Defining the Parent’s Role in college applications

Defining the Parent’s Role in college applications

The Five Most Important Things You Can Do to Help

With increased selectivity, sky-high tuition costs, and confusion over what colleges require, the college planning process can be a stressful time for any college-bound family. But armed with a few simple tips, informed parents can replace the stress with positive opportunities to spend quality time with their teenagers.

The college planning process can actually help prepare your child for college and for life after college. Why? It is a great opportunity for students to learn to take control of their own lives by practicing skills in critical thinking, decision-making, planning, and organization. Parents and other responsible adults can play a supporting role but need to remember that this is the student’s college search; it is her life, his future. The student needs to be in charge, or she may end up not caring about what happens. So, what can parents do to help without totally taking charge and getting in the way? Here are the five most important things you can do.

1. Be Informed: This is a time when you really do have to keep up with your child’s level of maturity and skill development. How responsible is she? How much help does he need? What type of college would be best? Understanding what your child wants out of her college years is key. Be informed about classes and grades, standardized tests, college requirements, and trends in college admissions (colleges have become much more selective!)

2. Be Realistic: Understand and believe in your child’s ability, but don’t set the bar too high or too low. Compare her GPA and test scores to the average range of what colleges accept. (Keep in mind that highly selective colleges only take a fraction of students who have stellar grades and test scores). One of the worst things parents can do is take their child on college visits where they have little chance of being accepted. Do not set your child up for failure by providing unrealistic expectations. Also, be upfront about costs and what you can afford. However, you should not eliminate any school because of cost until you have fully investigated financial aid and scholarship options. Finally, make sure your child applies to a range of schools, including at least two “safety” schools that she loves and you can afford.

3. Be supportive: Along with arranging college visits, you can help keep track of application requirements, monitor deadlines, and oversee the financial aid process. You can also review and proof the applications, but be careful not to “over-edit” anything. Admissions counselors know the difference between the distinctive writing style of a 17-year old and an overzealous parent.

4. Know When to “Butt Out”: Try to keep an open mind and a tight lip at the beginning of the college search and application process. Listen, empathize, and understand that your child will probably change his mind many times during the process. Let your child make the initial contact with the colleges. When you visit campus, fade into the background and let him be in charge. Do not horrify your child by asking embarrassing questions or go into the interview with him, unless you are invited.

5. Enjoy the Process and Keep a Sense of Humor: This can be one of the best times you can spend with your teenager. Don’t ruin it by stressing out and nagging. Familiarize yourself with the campus when planning college visits and set appointments ahead of time. This way, your time on campus will run smoothly and you will avoid the frustration of getting lost and missing appointments. Also, be flexible, it’s ok to change your itinerary if things aren’t going as planned. Look for the humorous and fun parts of the process and keep telling yourself and your child that everything will work out in the end, so you can relax and enjoy the journey.

Questions? Let’s chat!

Bettina Weil

Weil College Advising, LLC

Character counts! What are colleges looking for?

Character counts! What are colleges looking for?

Adapted from the College Board

What are college admission officers looking for when they read your application? They take into account more than your GPA and test scores. Your character and the personal qualities you can bring to a college are important too. That’s why you need to think about your goals, accomplishments, and personal values and figure out how you can best express those in your applications.

Colleges look for qualities like leadership and a sense of social responsibility.

The Qualities Colleges Want

“What is it that makes you unique, and how will you contribute to the life of our campus?” That’s what admission officers want to know, according to Earl Johnson, dean of admission at the University of Tulsa. To gauge what students can bring to their campus, they look for these types of qualities:

  • Leadership
  • A willingness to take risks
  • Initiative
  • A sense of social responsibility
  • A commitment to service
  • Special talents or abilities

Overall, colleges want a mix of students to create a rich campus community. They want the class valedictorians, says Marty O’Connell, executive director of Colleges That Change Lives. But they also are looking for “students who are going to be involved in a lot of activities and students who are musicians and students who are athletes and everything in between.”

Your Application Shows Your Qualities

So how do you show colleges what’s special about you? Personal qualities are not easy to measure, but admission officers look at the items listed below for clues to an applicant’s character.

Extracurricular activities: What you do outside the classroom reveals a lot about you. That’s why some applications ask for details about extracurricular activities. But remember, it’s not the number of activities that’s important. Admission officers want to know what you’ve learned and how you’ve grown from participating in these activities.

