Does your child deserve the opportunity to be successful? Of course. That’s why preparing for college admissions should be a priority.
Every child, including yours, has unique gifts and the ability to achieve success, but in order to maximize your child’s potential, giving her proper college education is paramount. Without the diploma and the education that comes with it, your child may not be able to achieve everything he is bound to achieve.
It’s no well-kept secret that the college admissions season is one of the most stressful times for you and your family whether you are enrolling your child is enrolling in a private or public college, so in order to sail through it and set your child up for success, your family needs to be prepared with the right information.
Make no mistake – it’s complicated. Colleges want to see grades, look at test scores, receive letters of recommendations, and maybe even read essays. But if you stay ahead of the game and know what to expect, you’ll be prepared to beat the system and your child may even get to schools like Stanford.
4 Questions You’re Probably Asking about Grades
How highly are they weighted in the college admissions process?
While each college weighs grades differently, nearly every college considers them as the most important piece of any application.
College admissions committees will look at your child’s transcript from a few different angles.
They’ll look at the rigor of his or her course load (honors, AP, and IB classes score big points here), the grades in those and any other classes, and the overall GPA, all of which will play into whether an application is accepted or rejected.
Keep in mind, unless your child is applying for elite universities or California schools they will look at the unweighted GPA. Therefore, AP/honors classes could literally be ruining your college & scholarship chances.
How are grades considered relative to one’s school and classmates?
Over a third of high schools have stopped reporting class rank to universities so the universities have started to look at ranking less and less intensively.
Therefore, it’s smarter to focus on having strong grades relative to the course load. But the question is what grades do colleges look at?
Arizona state schools will offer guaranteed admission to in-state students in a certain percentile range of their class so it’s worth trying to keep that number up. Additionally, many private universities want to see new freshmen from lots of different schools and cities, so they’ll only take the best applicants from each school.
Your child will be competing against his or her classmates when applying to those schools and will need to have strong grades to do so. Keep your teen motivated so he can easily enter his dream school.
Do colleges look at weighted or unweighted GPA? What’s the difference between the two?
Most high schools give students an extra boost in GPA for taking honors and AP courses. Often, an A in an honors/AP class is worth a 5.0 when calculating GPA, a B is worth a 4.0, and so on.
The GPA that reflects those course choices is the weighted GPA and the GPA that considers all courses as equal is the unweighted GPA.
With a few exceptions (University of California schools, notably), schools all use an unweighted GPA in college admissions decisions. They still consider the rigor of one’s course load, but they do so separately from GPA. Some college admissions departments even recalculate your GPA using your transcript and their guidelines (i.e. Cal State). If you are wondering what GPA do colleges look at, research about the specific school your child wants to enter.
Is it better to get high grades in regular classes or average grades in honors/AP/IB classes?
It depends on the school that’s going to be reading the application.
When applying to a state school, earning high grades in regular classes can be smart because a high GPA can guarantee your child admission, as discussed above.
However, when applying to elite universities, this approach doesn’t cut it. These top college admissions departments want to see that their applicants challenge themselves and succeed so they look for honors/AP/IB classes and high grades.
However, when forced to pick between the two, try mixing it up. For example, your child can take honors/AP/IB courses in the subjects he or she is best at and then fill the rest of his or her schedule with regular courses.
The key is to have both elements – academic success and a tendency to challenge oneself – in the application.
4 Common Misconceptions about SAT/ACT Scores
Those traditionally dreaded tests are about to become a lot easier:
SAT is more important than grades, right?
Nope. While colleges can use these scores to compare students from thousands of high schools, the admissions officers also understand that they represent your child’s performance on one Saturday morning, while grades capture his or her performance over the span of four years.
However, don’t let down your guard – they’re still a major factor in an application’s fate. If there are particular areas your child is finding difficult, make sure they work on them before the test.
While the College Board suggests that success on the SAT is limited by one’s reasoning skills, there is a boatload of tricks that your child can learn in order to maximize his or her score on both the SAT and ACT. There are many free resources online:
- The College Board and Princeton Review both offer free SAT Practice Tests online.
- The Princeton Review offers a free ACT Practice Test.
You can also check out these articles posted by Student-tutor which are specifically written to help students ace the SAT:
- Top 10 new SAT changes in infographics
- Top SAT prep tips and tricks to ace the exam
- Cheatsheet for the night before the SAT
- How to study for the SAT
If you can’t do well on the essay, why even take the test?
