Well, we are done. I know that this is not my college search (although I enjoyed it), but it was a family effort at least in keeping the piles in order and getting to the out of town tours. This is what I learned...
- Prep is a necessary evil. My kids are pretty self directed so we found that a moderate number of sessions with a private tutor was most effective, but there are a lot of different companies and plans to choose from. ParentsofNYteens has a good list of tutors and I list tutors on my newsletter from time to time.
- Do testing assessment for the ACT as well as the SAT. Colleges don't care which you use and we found out almost too late that the ACT was a better fit test for my kids. Cates tutoring does good mock tests all year round.
- I thought that my friends where crazy for prepping their kids in the summer between Sophomore and Junior years and doing the first real ACT or SAT in Oct. of Junior year - but some of them aced it and were DONE. This made the rest of the testing that needs to happen in Junior year a little easier to take.
- If your child is doing well in Honors Bio in Freshman year or AP European History or Chemistry in Sophomore year, have them take the SAT II's at that time. Some highly selective colleges require several and you can give them more than they ask for. It is good to collect them over time.
- Register for the tests as early as possible to get the date and test site that you want, especially for the June tests (we had to go to Hoboken one time!)
- This is important! Have your kids write their common app essays over the summer before Senior year! They will have multitudes of other essays to write for each school's supplement. While it is possible to repurpose similar themed essays, it doesn't happen often when they are asking "why choose Ivy U?". This process was a non-fiction essay class in itself.
- Remove yourself from the process if you can. There are classes and people to help. Cates does an intensive summer workshop, Clifton Corner has a very personal, teen friendly exploration of personal themes, GirlsWriteNow has a free program for girls.
- Make sure that they edit a million times (for spelling, NOT SPELL CHECK) and school name if they re repurposing anything.
- while you are looking at size, location, student body and academics also pay close attention to whether they have generous merit aid and/or if they provide 100% of demonstrated need. If you do a prescreen for schools that are generous you will still find many programs that fill the other qualifications. I have found TuitionCoach an informative source for financial aid questions.
- look past the brand name schools. There are some absolutely wonderful places out there that you have never heard of, not only do they want your brilliant darling and may be willing to sweeten the deal but they offer small class sizes taught by full professors with lots of mentoring, interships and grad school placements.
- I kept myself busy while I left my kids alone to email schools and set up appointments by reading websites: collegeconfidential (my favorite) and collegeprowler (my kids favorite) and lots of books from the Fisk Guide to The Gatekeepers and Colleges That Change Lives
- The schools almost never want to hear from you. In fact it may be a detriment. Your job on the tour is to find parking and hold the coats. Don't ask the questions or email admissions unless it is a parent or financial aid question.
- EA is your new best friend. Non binding "Early Action". Your child applies early (early to mid Nov.) and they hear before the end of the year - yippee! but they don't have to sign on the dotted line until May after they have heard from all the regular decision schools AND get the financial packages. We got good news for Christmas and even though I am in love with the schools that show us the love early and often my kids are prudently waiting to weigh all offers.
- The colleges are swamped so getting stuff to them early means that they may actually get to spend some time reading the app and it does show that you are possibly very into the school. If you think that in all the admissions office hubbub they have missed something you can ask that they reconsider the file. We did that with great results!
- the fafsa and the css profiles are not all that bad. They are the financial aid forms that fill out to have your "need" assessed for public and private colleges. The fafsa.ed.gov is free. Don't go to fafsa.com - it is not the official site and they charge you. You can only list 10 schools on it and it is a bit of a pain if you want to list more. Your child can't write more than 10 good essays in the time given anyway!
I am totally in love with the research, but occasionally I wanted an objective opinion about what other schools we should consider, or how to describe a certain extracurricular, or approach the admissions office about a sensitive question. Deena Maeorwitz, Undergrad Admit was my sounding board, confidant and cheerleader. When my kids started freaking out in the middle of the night over some application question, I would respond, "well, Deena said..." and all would become calm.
If anyone else out there has anything to offer please chime in!