Summer jobs and activities: Your summer experiences provide insight into your character. And holding a summer job at a fast-food restaurant can build as much character as attending a prestigious summer learning program. It’s all about what you’ve gained, what you’ve learned and how you communicate that.

College essay: The college essay gives you the opportunity to show the admission officers who you are and how you will contribute to the college campus.

Mike Sexton, vice president for enrollment management at Santa Clara University, says that when admission officers read student essays, they ask themselves, “Would you like this person to be your roommate? Would you like to work on a group project with this person?” The essay can reveal the answers to these questions more than any test score can.

Letters of recommendation: Recommendation letters can tell a lot about the kind of person you are. A teacher who knows you well can give insight into not just your academic strengths but also the qualities you display in class, such as leadership or fairness.

Questions? Let’s chat!

Bettina Weil

Weil College Advising, LLC

junior year: fall and winter checklist

junior year: fall and winter checklist

Adapted from the Common App

This year is about focus — on your grades, your college entrance exams, your college search, and, of course, yourself. Now is the time to determine the activities you enjoy most and the interests you want to pursue.

This is the year college changes from a distant concept looming in your future to an actual reality to prepare for today.

Your checklist

  • Before you even begin your college search, your school counselor can make sure you’re on track to meet your academic obligations and connect you with resources and timelines. Be proactive! It’s up to you to schedule appointments and get help when you have questions.
  • The PSAT is a standardized exam your high school administers in October. It will prepare you to take the SAT (a standardized entrance exam required by some colleges), but it also serves as a qualifying test for the National Merit Scholarship Program.
  • There are lots of colleges and universities out there and just as many ways to learn which ones might be a good fit for you. Start your search by attending college fairs and meeting with college admission representatives who visit your high school or community. Do your research, take notes, and meet with your school counselor to further shape your college list.
  • Standardized tests – including the SAT, ACT – can help colleges assess how ready you are for college-level coursework. Talk with your counselor about what test preparation opportunities may be available, which tests you should take, and how to determine the testing requirements for the colleges you are considering.

    Did you know? More than 1,000 four-year colleges and universities do not use the SAT or ACT in the admissions process. Visit FairTest to learn more and to access a searchable database of test-optional schools.

Questions on how to make the most of your junior year? Let’s chat!

Bettina Weil

Weil College Advising, LLC

Seven Misconceptions that Lead to Weak Applications

Seven Misconceptions that Lead to Weak Applications

As summer approaches its end and families start planning for the fall, conversations on college applications heat up in the homes and minds of parents and students. The “college talk,” which inevitably emerges in families’ social gatherings, often creates a great deal of anxiety, uncertainty, and common misconceptions. Let’s dive into a few of the classic “myths” and clarify some of the murky- and often contradicting- information that goes around.

College Myth #1:  The more extracurricular activities you do, the better.

This is an outdated perception of what college admission counselors seek in an applicant. Today, the golden formula for extracurricular activities is Depth, Commitment, and Impact. What does this mean?  Colleges like students who are dedicated, perseverant, and have grown with and through their experiences. Moreover, they like it when students take initiative and are active participants. In the eyes of admission counselors, these attributes are a good predictor of maturity, consistency, and determination. 

College Myth #2: SATs and ACTs are the most important component in a college application

Standardized tests are one of the pillars of the college application, but not the most important indicator a students’ potential in college. SATs and ACTs can be compared to a sprint– a three-hour sample of a students’ performance. However, admissions committees know that college is not a sprint, it is a marathon! The transcript is often a better indicator of how a student will sustain the effort required in that academic marathon. Don’t think, however, that you can forget about standardized tests! College admissions counselors understand that not all high schools grade in the same way. Therefore, the SAT and ACT tests are valuable standardized measures of student performance.  

College Myth #3: It is better to have an A in a regular class than a B in an AP or honors class. 

Colleges love to see that students challenge themselves and are willing to take risks with their academic coursework.  Because taking APs and honors will fill that box,  many students like to load their junior and senior schedules with such classes. If a more demanding course will result in a very slight drop in grades, this is acceptable. However, competitive colleges don’t like Cs and Ds. Therefore, if grades will drop to that extent due to the rigor of the class, it is better to stay in a regular class or take fewer demanding courses. Students should discuss their options with their guidance counselor at school, in order to strike a good balance between rigor and performance. 

