Articles College

College Planning 101 – The Basics of College Guidance

By Robert Allsup | Contributor

Most of us have read the news with much dismay over the last two weeks as we have learned about the unscrupulous actions of affluent parents, unethical proctors, test takers and coaches, along with one rogue college advisor. As a society, our reactions vary, but one thing remains constant: the desire of every parent to afford their children greater opportunities.  Once again we are reminded that blind ambition tends to distort good moral judgement. 

While we choose to lament the behavior of 761 people who chose to approach the college admissions process from a “side door” mentality, I want to focus this article on the 3.6 million high school graduates, of which 2.2 million applied for college admission, submitting well over 15 million applications, which is an almost 70% increase in the last twenty years.

Undergraduate admission acceptance rates at the top 100 universities in the U.S. have dropped by over 37% since 2006, making the process far more egregious to students and expensive to their parents. UCLA became the first university to receive over 100,000 applications in a single year (actually in one month) in 2016 and the total cost of attendance at Columbia University will exceed $75,000 this year. Most parents are seeking sound advice to help their students prepare for the arduous college application process.

Here Are My Top 5 Recommendations To High School Students And Their Parents:

1. Enroll in rigorous high school courses that will enable the student to make all A’s and high B’s.  Colleges are not impressed solely by the rigor of curriculum, but rather the student’s ability to perform at a high level while taking competitive courses.  If a student is unable to make a high B in an AP/IB/PreAp course, they shouldn’t be taking the class.

2. Every student should focus on gradually improving their GPA over each year in high school.  Colleges look at the trend, not just the overall performance. Ideally, a student’s best GPA should be junior year and the first semester of senior year.

3. Pick the right college.  There are 4,630 colleges and universities in the U.S.  There is no such thing as a single college being a perfect fit for any student.  Begin college exploration early in high school and work to meet the expectations of the most selective schools on your list.  My students typically exit sophomore year with a Top 40 List, junior year with a Top 20 List and apply to 8-10 colleges in the fall of their senior year. 

4. Make Test Preparation a priority early in high school by registering and performing well on the PSAT freshman through junior year.  Many students are told the PSAT is a “practice” exam and it doesn’t really matter.  The “P” in PSAT stands for preliminary, not practice.  It is an important baseline exam, which if students prepare properly, can project their performance on the SAT or ACT during their junior or senior year.  Scoring well on the junior year PSAT can allow students to become National Merit Commended, a Semi-Finalist or Finalist, which opens the door to substantial scholarship money.

5. Get involved. Pursue your passion. Work to differentiate. Students should pursue activities during high school that they are passionate about, activities that help to demonstrate their leadership qualities or ability to complete a task in a way that helps to distinguish them from other applicants. 

Here is a helpful college planning timeline – https://www.myfuture.com/college/planning/college-planning-timeline

Insight – Each of us must realize that everyday life is a unique journey of consummate learning, not just a list of mundane task to expedite its accomplishment. 

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