In case you missed Part 1, you can check it out here: https://4callingbirds.blogspot.com/2018/12/how-to-get-your-kid-into-college-part-1.html
Part 2 is about the application.
First bit of advice, and I can’t stress this enough -- definitely apply somewhere Early Decision. You’ve made your list of schools and if there is one, first choice, stretch school that your kid knows they want to attend if they get in, apply Early Decision. There are countless articles out there about the fact that as colleges are increasingly focused on yield, they are admitting more and more of their entire class on an Early Decision basis because those students are committing to attending their school. Don’t overlook this option. You’ll thank me later.
Next topic is the Common App essay. Assuming you are applying through the Common App, they give you a choice of 4 or 5 prompts. You must pick one and have up to 650 words to write an essay. You school’s guidance counselor will tell you the goal should be that if some of your kid’s high school friends found this essay in the hallway, they should be able to read the essay and know that your kid wrote it. This means it needs two things:
(1) Tell Their Unique Story: Many of the essay prompts are broad enough that you can fit almost anything into one of the topics. Help your kid figure out their unique story to tell. What are they most passionate about? How have they explored this passion in a way that few others have? Most admissions essays are deathly boring. Tell a story that will be memorable and uniquely yours.
(2) Voice: Let your kid write their own essays. It is extremely important that your kid’s essay sounds like your kid. Your kid has a way of speaking that is distinctively THEM. You want this to come through in a big way. You can tinker with spelling and grammar but you don’t want to edit their voice out of the essay they write. Think about word choices. Don’t suggest your child write with long, esoteric words unless your child actually speaks that way. The people reading the essay will know when words feel out of place with the voice in the rest of the essay.
In addition to the Common App essay, many colleges have their own specific essays that you need to write when applying there. With my daughter, we found schools with none, with one and all of the way up to eight (yes, eight!) additional essays. They all have length limitations that must be strictly adhered to. Some are as short as 35 characters (including spaces!) so you need to make every word count. Others are as long as 500 words. These require a lot of work (writing and rewriting) so make sure to leave yourself lots of time.
Many of these college-specific essays take the form of “Why College X?”. These essays are a bit tricky. The colleges know they are great. You don’t need to tell them they are great. You need to explain why they are great FOR YOU. They are all hyper aware and on the lookout for tell-tale signs that you might be sending the same “Why College X?” essay to every school and just changing the name. You shouldn’t do that. What you should do is pull out all of the notes you and your child took when you were touring campus and sitting in the info session and use those notes to inform your essay. What stood out to you then? Share the story about the conversation you had with your tour guide that made you feel like this was a place you could fit in. Talk about the meeting you had with the chair of X department (and mention him/her by name). Each of these elements show that you have done your diligence and have been convinced this could be the right school for you. Another good source of essay fodder is to do some research on majors/programs/features that College X has that others don’t and if they interest you, mention them in your essay.
One last tip in this area is to mention other areas of interest beyond your child’s intended major. If they have studied Latin in high school and think they might continue in college, mention that if College X has a Latin department. During your tour, if your kid thought an exhibit in the Entomology (bugs) Department was cool, mention that they might want to take a class in that subject. College X will likely have thousands of applicants for the Biology department but your application might stand out a little more if you were the Bio major who also wanted to study video game design.
Last topic I’ll mention is letters of recommendation. Choose teachers or employers who know your child. Some people reach out to some well-known author or scientist they are 6 degrees removed from thinking it would be great if their child had a letter of recommendation from someone famous. If that person doesn’t know your kid, it will be transparent in the letter and the admissions officers will recognize it as the stunt that it is. Far better to get a sincere recommendation from the school’s janitor (see https://www.cnbc.com/2017/04/05/a-relationship-with-a-janitor-helped-this-teen-get-into-the-ivy-league.html) than from a department chair who only knows your kid superficially. Choose wisely. Good recommendations can make an application stand out.
That’s all I’ve got. I’m sure other things might come to mind from time to time but those are today’s pearls of wisdom. Oh, and remember to send your kid’s SAT, ACT, SAT subject test and any other relevant scores directly from the relevant testing organization. Your school’s guidance office should provide details on how and when to do this.
Hope this helps. It’s a tough process but everyone gets through it. And despite what some schools might want you to believe, there is more than one “perfect” college for your kid. Lots of luck!