Applying to college has become a game of survival of the fittest. We tell students that this is their process, not ours. But if we recognize that kids need us, even the whip-smart, independent ones, then maybe this process wouldn’t feel so immensely challenging. The fact is that it’s impossible for a student to apply to college without a whole team, or village, behind them.
It starts with family. When a child’s parents are engaged and interested in the process, the student is more prepared to successfully apply to college. Parents don’t need a college degree themselves to raise a college-educated child. That’s the power of the American Dream and the influence of social mobility.
Exposing children to college campuses early on is the first step. Local universities can be the best introduction to a child’s vision about going to college. Open houses are regularly scheduled throughout the year, and sometimes there are specific programs just for the local kids.
I also encourage families to incorporate a college visit on family vacations. Just imagine the impact on a child if one college is visited every year during an annual family trip. When visiting the Grand Canyon, Arizona State University is just a few hours south. During the trip to Disney World, drive over to Rollins College or the University of Central Florida. When kids visit a college campus, they will be in as much awe as when they see the Magic Kingdom for the first time.
Students don’t always like to share with their parents what they’re writing their college essay about or how they are responding to the many questions on a college’s application. But if they do, they will get more and sometimes better ideas about how to respond to these personal prompts.
When I meet a student for the first time to help them with the college process, I insist on having the parents in the meeting. No matter how much tension there is between the child and their parents at the start, I always see the child crack a smile when their parents mention something truly distinctive about them that they would never bring up on their own.
Parents remember the tiny, wonderful nuggets of a child’s life that often never make it to college applications. These exquisite insights can translate into moving essays and bring a unique dimension to a student’s applications.
School counselors are another source of great advocacy for getting kids into college. The more they know the student, the better a counselor can support them in the process. Even if they are extremely busy, I tell students that a quick update in the hallway between classes about a recent accomplishment or an idea can help build this relationship. Students who regularly interact with their school counselor are going to have better results in the college application process.
If a student’s counselor isn’t available to help, the student should lean on other educators at the school. School principals or assistant principals make powerful advocates for the student. One would be hard-pressed to find a principal or assistant principal who would decline the opportunity to help an ambitious student get into college.
Teachers are hugely influential in the college admissions process. They provide the all-important letters of recommendation for students applying to college. But more importantly, teachers have the unmatched power to inspire students to love a subject and understand academics in a much deeper way. Teachers help open the gates of higher education at all levels and they are key members of the team needed to help kids get into college.
Family members, counselors, school administrators, and teachers are all huge contributors who help good kids get into great colleges. It’s not one person or one thing that gets a student ready. It’s a village of people who support the student in this transformative process. This collective wisdom and care allow a student to achieve a college education and succeed in the world beyond their village.