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Unlocking the Mystery of College Admissions for Parents

Unlocking the Mystery of College Admissions for Parents

By Stephen J. Pemberton, Senior Assistant Director of Admission at Boston College

March 09, 2009

Unlike when you were enrolling in school, the college admissions process is full of twists and turns these days. Students have to meet several different deadlines for various types of applications, from the actual admissions application to the school-specific scholarship form. On top of these deadlines and papers, you have to have an understanding of what exactly colleges are looking for in potential students.

How colleges make decisions and what they look for when they read applications remains a great mystery to many families. Whether it’s the fear of being a number or the competitiveness of the institution, many students and families feel as if they’ve lost control of their fate once their applications are dropped in the mail.

Nobody can guarantee your admission. I can’t tell you your child will be admitted to a certain school. Truthfully, only the admissions office at the university can tell you that. What here are some insights into the different aspects of the process that will ease some of the anxiety your son or daughter may face.

Before doing that, a good exercise for your son or daughter is to go through an assessment of their strengths. On a blank sheet of paper write these two words: My Strengths. Under that write the following: “In the Classroom” and “Outside the Classroom.”

In the Classroom can be anything they think is important. Maybe they’ve taken tough courses, or they’re a good writer or the best math student. Perhaps they’ve taken the SATs or ACTs and are happy with how well they did – they might want to add that to the list as a strength. Like it or not, tests are a reality and colleges do use them as a measure of what your child has learned in the classroom.

Outside the Classroom is anything they’ve done that they feel is an investment of their time. It can be hobbies, interests, a part-time job or volunteer work. Anything they do outside the class or they think is important is wise to include.

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There are a few tricks you can use when applying to colleges.

Here is a certainty: ALL schools are going to look at your application on the basis of some combination of what we’ll call The Significant Six …

  • Grades
  • Standardized Tests
  • Extracurricular Activities
  • Recommendations
  • Essays
  • Interview


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