The college application form is the "stats" sheet for college admissions officers and includes personal data such as test scores, academic honors, extracurricular activities and work experience. Help your child recall all the things that he or she did during the last four years. Parents frequently remember significant events that their children overlook. But don't just list everything. You should advise your child to choose the most impressive information about his or her accomplishments within the very limited space of the application form. To do this, your child should highlight academic achievements because this will indicate academic readiness for college. Your child should also emphasize the leadership roles that he or she has played in school and extracurricular activities. Admissions officers like to see that students are not just participating in activities but are also leading them. Keep in mind that leadership does not mean only elected positions. Any time that your child took on responsibility could be an example of leadership. Your student should focus on any projects that were self-initiated and any special contributions he or she has made.
If you sometimes feel that you don't understand what goes on in the mind of your teenage son or daughter, here is an opportunity to find out how your child thinks. The essay—usually 800 words or less—is the admissions officers' window into the thoughts of your child. It allows them to form an image of the applicant beyond impersonal test scores and straightforward biographical information. 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, but it is not uncommon. Don't take it personally. If, however, your son or daughter does not mind, then make yourself available for editing and proofreading the essay.
Aside from bribery (which we strongly disapprove of), there is not much you can do about recommendation letters. 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. You can help remind your child to make sure that these evaluations are handed out to the evaluators early (two to three months before the application deadline) since it takes time to compose a solid evaluation.
Interviews, which are required by many schools, can be downright frightening. Unlike the other components of the admissions process, interviews require interaction with real life admissions officers or alumni. One of the best ways you can help prepare your child is to do a mock interview. At first, your son or daughter may be hesitant or embarrassed to do a mock interview with you as the interviewer, but encourage him or her to try it. The most important thing to remember is to give your child constructive feedback on his or her performance. Do not concentrate on weaknesses as much as strengths. Tell your student which questions he or she answered particularly well as a confidence booster for the real interview. Also, never under any circumstances, go into the interview with your child. Some parents have the mistaken idea that it will help their child if they go in and explain what a good son or daughter they have and why he or she deserves to attend X University. Such attempts have a 100 percent chance of failing. The college interviewer wants to interview your child, not you.
Gen and Kelly Tanabe
Founders of SuperCollege and authors of 13 books on college planning.
By: Gen & Kelly Tanabe
The only how-to book which shows all students how to get into the school of their dreams. Based on the experiences of dozens of successful students and authored by two graduates of Harvard, this book shows you how to ace the application, essay, interview, and standardized tests.