because it’s prestigious or it happens to be your alma mater. Make sure your child’s college environment is healthy and one in which they will thrive.

Prepare Your Child — and Yourself — for the Transition

The jump from high school to college can be wrenching for all concerned, especially if your child goes far from home. These might be the last few years you have the chance to be close, so make the most of them. Spend quality time with your child and include the whole family to make wonderful memories. You will miss them when they’re gone, so make sure you have no regrets.

Preparing your child for college admissions really is like teaching them how to ride a bike. You show them what to do and — despite anxiety on both sides — you let go. Before you know it, your child will be on their way to a bright future in college and beyond.

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Larry Alton Larry Alton is an independent business consultant specializing in social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.