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A Parent’s Guide to College Admissions

Helping Them Choose a College

There is no such thing as “the perfect college” for your child. There are 3,500 accredited colleges and universities in the United States, so chances are there are several good “fits” for your child, even close to home! The sooner you and your child begin thinking about college, the more good options he or she will have when it comes to making the final decision.


There are many factors to consider searching for good college “matches”. Both you and your future college student should draw up a list of considerations that might affect his or her choice: academic interests and goals, extracurricular activities, character traits, social habits, appropriate school size, and geographic location. Compare these lists and try to compromise on a unified list of considerations. Try to listen to and be flexible with your child’s ideas, as ultimately it will be his or her happiness that dictates undergraduate success.


Familiarize yourself with the variety of colleges and universities available to your student. Know the differences between a liberal arts college and a university, between technical and professional schools, and between community and junior colleges. Be aware that they are historically black colleges and universities, as well as those that are historically female.

Though internet sites like,, and, are helpful places to start, there are other important research vehicles that you should utilize. Set up a one-on-one meeting with your child’s high school counselor (sometimes called a “college counselor”) to discuss expectations for your child’s college admissions process, as well as find out about college fairs and student-parent information sessions that might be going on at the school or in the area. Encourage and facilitate discussion between your child and college graduates you both are familiar with; this can include family members, friends, colleagues, coaches, or community leaders.

College guidebooks are also helpful for comparing and contrasting colleges, and are readily available at any major bookstore. These guides usually list colleges and universities alphabetically, and include all the requisite information like school-size, majors offered, ethnic diversity, cost, and some even offer more interesting tid-bits like the social habits and eating options at a particular school. Also, be sure to have your child check ‘Yes’ beside the Student Search box on the PSAT/NMSQT form. This will allow good schools to approach your child for an application, rather than the other way around!

Make the List

Use the quantitative evaluations of your child’s success such as SAT score, SAT Subject Test scores, transcript, class rank, and grade point average to draw up a list of at least 10 colleges well-suited to your child’s level of achievement. STEP has several office copies of the college guidebooks which detail the exact score requirements to be admitted into schools across the country. Have your student make detailed notes of these requirements, and compare his or her own scores accordingly. Scores alone are not the only factor in a college’s decision to admit a student, but they are good indicators with which to make a list of possible “matches” for your child.

Helping Them Apply to College

The parent’s role in the college admissions process is key, and should not be limited to financial planning.


Getting your child organized is the first step to a painless and successful application process. Have him or her make a folder for each application, with a checklist on the front cover detailing the materials required for that school and the postmark due date. Be sure to send a copy of your child’s college list to STEP as soon as it is finalized.


Help your child draft a comprehensive resume. Brainstorm about the activities and awards he or she has accumulated over the years, and make a list that highlights his or her personal strengths.

Key Information

Have your child memorize his or her social security number and high school code, as these will be important parts of any college application. Check with your child’s counselor to verify that transcripts are being sent to every college on your child’s list.

Letters of Recommendation

Push your child to ask mentors, teachers, or coaches for recommendation letters early in their Senior Year, if not before. He or she is more likely to get a thoughtful and accurate letter in August or September, rather than in December when school personnel are burdened with an influx of requests. Also, keep in mind that recommenders should be people who know your child well. The key is finding someone who can speak positively about your child in depth, rather than someone who has an impressive career but has had hardly any contact with your child. College admissions officers know the difference!

Apply Online

Encourage your future collegian to apply to college online. A growing number of colleges and universities use the Common Application form, which can be accessed and filled out online at In addition, many other schools have their own online application, which can usually be accessed through the school’s website at www.(name_of_school).edu.

Sending Applications

If you are using a paper application, be sure to make photocopies of all materials in your application packet. Also, consider sending all paper applications by Certified Mail. If you are applying online, it is a good idea to print out the completed application before pressing “Send”.


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