Welcome to Part 2 of our College Admission series! Part 1 looked at exactly how competitive college admission is these days—and why. Plus, whether the industry experts were surprised by the recent bribing scandals (spoiler alert: no). But it’s not all bad news. We went back to these top experts for their very best tips on helping your child get into college. Here are some to keep in mind:

Let Them Experiment With Hobbies in Middle School
When kids start high school, it can seem like a mad rush to check boxes of extracurricular activities off on their resumes. But encouraging kids to explore hobbies in a low-pressure way in middle school can help them prep naturally for high school (and getting into college). Says Dr. Bari Norman, Co-founder and Head Counselor at Expert Admissions, an admissions advising firm based in Manhattan: “Let your child explore in middle school so that when they get to high school, they’re not trying to figure out their interests and strengths from scratch. It often takes time to figure it all out. Interests may still change (and likely will) but at least your child will have a good foundation and some experience under their belt.”

Talk Early On About Their Goals
Courtney Pinto, author of Born Into the College Pipeline says to sit down with your child at the beginning of high school, and discuss what they want in a college—and then have them sign up for the appropriate classes. “Kids don’t have to take all honors and AP courses to get into college, but they do have to pursue this type of academic work if they want to be admissible to the most selective colleges in the country,” says Pinto. Norman advises her clients to start even earlier with this conversation and planning. “The courses you take in middle school set you up for what you can take in high school. So the math you’re in in 7th and 8th grade is setting you up for high school– and therefore for college admission. You can’t just skip a level when you get to high school and realize you’re not going to be far along enough in math to be a competitive applicant at the school you’re interested in, so it’s important to map that out early.”

Don’t Overestimate Your Child’s Strengths
While we all think our children are geniuses, from the time they take those magic first steps or say those memorable first words, it’s important to put yourselves in the college admissions officers’ shoes. “Think of your child and compare him to his friends. How is he different and unique from them? What skills does she have that they don’t?” says Pinto. She adds: “Harder, though, is flipping these questions around and asking yourself how the friends excel in ways your own child doesn’t? Seeing the weaknesses in your child allows you to build a college list that will give your student more admissions wins than anything else.”

Have Them Keep a Journal
College essays are notorious for contributing to major writer’s block, so this tip can help get them started. “Have your child keep a journal when they are going through hard times, exciting times, or when travelling. Their thoughts and feelings during these experiences can be helpful when writing college admissions essays,” says Lisa Guss, Independent College Counselor and Author of The Essential College Admissions Handbook.

Stay Away From Their Essay
This is a red flag for admissions officers, says Norman. It can be tempting to edit and re-write, but anything more than some brainstorming and basic copyediting help can completely backfire.  “It really should be in their voice. Even a wicked smart 17-year-old doesn’t sound like a 50-year-old.”

Help Them Find A Happy Place for Them
Particularly in competitive high schools, kids (and parents) can get caught up in focusing on just a few schools—but ask yourself, is entry necessarily going to make your child happy? “Help your child find a school where they’ll be truly happy in September — not just during that small window of time in high school when everyone is hyper-focused on this process and wearing their college t-shirt to school,” says Norman. 

Avoid Overreaching and Under-Reaching
A college counselor can help you come up with a realistic list, and that’s a crucial step, says Alan Gelb, essay coach and author of  Conquering the College Admissions Essay in 10 Steps. “Kids should have an application list that is composed of one or two reach schools, one or two schools that are very much in that student’s zone, and a safety school. I feel truly sorry when I see a parent pushing a student toward a school that is actually impossible for the child (as compared to a ‘reach’) and I also feel sorry when I see parents underestimate their child.”

Enjoy College Visits
This rite of passage can seem like a chore, particularly when kids are stressed about college entry. But if you can manage to make a visit an adventure, it can be more fun—not to mention, productive. Says Guss: “Visiting colleges may be one of the last big chunks of time you have to spend with your child before they leave for college. So, enjoy these trips! Take the scenic route. Stop for ice cream. Go sightseeing. Have fun with your child! Remember the goal of this process is to find a school where they feel comfortable and where they will thrive, so watch them and see how they react on each campus!”

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