Something amazing happened after I posted my review of How to Prepare a Standout College Application: Expert Advice that Takes You from LMO* (*Like Many Others) to Admit. You asked me questions. You wanted to know about essays, early admissions, and whether or not homeschool students are at a disadvantage when it comes to college admissions. I had questions, too.
Thankfully the authors of How to Prepare a Standout College Application had answers. Checkout my Q&A with Alison Cooper Chisolm and Anna Ivey.
This is not a sponsored post, though it does contain an affiliate link to a book that I consider the bee’s knees.
College Admissions Tips for Parents with Young Kids
Q. The book notes that parents are great repositories for information about their child’s activities. Do you have any suggestions on how parents can keep up with their child’s history?
A. In the era of social media and storing things in the “cloud,” it’s never been easier. You can save things in Evernote, or in Dropbox, or in Google Docs. I’ve seen parents post all kinds of things on Facebook too, so you probably have an archive there for some things, too. Personally, I don’t keep a lot of things on my own hard drive because I change computers and devices too often over the years, so I’m a big fan of the cloud. But use whatever system works best for you, and use one that you know you can stick with.
Q. We know that colleges look closely at a student’s high school record. How do pre-high school classes, grades, and activities impact the college admissions process?
A. Your track record for college admissions purposes starts your first day in high school. Of course, getting into a particular high school sometimes depends on your track record before then, so there might be knock-on effects to get from point A to point B to point C.
But as far as the college application itself goes, they’ll be most interested in the high school years, and in many cases it would be a mistake for an applicant to focus on achievements before then. That would give the impression that there weren’t enough show-off-worthy accomplishments to mention from high school.
Doing a college application well involves a lot of triage, and in most cases, pre-high school activities shouldn’t be making the cut, because it would crowd out more relevant and more recent things. But if there’s a continuous thread tying some important things through childhood and then adolescence, those threads can be very interesting in a college application, but I’d keep the emphasis on the high school years — who you are now, not who you were then.
Q. Do you have any college preparation advice for parents with kids 10 years old and younger? Any tips for how to help their child become a strong college applicant (without stress on parent or child)?
A. I’m not convinced it benefits the parent or the child to be focused on college admissions that young, but certainly there are building blocks and life skills that matter in the process towards becoming a strong college applicant. How does your child learn best? What are her innate gifts and interests? Is she able to solve some of her own problems and become more self-sufficient? Those are good things to be paying attention to as a parent.
There are also interesting studies like the famous Marshmallow Experiment at Stanford — kids who demonstrate willpower at a young age and can say no to the marshmallow in front of them go on to do better on the SATs. It turns out that the ability to delay gratification in order to reach a bigger but more distant goal starts early and has lots of implications. Can that kind of willpower be cultivated? Most skills can be improved, no matter what the baseline is, so those life skills are worth paying attention to for success down the road.
Homeschoolers, Early Admissions, and College Essays
Q. Are homeschooled children at a disadvantage when it comes to the college admissions process? Can they really create a standout college application?
A. Homeschooled students absolutely can create a standout application. As former admissions officers, my co-author and I have read some really great applications from homeschoolers and admitted them, too. We include special tips in the book just for homeschoolers, because there are some things they need to be mindful of that are unique to their homeschooling, like how to do the “counselor report” when the counselor is also Mom.
Q. Is there anything different a student should do on their application if they are hoping for early admission?
A. Applicants need to have all their ducks in a row in order to make those early admission deadlines. So it’s really a function of managing their timeline wisely and being very organized far enough in advance.
Some applicants are better off sitting out the early deadlines, however — for example, if their high school record hasn’t been so sterling and they expect to do better in the fall of senior year, then that could be a good reason to hold off and be able to show another semester’s worth of track record. Or if they don’t have the necessary standardized tests behind them in time, or they think they can substantially improve their scores, then they might be better off submitting under the regular deadlines.
Q. What is your number one piece of advice when it comes to the college essay?
A. As an applicant, you have to do the pre-work of knowing yourself and being able to tell your story in order to write an effective college application essay. That’s harder than it sounds! But we try to break it down step-by-step in the book so that it isn’t too overwhelming. Really, everyone can do it. We promise!
Want more answers to your burning college admissions questions? Enter to win a copy of How to Prepare a Standout College Application.
About the authors:
Alison Cooper Chisolm heads the college admissions consulting practice at Ivey College Consulting. She came to private consulting after working in admissions for more than 10 years at three selective universities (Southern Methodist University, University of Chicago, and Dartmouth College).
Anna Ivey is the former Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Law School and founded Ivey Consulting to help college, law school, and MBA applicants navigate the admissions process and make smart choices about higher education.