The Actual Application. This is the "stats" sheet for college admissions officers. It is a multi-page form for personal data such as test scores, academic honors, extracurricular activities, and work experience. With this information, the admissions officers get a quick summary of your child's achievements and can easily compare him or her to other students.
Most importantly, help your child pack the most impressive information into the very limited space of the application form. To do this, your child should first concentrate on academic achievements, which are the most important factors in admissions. He or she should also emphasize leadership roles in school and extracurricular activities.
Admissions officers like to see that students are not just participating in activities but are also leading them. Your child should focus on any projects he or she has initiated and any special contributions he or she has made. Help your child to recall all of the things that he or she did during the last four years. Parents frequently remember significant events that their children overlook.
Even if your child has trouble keeping his or her room clean, he or she needs to keep the application clean. Since not much creative writing is required, what really counts is neatness. Because the application form is usually the last thing that gets done (often in the wee hours of the night), it is also where most of the carelessness occurs.
As the final proofreader of the application, insure that every blank is filled and every appropriate box checked. Also make sure that there are no typos--misspelling the name of the school will certainly not improve your son's or daughter's chances--and if changes need to be made, they should be nearly undetectable. Tell your child to forget about putting X's through misspelled words and to use white-out or a new form instead. Make sure you get to see the final application form before it is put in the mail.
Essays. If you sometimes feel like you don't understand what goes on in the mind of your teenage son or daughter, here is an opportunity to find out. The essay, usually 500 words or less, is the admissions officers' window into the thoughts of your child. It allows admissions officers to form an image of the applicant beyond impersonal test scores and
straight-forward biographical information. Students often (although not always) focus their essays on themselves, their experiences, and their thoughts.
This is by far one of the most important pieces of the application because it allows your child the freedom to express who he or she is. As you will find, the college essay can be a very personal piece, and depending on how your child feels, he or she may not be comfortable sharing it with you. Respect his or her decision. It may sound strange that your son or daughter is willing to allow such a personal essay to be read by unknown college admissions officers and yet does not want mom or dad to see it,
though it is certainly not uncommon. So don't take it personally if your son or daughter hesitates to show you his or her essay.
If, however, your son or daughter does not mind, then you should make yourself available for editing and proofreading the essay. One word of caution: Some parents get so overzealous in their desire to help that they end up nearly writing the essay themselves. This
must be avoided at all costs.
College admissions officers read literally thousands and thousands of essays, and they are able to easily spot the "mommy-daddies." These are essays clearly written in a style, with language, and on topics that betray the age and generation of the author. There is an instant rejection pile for these essays. So take care not to "edit" your child's essays to the point where your suggestions evolve into actually writing them.
When you are finished reading, meet with your child to discuss your reactions. Try to make general comments or suggestions, and only use your red ink pen to make specific changes on technical errors such as grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Be honest, but try not to be overly critical.
Praise the essay's strong aspects and offer positive solutions toward improving the weaknesses. No matter how busy you are, make yourself available to read your child's work as many times as necessary. Remember, each error you catch is one that the admissions officers won't.
Teacher And Others' Evaluations. The admissions officers already know that you think your child is the perfect candidate to attend their college. Evaluations, or recommendations, provide the opportunity for teachers, employers, advisors, and others to verify this. These forms cover areas like your child's leadership ability, motivation, and ability to work with others. Without resorting to bribery (which is out of the question), there is not much you can do about them.
You must fight your parental urge to intervene since it certainly won't help to badger your child's potential recommenders. They are the last people you want to annoy. Trust that your son or daughter has a pretty good idea of which teachers will write favorable evaluations.
Make sure that these evaluations get requested from the evaluators early (two to three months before the application deadline) since it does take some time to compose a good recommendation letter.
For more strategies to help your child with college admissions, read Part II of this article.
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