Many colleges don’t even consider the writing portions of the tests and others look at them with less weight than they do the other sections.
However, this rule is hardly universal, and some schools look at writing closely, so be sure to research the schools your child is interested in and read up on their admissions processes. Make sure to improve your child’s SAT essay by consistent practice.
Do colleges see how many times you take the SAT?
In case you have taken the SAT a lot of times to get the score you wanted, it depends on the University or college you are applying to if they will ask for all your SAT scores. If they asked for all your SAT score you do not have to worry because most institutions do not penalize you for taking the test a lot of times.
There are two common ways that colleges apply in getting your SAT scores if you have taken the test a lot of times. The first is by super-scoring or compiling the highest scores among SAT subjects even if they came from different SAT tests. And the other one is through the single highest result or getting your SAT test with the highest score.
You can research these things by going to the website of the college that you are planning to enter. Most of the time, they list down the specific requirements for admission including details about your SAT result. Do not worry because these colleges are considerate and they view taking the test multiple times as a sign of perseverance in your end.
Beyond grades and SATs, there’s no other way to show achievement to colleges, right?
The College Board offers SAT Subject Tests in a variety of subjects – sciences, history, foreign languages, math, etc. – so if your child excels in a certain area, be sure he or she takes the corresponding subject test.
It’s one more impressive piece to add to an application. Some elite universities require one or two of these, especially when applying to an engineering college or special program.
3 Questions about Great Letters of Recommendation
Colleges like to hear about your child from other people, not just from transcripts and scores, so some colleges will request letters of recommendation. Here’s how you and your child can get the most out of these letters:
What sort of teacher should my child be asking for a letter?
The number one rule of letters of recommendation is to ask teachers who know your child well.
College admissions officers want to know that he or she is the student who is speaking up in class and impressing the teacher with his or her intellect, work ethic, and charm. Reading a generic letter from a teacher who clearly doesn’t know your child at all makes this difficult.
Is it best to ask for letters from teachers in hard classes?
This is similar to the first tip: colleges want to know that your child is the star player in the class, and the teacher of a class in which your child is the smartest student will be able to drive that point home in the teacher’s letter of recommendation.
Even if your child is beaming with pride from his or her B+ in AP Physics, it may be better to ask the American History teacher for a letter if your child has a 99% in that class.
If my child is a history buff, is it best to ask for letters from all history teachers?
If it’s possible to do this without sacrificing quality, your child should try to submit recommendations from, for example, a history teacher, a science teacher, and a Spanish teacher, as opposed to three from history teachers. This will show his or her ability to excel in every different kind of academic environment.
3 Other Questions We Might’ve Missed
What do college admissions look for in an essay?
Colleges want to understand how your child thinks – not what he or she has accomplished or how original he or she is. Rather than using words to rattle off a list of community service projects, your child should try to write candidly and intelligently about a topic or experience and how he or she perceives it. There’s little use in trying to fit a certain mold or set of expectations – if the quality is there, the college admissions officer will see it.
Why do colleges care about my child’s extracurricular activities?
These probably won’t make a difference when applying to large state universities, but small and elite universities will most likely ask your child what he or she has done in high school besides coursework. They do this for three reasons:
1) to fill their campus with sophisticated, well-rounded people,
2) to differentiate between applicants with similar credentials, and
3) to enrol a student body with lots of diversity.
Remember one rule when taking care of these: colleges generally like to see a few activities that show commitment (i.e. youth group president and captain of the soccer team) rather than a large number of activities and shallow involvement in each.
Once I’m accepted to college, how on earth can I afford it?
In the rush of college application season, don’t forget to apply for scholarships and financial aid. Students often get accepted to the schools of their dreams only to realize that they missed scholarship deadlines and cannot afford the tuition at those schools. With tuition, fees, room, and board totaling upwards of $60,000 per year at many universities, applying for scholarships and aid is certainly worthwhile, and here are some resources to help you do that:
- The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which everyone in need of financial assistance should fill out.
- The CSS, a financial profile created by the College Board to assist colleges in giving financial aid awards.
Your child’s college admissions applications can be a source of stress and anxiety for your family, but with these important tips, you’ll be able to navigate through the process with no problem.
On top of that, you don’t have to endure the stress alone.
Want to become an expert on what it takes to get into the elite universities?
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