College Myth #4: A good application is the only thing that matters for admissions

A good application will, of course, get you at least as far as the ‘maybe’ list and possibly further. However, there is more that you can do to get your foot in the door of your dream school, and that is called “demonstrated interest”. Why does this work? Because colleges like to know that the students who are offered a spot will actually attend. This ratio of offers to enrollment is called “yield,” an important statistic for colleges.

If you demonstrate your willingness to attend by visiting, writing to your regional counselor, or scheduling an interview (if offered), it might help your file pass from the “maybe” pile over to the “yes” pile. Be mindful that admissions officers are very busy people, so don’t overdo by reaching out to them many times or you may end up in the “no” pile. Be aware that highly competitive colleges (ivies, etc.) usually do not track demonstrated interest.  

College Myth #5: The college essay is the least important variable in a college application. 

Not at all! Colleges admission counselors strive to acquire a holistic understanding of the applicant: their academic performance and potential (transcript and SAT/ACT) what they do in their free time (extracurricular activities), what others think of them (letters of recommendation) and who they are as a person. 

What do admissions counselors want to learn from the essay? They want to understand how you think, what shaped you into who you are, what are the values you wrestle with… in essence, who you are beyond the numbers.  You might ask, “what drives that curiosity?” Admission officers try their best to create a diverse group in which students can exchange ideas and learn from one another. It is estimated that 40% of the learning in college takes place outside of the classroom!  Admissions counselors try to facilitate that learning by selecting students who are self-aware independent thinkers who can reflect upon their experiences. This can only be transmitted through the personal statement, so make sure you really show yourself!

College Myth #6: It is best to ask for recommendations from “important” people

Unless the VIP or celebrity has a personal connection with the student, and has interacted with him in an academic/professional setting, such a letter will not help in a college application and might even hurt it. Refrain from asking for recommendations from your congressman or the CEO of a multinational company who knows the parents. Admissions officials will probably frown upon such a letter, and likely interpret it as “name-dropping.” Letters of recommendation are supposed to be from someone who knows the student well and worked with him/her on a daily basis. Great recommendations often come from teachers of a core subject in school.

College Myth #7: Applying for financial aid compromises the chances of admissions

It depends on the student and on the college. Regarding financial aid, some colleges are “need bind” – the application for financial assistance does not interfere at all with the decision of accepting the student. Other colleges are “need-aware” – the decision might be affected by the request for financial aid.  This is a complex topic, so make sure you inquire before you draw conclusions. 

Questions? Email us at

20 Ways Parents Can Support Children Applying to College

20 Ways Parents Can Support Children Applying to College

A big thanks to Ethan Sawyer, The College Essay Guy, for this article! See more on Ethan HERE

The application process is different for every family, but here are 20 important things for parents to keep in mind while helping their children get into college.


Give yourself a break and let your student decide where to volunteer. Inspire him or her to go as far as they possibly can; your child doesn’t need to be the next Steve Jobs by senior year to get into a great school. Chances are, the more say your student has in where they volunteer, the easier it will be to get them out of bed on Saturday morning.


I know. When your son is sitting in front of the TV at 9 pm on a random Thursday, you may be  wondering, “Hey, why aren’t you working on your college applications?” But keep in mind that you may have a different sense of when work needs to begin and your alarm could be going off a little earlier than his. Rather than playing the role of taskmaster–Get to work!–invite your son on a walk, or out for coffee. Spend some time together. Ask questions. Get curious. Which reminds me:


This should probably be #1. Here are some active listening tips that I like (especially #8).


You don’t have to do this on your own. If it feels like it might be nice to have someone to help with the process. That’s what we do! Contact us HERE


Here’s a win-win: avoid a dull college tour AND save money by combining college visits with a family trip.


Not only will this build your child’s self-confidence and communication skills, but it’ll show the school “demonstrated interest,” which is something many schools track (in other words, many schools track how much concrete interest you’ve shown: Did you visit? Did you interview? etc.) Sure, it’s important for parents to stay informed, but it sends a poor message about your student’s motivation if admissions counselors only hear from a student’s parents. (Note that I underlined the words “your student” above.)


