College Admissions: 5 Ways to Find Your Child’s X Factor (before the fourth grade)

Good grades, high SAT scores, and glowing recommendations are great. But they won’t get your child very far if every other applicant has the same bag of tricks.When it comes to college admissions, a hook is a unique quality that makes the applicant stand out from the pack.

Whether your student is perfecting their finger painting or approaching senior year, you can use these methods to find their X Factor.

1. Volunteer with tunnel vision. What if your teen could honestly tell the admissions board that she discovered her passion for helping others at the age of five?

Volunteer work is good for the spirit, and the community. There’s no need to feel guilty if your child’s college application benefits, as well.

Even very young children can volunteer with virtual opportunities that can be done from home or anywhere. They key is to devote your family’s energy to one or two projects. If you spread yourself too thin, your work won’t make much impact on the community or college applications.

2. Get cultured. Classical music, fine art, a string of white pearls—whatever your mental image of what it means to be cultured, ball it up and throw it in the trash. Come on. Ball it up. Go left. Go right. Dunk. Score!

Simply put, culture is the beliefs, values, activities, or characteristics of a group. Get your child out of their world and into someone else’s. This could mean a stop at the museum or it could mean a trip to visit family on the opposite coast.

Don’t want to leave the house? Magazines, books, and even television shows are great portals to other cultures. Think Discovery Channel.

3. Enter a merit-based contest. Put those “my kid is cuter” contests on hold. Merit-based competitions are great for discovering the skills and talents that will eventually land on a college or scholarship application.

Best of all, many contests for kids have some pretty cool prizes. Check out:

4. Head to the public library. Educational websites and apps are cool, but sometimes you need to feel paper between your fingers.

Let your child run wild…okay, walk wild, and quietly, from isle to isle. Since most library resources are free, you can pick up books and audio recordings on a variety of topics.

You may discover that your child is the world’s next top basket weaving, pastry designing, media mogul. It’s all in a book.

5. Ask the question of all questions. Will you marry me? No. Not that question.

What do you want to be when you grow up? It’s an oldie, but goodie. Your child’s career plans reveal what they think is cool, important, and possible.

Don’t expect a “what is your X Factor?” line on a college application. You (or rather, your child) will never find such an animal. But you can help them raise out of the LMO (Like Many Others) stack by highlighting those things that make them one of a kind.

To my readers: What is your child’s X Factor? What do your kids want to be when they grow up? Parents, what do you want to be when you grow up?

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About Nicole Robinson

Nicole Robinson is a Dallas-based freelance writer who specializes in college planning, parenting, women’s lifestyle, education, and self-help. But she's always hungry to munch on new topics. In addition to writing for The BookWormMama blog, Nicole provides content, copywriting and proofreading services for various publications.


College Admissions: 5 Ways to Find Your Child’s X Factor (before the fourth grade) — 16 Comments

  1. Great article! My third child just graduated from high school last month. I was SO glad because it felt like the last year of school was They implied that every child must know what they wanted to be, and go to college; there was no in-between and nothing else acceptable. I was so sorry for the kids! My daughter knows that we love her no matter what, so college isn’t a requirement if she doesn’t want to go, though she also knows we reallllly want her to go. She knows what she wants, but she didn’t have it down until a few months ago. The school even made her apply to colleges back in Sept, on my dime, for a homework assignment…talk about futility and wasted money! I want my kids to follow their hearts and in the meantime, do all they can to make their college application experience a positive one; volunteering, good grades, club involvement, so many ways…
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    • Thank you, Dee. Wow, the school made her apply to college? That’s an interesting homework assignment. And bonus, you got to foot the bill. That’s wild.

      Like you, I hope my kids go to college. But they may decide otherwise. Darn kids. My theory: the same factors that will make them shine on a college application, are the same factors that will help them become productive citizens.

      I’d like to think that a college-ready kid is a life-ready kid.

  2. Nicole, this is great advice. We are the moms of 5 kids – 3 of whom are in college right now, the youngest are 11th graders – in 2 families. While not wanting to obsess about college prematurely, it is a great idea to start on some of what you have outlined. We have written about comparable preparedness starting in middle school.
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