Helping Your Teen Put Together College Applications
7 mins read

Helping Your Teen Put Together College Applications

So what does it take to get into college? Well, the answer depends on quite a few factors. The type of major, high school academics, standardized test scores, teacher recommendations, the personal statement, the interview, extra-curricular activities, leadership skills…the list goes on and on.

That’s why, as I’ve said many times before, it’s best to start thinking about college early. How early? In my opinion, it truly is never too early.

Below are some following factors in which college admission offices take into consideration. As always, be sure to check in with each college to fully understand be mindful of their requirements. Every college is different and there really is no cookie-cutter approach to applying for college.


The high school transcript. This is a HUGE deciding factor for most colleges. The types of courses taken, level of difficult in those courses, earned grade…all come into play when looking at your son or daughter’s high school transcript. Starting off 9th grade on a strong path will better your child’s chances at getting into a more competitive college.

Do not have your child take the bare minimum requirements needed to graduate high school, especially if they are college bound. Ensure that they are taking core classes (math, social sciences, lab sciences, foreign language, English, etc). Also, make sure that they are taking these courses at a level that is appropriate to their skill. High schools all around the country have different grading criteria. College preparation classes are fine, but if your son or daughter can challenge themselves in honors or AP (Advanced Placement), then have them take that route.

The truth is, there are thousands of students who are just as qualified as your son or daughter. Taking a competitive, solid course load through the end of senior year is key. Colleges look at the student’s reported rank, often expressed in the form of a number (ie: 15/200) or a decile (ie: 2nd decile) or by way of a grade distribution chart, located in the school profile. Do not allow senior year to be a slack-off year. Colleges look and very often, consider a student’s most recent achievement as an indication as to how they will fair in college.

Speaking of transcript, colleges also look at a student’s high school profile, often packaged along with the transcript. The high school profile is basically a snapshot of the high school. It gives college admission offices the tools to learn more about the high school. How many students attend? What is the highest level of education for the teachers? What are average test scores? What is the percentage of college bound students? Where have students been admitted? If you are unsure as to what this document is, check in with your child’s guidance counselor and ask for a copy.

Standardized Test Scores

Though not a favorite of many, standardized test scores may be used by some colleges when determining candidacy for a particular program or general admission. Often, students will be required to take the SAT or the ACT. Does your child struggle with test taking? See about signing them up for a test-prep course in your local community. Is cost a factor? See about getting them involved with small group study sessions as opposed to private tutoring. See what’s out there, get recommendations. Also, check in with the colleges they are applying to. Some colleges require the standardized test and some state that they are “test-optional”.

Recommendation Letters

These are a key aspect when evaluating candidacy. I used to review approximately 1,200 college applications per year when I worked as the Assistant Director of Admissions at a large state university. Recommendations are an important and insightful way for colleges to learn more about a student from an experienced academic professional. Ensure that the recommendations are coming from people who have direct experience working with your son or daughter. Make sure your child sits down with the recommender and discusses their options. It’s a lot of work to write a recommendation, so it’s always helpful (and nice!) for a student to provide insight and gratitude to the person vouching on their behalf.

Essays/Personal Statement

This represents a creative and interesting way for your son or daughter to present themselves to a college. With so many essays to be read each year, it’s helpful for your son or daughter to stand out. Many essays tend to be about the same topic. In my professional experience, I can probably pick out a handful of essays that really stuck out during each review season. They were different, they were creative, and they left me feeling inspired and encouraged to have that particular student be a part of our campus community. Some colleges require multiple essays and some require just one. Again, be sure to have your son or daughter do their homework in order to ensure they are submitting the necessary requirements. And as always, PROOF READ! A second or third set of eyes is always a good idea.

Extracurriculars and Activities

How your son or daughter is involved in high school is an excellent indicator as to how they will be involved in college. Campus communities want involvement. They want to see that your child is engaged, informed, and part of creating a positive and inclusive learning environment. Volunteer work, part-time jobs, internships, mission trips, tutoring, clubs…all of these are examples that demonstrate how a student engages with others. Colleges want to produce the world’s next leaders. Extracurricular activities are helpful, especially when colleges do not allow or require in-person interviews. Leadership, team building, and communication skills are all factors that play into evaluating one’s character and future contributions.

The above items are the primary factors used when considering candidacy for a particular college. As I mentioned earlier, it’s best to map out exactly what each college requires. Some require standardized test scores to be sent from the College Board, some do not. Some consider themselves “need-blind” in terms of financial aid, and yet some consider their institutions to be “need-sensitive.” You see, every school is subjective.

That being said, check in to ensure when deadlines are. Colleges have Early Decision, Early Action, Regular Decision, and Rolling Admissions. Each is very different from one another. Likewise, financial aid applications (known as the often have different deadlines, depending on the college. When I work with my clients, we map out exactly what is needed for each college and determine a comprehensive plan of action in an effort to present an impressive application package. Time management is key when applying for colleges. College is an emotional decision and one that takes dedicated time and effort.

Author: Jamie Brown Kennedy, Educational Consultant

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