Tips from Parents

Over the years, parents have shared tips that worked best for their families as they navigated the college admissions process. Below are some of those tips that you may find useful:

One of the things we did was to have weekly family college meetings where we all sat down and discussed where we were in the process, what needed doing etc. We found this a way to contain the anxiety and talk, so at dinner we could discuss things happening at school and other topics less loaded than college.

Always try to go on an organized tour of a campus. Don’t wander around just with your kid. My kids never had a very favorable impression of a campus unless they went on an organized tour. For one thing, the tour guides were always students and they had more ‘cred’ with my kids than anyone else.

Make your child put together a resume. It doesn’t need to be a “normal” resume. It can have categories which suit your child (Athletics, Volunteering, Familial Responsibilities, Academic Awards or Engagement). Make them do this FIRST before they embark on any applications. It acts as a kind of mental template and it forces them to put words behind the features of their life.

Take both the SAT and the ACT. Some people will really perform better on one than the other. Home study for either test is helpful, even doing a little bit so that the kids are familiar with the formats and the kinds of questions asked helps.

Don’t worry if your child doesn’t know what they want to study. It is equally important to know what you DON’T want to study. Ask them to think about WHY they don’t want to study something. You will find that the answers actually point them in the direction of the things they prefer, are attracted to, and find valuable.

Treat all the institutions you come across in your research with respect. In other words, don’t undervalue regional, smaller or academic institutions with special fields of study. My experience is that there are quality people thinking hard about how to provide quality experiences at all institutions of higher learning. Remember that the faculty at most colleges and universities went to other institutions, usually places of “greater prestige”. (Academic jobs are hard to get and most people take a job that is offered to them, no matter where.)

Ian did research on the colleges via social media in regards to student reviews. It’s great to understand how other students feel about the school.

Sophomore year is the year to be in Quiz Bowl, Model UN, Science Olympiad, travel for sports, have a cool internship. It helps kids find out what they like, get a “special” thing on their resume, or establish a link to something which will also be important in their junior year.

  • Start visiting colleges in middle school. We are so glad that we took advantage of vacations to visit schools in the area when it was convenient.
  • We would suggest creating (with the student) a timeline that includes application due dates and then build in benchmarks for prepping essays, etc. Getting buy-in from the student up front would make meeting the deadlines the student’s decision rather than something the parents are pressing.
  • Use additional resources in the HS English department to assist with some of the essays. With so many essays, students need multiple resources to assist in editing and advising.
  • Start earlier than you think is necessary.

One thing I think is important is suggesting the importance of visiting colleges and I would recommend starting as early as a junior. I would also suggest starting the college essay as a junior or very beginning of senior year.

Lastly and I think most importantly I feel like when you visit the school or attend a virtual event it shows the college admissions team that you’re interested enough in their school that you decided to visit it, especially if you have to fly to get there. I also thought it was very helpful when you made calls to Butler and Loyola admissions team on behalf of Ian. I think this also showed Ian was interested in their college.

Trying/planning to get initial college visits done in the summer of Junior year would have been helpful. It was on the radar but with COVID we were delayed. I also think getting a major jump start on the essay was a good thing. Sage had explored the essay her junior year and then when you met with her remotely, over this past summer, to really nail that down it was a good thing. It allowed her to focus just on the essay not the essay and schoolwork.

  • Spend a lot of time researching schools—reading, watching YouTube videos, etc., to try to get an initial list of schools that may be of interest.
  • Go see as many of those schools as possible, as early as possible (wish we could have done a lot more of this, but COVID).
  • Reach high, but also find safeties that you would love to go to.
  • Start your primary college essay early and finish a really good draft over the summer; write an essay that shows who you are and what interests you, not what you think they want to hear.
  • Spend as much time on your supplemental essays as you do on your Common App essay.
  • If a college you are applying to offers interviews, do it and be prepared; send thank you notes.
  • Attend virtual or in-person informational events, show interest.
  • If you have talent in the arts, submit an arts supplement, but make sure it’s good.
  • If there is an academic area or extracurricular that you are particularly interested in, reach out to professors at colleges to ask questions and express interest.
  • Be in touch with the admission officer designated to your state (without being annoying).

One thing that I did was immediately after each visit, I took notes about what made that school stand out for each of us. Those were helpful as Chase (and his older sister) narrowed down their lists later on.

I actually think kids should start to think about college as early as the ninth grade so they can be on track for the correct courses and hopefully understand the impact grades make on the colleges they can apply to.

Going to college is not a “life sentence”. Kids think about it as if it will define their whole existence. Remember that they can transfer. If they find the first place they go is not a good fit, they can leave. Remind them that they are applying for FRESHMAN YEAR. 90% will find they like it. But they should know they can still pivot. This takes some of the stress off.

More philosophically, the pandemic also made me chill out more about the whole process, and realize that while the search is important, there are many schools out there where a student can thrive—you don’t have to search for perfection. The more I hear about kids who wanted to get into the very most elite schools and were really depressed when they didn’t, the more I realize that the entire process is somewhat random. Conveying that to parents and kids upfront is helpful so that they both really understand what a 5% admission rate means and don’t internalize a rejection.


Thanks so much for absolutely everything! It was great working with you and I so appreciate all your sage advice and guidance. We got the best possible outcome and Lily and I are still sitting on Cloud Nine! This is truly a dream come true.