Many parents ask us how they can "groom" their child into Harvard or some other highly selective school.
We like to think that it takes a lifetime of training and
self-discipline to reach the pinnacle of perfection.
Truthfully, however, there is no regimen that you should have been prescribing for your child since birth.
There are a few things you can help your child do before his or her senior year in high school.
The earlier you and your child start thinking about the admissions process, the better.
Preparing in advance allows your child to select courses, get
involved in activities, and cultivate relationships with teachers that will help him or her
tremendously when it comes time to apply to college. Being knowledgeable about the admissions
process yourself, you can encourage your child to make decisions that will help make him or her a
The following are some guidelines for advising your child. Please do not force any of these
suggestions on your child, especially if he or she is the kind of person who resists recommendations
from mom or dad. If possible, advise your child with these principles in mind.
Aim For A High GPA. Admissions officers see all of your child's academic records from the
time he or she hits the 9th grade. If your child wants to attend a selective college, advise him or her
that grades certainly count. Of course, it is not necessary that your child have a 4.0 grade point average,
though the closer he or she can get to that, the better. The exception is when it comes to honors versus
non-honors courses as explained below.
Don't punish your child for bad grades or bribe your
child for good grades; do encourage him or her to focus on studying. We know of some parents of
our high school classmates who did not heed this advice and the results were disastrous.
There was one student whose parents offered him a new car if he received straight "A's."
The bribe worked for that semester and his parents were very happy. Unfortunately,
it did not work when it came time for college admissions. The many rejections that he received from
selective schools were due in no small part to the fact that he had started taking such classes as
auto shop, wood shop, and speech to earn his high grades while his classmates were taking Advanced
Placement English, Math, and Science. This example leads directly into our next point.
Don't Go For The Easy "A." In other words, encourage your child to take rigorous honors
and Advanced Placement courses. It doesn't matter that he or she might be able to get a higher grade in
an easier course. Almost all colleges recalculate grade point averages taking into account the difficulty
of the courses. It is better for your child to get a "B" in an Advanced Placement or honors course than
to get an "A" in a non-honors course. The first thing college admissions officers do when they open the
transcript is note how many classes are honors or Advanced Placement.
Concentrate On Value Rather Than Volume. Encourage your child to lead, not follow.
When it comes to extracurricular activities such as clubs, sports, and volunteer work, encourage him
or her to make valuable contributions to the organizations. Admissions officers are more impressed by
the quality of a student's participation in extracurricular activities--leadership positions held, honors
won, programs started--than by the quantity of activities. Your child should work to attain as many
leadership positions as possible and excel in whatever activities he or she chooses to join.
Entering contests, publishing essays or poems, and starting organizations or clubs are also great
ways for students to distinguish themselves from the thousands of other applicants to college.
Don't Groom A Bookworm. In addition to promoting strong study skills, allow your
child to relax, have fun, and be a kid. Don't require that he or she study incessantly or take
courses that are obviously over his or her head. After all, what good is it for your child to be
accepted by Harvard if he or she is already burned out. Also, consider that academic achievement is
not the sole basis for admission. Thousands of valedictorians are rejected from top schools each year.
Colleges are looking for bright, well-rounded, and interesting individuals.
Be Positive. Even the best students are not accepted by every school.
Depending on each college's individual pool of applicants and needs, it may accept your child or
may be looking for a student with slightly different, not necessarily better, skills. Do not push
your child to attend one of the elite schools, and do not talk as if not getting accepted is equal
to failure. Remember that even if your child does everything right, he or she may, for reasons
totally beyond his or her control, not get accepted.
A tragic but true story is of a family with two daughters who were accepted by Stanford.
When the youngest child, a son, did not get in and had to "settle" for a state school, his parents
did not hide their disappointment and frequently berated him as a failure. This boy eventually took
his own life and from the note he left behind made it very clear that he could not live with the
guilt of having let down his parents.
While this is an extreme example, you should be aware of how much emphasis you are
placing, whether consciously or not, on your son or daughter getting accepted into a certain school.
The truth of the matter is that college admission is always a gamble to some degree and even the
most qualified and deserving students are sometimes denied simply because the college does not have
enough space in the freshman class.
Plus, as you already know, success in life is not dependent on where you go to
school. It is dependent on what you do there. Harvard and the other Ivies produce their share of
losers. In the end, the best rule is to support your child in his or her decision and to be proud
of whatever the result.
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