When the kids head back to school in the fall, it’s a primo time to talk about college – and how you can help your student along in the process.
Whether your child is just starting his her or freshman year of high school or applying to college as a senior, there are things you can do to lessen the stress associated with college for you and your entire family.
We got a chance to speak about the process with Robyn Weiss, M.Ed., MA, LPC, an extraordinary counselor from Berkley High School, who is an expert at guiding students through the college admissions process.
When should students start thinking about college?
“At the beginning of my career as a school counselor (in 2005), my answer would have been that it is never too early to start thinking about college. However, our world has changed a lot since 2005, and my students are experiencing extremely high levels of stress, anxiety and depression.
“I often think about our role as school counselors in this, and I believe now that students should start thinking about college when they are able to think about their options from a place of balance and wellness. And for some students, that may not be until later in high school (or even after graduation).”
What is the No. 1 choice school for students at Berkley High School?
What advice to give to a student who wants to go to U of M but does not have the grades or test scores?
“My message throughout high school is that U of M is the college in our state that looks most closely at GPA, class choices and ACT/SAT scores. So those data points are very important to them. If a student’s grades and test scores fall below the data points U of M provides, my advice is always that U of M should not be the only school they apply to.
“In the same vein, I would never discourage a student from applying to U of M, as long as they work really hard on the other components of the application, specifically U of M’s writing prompts. An authentic and thoughtful application is very important, and I have had students over the years with lower GPAs and test scores get accepted.”
If you could give parents one tip for guiding their children on this road to college, what would it be?
“Relax. Everyone needs to relax and breathe! Only 61 colleges and universities (out of literally thousands) offered admission to less than 25 percent of applicants. That means that thousands of colleges and universities offer admission to more than two-thirds of their applicants. While the process is far from perfect, all of my students who apply to college get accepted to somewhere that ends up being a great option.
“Highly selective schools will always be highly selective. There is a place for everyone; there are plenty of options out there and always schools looking for fantastic students.”
What trends do you see in college admissions?
“The biggest trend I have noticed over the last seven years in my role at the high school level is that students (and parents) are more stressed and anxious about the admissions process. The trend towards stress, worry (and) panic is not healthy.”
What excites you about helping students on their journey after high school?
“The most important part of my job is helping my students realize that they have the ability to navigate this world confidently and that who they are matters. I help them find their voice, encourage their independence, model what it means to be resourceful in order to solve problems.
“I teach them to be better communicators and to ask for what they need. They should not leave high school without the ability to make decisions on their own and feel good about them, including what their journey may look like after high school.”
What do you wish you could change?
“I wish that as parents we could change how we approach our child’s journey toward independence. We do not give them the space to fix their mistakes; we swoop in because we don’t want them to be uncomfortable or feel pain. I am a mom of two children, so I have been guilty of this as well.
“But we need to be more mindful that we cannot rescue them at every turn. It is in those stressful spaces, those moments of great disappointment that we grow and learn the most about ourselves. We need to step back more. That is what I wish could change.”
What is the most challenging part of this process for students?
“Applying to college is a cumbersome process with lots of details and requirements. In addition, the messages they are carrying with them from parents, friends, their inner voice are all over the place. They think there is a perfect way to apply to college – but there is not.
“It is going to be messy and imperfect, but if it is done thoughtfully and authentically – then anything is possible. But students need to be organized in their approach. They need to slow down and take it step-by-step.”
Breaking it down by year
Here’s Robyn Weiss’s boiled-down advice for high school students, offering specific tips for all four years (including a two-part look at the all-important junior year and how to prepare for senior year).
“Make the most of your transition to high school. Work hard to learn what kind of student you are. Find your helpers, your trusted adults, your mentors. Try new things. Think about the things that make you pause and want to learn more. Look for inspiration. Build your independence and confidence.”
“If college is important to you and your family, ask to go on campus visits. Use the internet to learn more about places that might interest you. Use what you learned about yourself freshman year as a guide to finding more about colleges and universities that suit you.”
Start of 11th grade:
“Don’t lose yourself in the pressure of studying for ACT/SAT. The test is important, but not more important than your well-being. The same advice goes for grades in your classes. Yes, doing well in school and in your classes is important, but your well-being is more important than anything.”
End of 11th grade:
“Continue to explore colleges. Start making a list of colleges. Explore application requirements for those colleges and if they require personal statements and/or essays. Think about what you are going to share with colleges in your application essays.”
“Remember that everything, and I mean everything, works out as it should. Don’t sit back and wait for it to work out. Show up every day and do your best to reach your goals. Put yourself out there. Submit a thoughtful and authentic application. And then, let go of trying to control the outcome. The place that offers you admission has recognized that you would be a good fit for their campus. If they deny you, it means something better is out there.”
Get more tips
Her strategic communication and writing services company is a leading expert on the college application essay. Wow works directly with students throughout the world, and trains school counselors, English teachers and independent educational consultants.
To learn more about writing an attention-grabbing college essay, download a free electronic copy of Lifton’s book, How to Write an Effective College Application Essay, The Inside Scoop for Parents.
This post was originally published in 2019 and is updated regularly.