Demystifying The College Admissions Process

Can you define biometrics, cyber security, and petro engineering? I couldn’t. And guess what? Those are three of the hottest ten college majors in the country right now. The college admissions process can be extremely baffling and stressful. How the heck do we guide our children through a process that has changed so drastically since we ourselves went through it?

To de-mystify the college admissions process, Sheryl Santiago – Independent educational consultant and owner of Coll-Edge Partners, LLC – joined me on my radio show last week, with a wealth of information to share with us.

First of all, she addressed that perplexing list of majors I just referenced. College counselors talk a lot about STEM: science, technology, engineering, and math. These majors are the most likely to lead to employment, and they are training students for jobs that don’t even exist yet!

Well then how do we help our children decide which of the 2,000 accredited colleges in the US to pursue? Many parents get caught up in the prestige of certain institutions, particularly their own alma maters. According to Ms. Santiago, the name on your bumper sticker hardly matters; what your child accomplishes at school is the most important thing. “The Best College” for your child is where your child will thrive.  So cast a wide net. Research lesser known institutions and be as attuned as possible to what your child wants. What are their strengths and passions? Which campuses did they like the best? Many parents get frustrated by their child’s seemingly arbitrary preferences, but Ms. Santiago reminds us that these preferences are often intangible: students will have a “gut feeling” one way or the other. Listen to your child! This is their experience, not yours.

Ms. Santiago does not recommend applying early decision. In her opinion, a student that is accepted early would probably have also been accepted via the regular admission process. The only difference is that the student who applied early has promised to attend, so they don’t have options, which are particularly important from a financial standpoint. Ms. Santiago has sometimes doubled the gift aid offered by leveraging one institution against another. The prices intitially presented are not set in stone, especially for institutions that are well-endowed. This cycles back to Ms. Santiago’s first piece of advice. If you are realistic about your child’s academic ability and apply to colleges where they will be at the top of the list, they are likely to receive the most gift aid.

For those students who are unsure about their next step and don’t have a competitive transcript out of high school, community college is an incredible option. You can demonstrate your ability as a college student, then transfer to your dream school: transfer rates are much higher than initial acceptance rates. Not to mention the thousands of dollars you’ve saved to acquire the same degree!

The bottom line: have realistic expectations, and stay attuned to your child. This is their decision.

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