This doesn’t mean being your child’s piggy bank. Supporting your student financially means having your taxes done on time and putting your financial information into their hands so that they can be equipped to apply for scholarships and fill out their FAFSA. Above all, stay informed and read about the Parent PLUS Loan, the most common parent loan option.


Here’s a step-by-step guide to what should be happening when. You can even download it and print it out; just drag it to your desktop.


Part of the pressure that comes from the college process is our own pain at letting our kids go. From the start it helps if parents can be clear in their own mind about what parts of the pressure are their own feelings of sadness or anxiety and what it is their kids are actually experiencing. It is very easy to conflate the two.10. FOCUS ON FINDING “BEST FIT” SCHOOLS

Instead of feeding your kid the canned line that there are thousands of good colleges “out there” focus on finding a school they really want to attend and are more than likely to be admitted. This can be tough sometimes, but once they have found that school, and better yet been admitted to that school, the pressure will be reduced.


Constrain, by mutual agreement, the amount of time that can be spent discussing college admissions every week at home and making sure that younger siblings, particularly if they are close in age, are not dragged into the discussion. This will make their process too lengthy.

Remember that much of what we know about colleges is 30 years out of date and grandparents can be more than half a century out of date. If we think about what changes in our world in 10 years it is easy to see why parents are lost.  Forget old notions about schools and instead do good research with good sources and find experts to answer your questions. Even if you have an older kid, many things have changed. Don’t poison your kid with outdated notions on schools, applying and test taking.


Don’t wax on about how much easier it was to apply to college in the 80s or 90s. Your kid can’t time travel and this just increases their stress. All parents do this. Just don’t.


Kids need good grades, scores and activities they love.  By starting college tours as early as 9th grade the subject of college hangs over their heads when it doesn’t need to be. The reality is that what they want and where they will apply changes so much that starting too early can waste time and increase stress. Parents should start looking and finances, scholarships, savings, costs early, but this does not need to involve the teen until 11th grade.


Kids change their minds and know that nothing is cast in stone until they confirm a school. Until they have accepted an offer of admittance, keep the conversation going and listen to what they are saying. This is a period of huge growth for many kids and the schools they were sure they loved early in the process may fade by the end.


There is real expert information on college admission to be found online and there is dangerous hype from parents who know no more than you do. Be very careful to distinguish between the two. We love to direct parents to some of the best blogs by college admissions officers, the people who actually admit students. They make for interesting and truly informative reading. Here is are a few college admissions blogs we love.


And what is your top priority? To empower and support your student through the process and remind them that you will love them no matter what. Ask yourself: does my child know my love is unconditional? Maybe. But throughout this process, it helps to give lots of reminders. And hugs.


Remember that the process of applying to college is now much more competitive than when you applied. So cut your child some slack if they don’t get into where they (or you) had hoped. One of the best ways to avoid disappointment is to work together to develop a balanced college list that includes three reach schools (1-24% chance), three maybe schools (25-75% chance), and three-match schools (76% chance or better).

Here’s a tip: fall in love with all nine schools on the list, not just one or two at the top.


I know you know this. But sometimes you forget. (I forgot too sometimes when I was helping my younger brothers with their college essays.)

Remember to empower and support rather than micromanage their college essay writing process. A great book that I’m reading right now (in anticipation of my first child) is Alfie Kohn’s Unconditional Parenting. Amazing stuff.


Abigail Van Buren once said, “If you want your children to turn out well, spend twice as much time with them and half as much money.” The university application process can be fun and can even bring you closer. So be a mentor rather than just an ATM. This might be the last year you live together. Which reminds me. Once your child is off to college…

20. LET GO

Don’t think like an empty-nester; think like someone who just got a lot of extra free time.

Pros and Cons of Applying Early

Pros and Cons of Applying Early

by Scott Anderson

Early decision (ED) and early action (EA) plans can be beneficial to students — but only to those who have thought through their college options carefully and have a clear preference for one institution.

Early decision versus early action

Early decision plans are binding — a student who is accepted as an ED applicant must attend the college. Early action plans are nonbinding — students receive an early response to their application but do not have to commit to the college until the normal reply date of May 1. Counselors need to make sure that students understand this key distinction between the two plans.

Approximately 450 colleges have early decision or early action plans, and some have both. Some colleges offer a nonbinding option called single-choice early action, under which applicants may not apply ED or EA to any other college.

ED plans have come under fire as unfair to students from families with low incomes, since they do not have the opportunity to compare financial aid offers. This may give an unfair advantage to applicants from families who have more financial resources.

ED applicants

  • Apply early (usually in November) to the first-choice college.
  • Receive an admission decision from the college well in advance of the usual notification date (usually by December).
  • Agree to attend the college if accepted and offered a financial aid package that is considered adequate by the family.
  • Apply to only one college early decision.
  • Apply to other colleges under regular admission plans.
  • Withdraw all other applications if accepted by ED.
  • Send a non-refundable deposit well in advance of May 1.

EA applicants

  • Apply early.
  • Receive an admission decision early in the admission cycle (usually in January or February).
  • Consider acceptance offer; do not have to commit upon receipt.
  • Apply to other colleges under regular admission plans.
  • Give the college a decision no later than the May 1 national response date.

Who should apply early?

Applying to an ED or EA plan is most appropriate for a student who:

  • Has researched colleges extensively.
  • Is absolutely sure that the college is the first choice.
  • Has found a college that is a strong match academically, socially and geographically.
  • Meets or exceeds the admission profile for the college for SAT® scores, GPA and class rank.
  • Has an academic record that has been consistently solid over time.

Applying to an ED or EA plan is not appropriate for a student who:

  • Has not thoroughly researched colleges.
  • Is applying early just to avoid stress and paperwork.
  • Is not fully committed to attending the college.
  • Is applying early only because friends are.
  • Needs a strong senior fall semester to bring grades up.

Encourage students who want to apply early to fill out NACAC’s Early Decision Self-Evaluation Questionnaire, in the Deciding About Early Decision and Early Action handout. You may want to share this with parents as well.

The benefits of applying early

For a student who has a definite first-choice college, applying early has many benefits besides possibly increasing the chance of getting in. Applying early lets the student:

  • Reduce stress by cutting the time spent waiting for a decision.
  • Save the time and expense of submitting multiple applications.
  • Gain more time, once accepted, to look for housing and otherwise prepare for college.
  • Reassess options and apply elsewhere if not accepted.

The drawbacks of applying early

Pressure to decide: Committing to one college puts pressure on students to make serious decisions before they’ve explored all their options.

Reduced financial aid opportunities: Students who apply under ED plans receive offers of admission and financial aid simultaneously and so will not be able to compare financial aid offers from other colleges. For students who absolutely need financial aid, applying early may be a risky option.

Time crunch for other applications: Most colleges do not notify ED and EA applicants of admission until December 15. Because of the usual deadlines for applications, this means that if a student is rejected by the ED college, there are only two weeks left to send in other applications. Encourage those of your students who are applying early to prepare other applications as they wait to receive admission decisions from their first-choice college.

Senioritis: Applicants who learn early that they have been accepted into a college may feel that, their goal accomplished, they have no reason to work hard for the rest of the year. Early-applying students should know that colleges may rescind offers of admission should their senior-year grades drop.

Students and parents can use our Pros and Cons of Applying to College Early, in the Deciding About Early Decision and Early Action handout, to weigh their options.

Does applying early increase the chance of acceptance?

Many students believe applying early means competing with fewer applicants and increasing their chances for acceptance. This is not always true. Colleges vary in the proportion of the class admitted early and in the percentage of early applicants they admit.

Higher admission rates for ED applicants may correlate to stronger profiles among candidates choosing ED. Students should ask the admission office whether their institution’s admission standards differ between ED and regular applicants, and then assess whether applying early makes sense given their own profile.

The ethics of applying early decision

The Common Application and some colleges’ application forms require the student applying under early decision, as well as the parent and counselor, to sign an ED agreement form spelling out the plan’s conditions.

Make it clear in your school handbook and at college planning events that your policy for early-decision applications is to send the student’s final transcript to one college only: anything else is unethical.

Keep in mind

  • ED and EA program specifics vary, so students should get information as soon as possible directly from the admission staff at their first-choice college.
  • ED and EA applicants must take the October SAT or SAT Subject Tests™ in order for these scores to make it to the college in time.