If I Were To Do It All Over Again

With my first son waiting on regular decision results, here are some advices that I would give parents who, just like me, are first time parents to aspiring college students.
*brass music lessons. (Most good colleges have marching bands and could use the help as well as alternates)
*swim team (this is an ‘leader’ opportunity for extra-curricular section that shows free community swim lessons given by your child)
*high school with AP’s (our current high-school is limited with just a few ap classes)
*public school (private school was a money drain, the difference in average SAT scores was about 30 pts. for our area)
*summer programs (another thing I didn’t know is that many colleges offer high quality level programs over the summer to sophomore and juniors, this is prime in the eyes of admissions boards)
*no early decision (ED is for rich people that know for sure that they can afford the school they’re applying to)
*watch your assets (I sold a house for a tiny profit and refinanced my current house with it, fafsa is blind that I don’t have that money anymore and still shows an insane income that doesn’t exist, now it looks as if I’m rich ugh!)
*visit schools (pay close attention to dorm size, quality of walls and floor tiles, recreation areas, library comfort and distance to dorms, travel between class distance, surrounding town, grass maintenance, all these show hidden concerns)
*don’t depend too much on guidance counselor (some of what he says may be hearsay from other’s opinions which were skewed, CC is a better place to get a huge variety of opinions about a school from bad to good)
*take SAT improvement course before the first attempt (the $899 was worth it but would have been better beforehand to show only one test taken)
*take ACT also (the more attempts at standardized testing the better because you then only send your best superscore of either one in)
*$90/wk from birth (If I had known college would be so expensive I would had saved. I put myself through community college with full financial aid thinking college was cheap, little did I know it all depends on EFC of which was a drastically different case when I was a kid)

I divulged a few personal things here but I am really concerned that someone has to go through the problems that I went through so I hope this helps.

Some good advice here, especially the point about starting to save early!
But I disagree about the summer programs. Many colleges see right through those. They are pay to play opportunities and while they can be great experiences for students, they don’t have a lot of bearing on admissions.

Agree with Wisteria. The only time summer programs figure in admissions are when a student is attempting to get into a " demonstrated interest" program. But this is about demonstrating interest in an area of study. Not a school. For example for Nursing at top schools (Upenn, Michigan) admissions looks at demonstrated interest and summer programs are one of many ways to show this. . But it doesn’t matter where you did the summer program. No admissions office that I know of cares whether you did a summer program there. It factors not as all in admissions.

Summer programs make no difference in admissions, and no one needs to pay for their kids to do summer activities. Colleges are happy to see a kid have a job, volunteering in the community, or go to summer school. The key is to not do nothing in the summer. I also don’t see why a PARENT needs to have their kid play an instrument or swim. This is very misguided. A kid should be involved in things that interest them. My kid was accepted to nine collegs and had no sports and didn’t play a brass instrument. Regarding APs, a student isn’t penalized if the school offers only limited APs. The student is evaluated in the context of what is offered in the school. I think you are comparing your kid to kids that have opportunties yours didn’t have, but that’s not an accurate comparison.

The rest of your advice is fine.

Interesting comments, but you really have no basis for several of them. You’re still waiting for results!

Brass instruments, swim team, summer programs? How can you possibly say these are beneficial? Most would simply encourage their children to pursue their own interests during high school without having some sort of agenda to benefit their college application.

After having two of my own go through this process, I’m somewhat jaded about the college visit. I’m not doing those tours with my third child until after she gets accepted. We can then tour the most interesting schools. I wasted money with both of my older children touring schools they were rejected from. There’s plenty of information online these days to make informed application decisions without flying to schools for a tour before you are accepted. Truly a waste of money.

Start saving early was your best advice for some.

I would add no smartphones until after their junior year.

The black hole/time suck/attention-span destroyer of social media is a bear to battle when you give a kid a smartphone in 7th grade :)] (and that goes for the parent, too, who has to spend all their time monitoring the kid’s social media to make sure they don’t get into anything awful)

Seriously, if I had to do it again I’d be going full Luddite and they’d be horribly embarrassed by flip phones until they went to college.

I’m going to disagree on the brass instrument (or any band instrument) unless it is your child’s passion. I was the HS kid who was passionate about music, enough so that my parents were genuinely shocked when I said I didn’t want to make music my career. I was first chair. I went to band camp every summer. I made All-State band. I did get a small scholarship to be in the marching band at big SEC school, but the time commitment is horrendous, both in high school and in college. Don’t get me wrong - I loved it! But I don’t think it would be worth it just to put it on a college resume. Find another activity you enjoy and put your time and efforts into that (whatever it is).

I disagree with a lot of it.

If your kid likes marching around, brass music lessons is fine. Forced marching band is why my oldest gave up playing in the band in high school.

Swim team - there are lots of ways you can do community service. My youngest taught origami at the senior center.

APs - colleges look at you in context. If your school doesn’t offer a lot of APs that is not a problem. You should however take the most rigorous courses your school offers that you can also do well in

Public School - there are some towns where I wouldn’t dream of sending my kids to the public schools either because they are too dangerous or because they are pressure cookers. We lucked out and got a good enough school where my kids thrived.

Summer programs - your kids should be doing productive things in the summer, but there is nothing magical about the programs on college campuses. My older son got a lot more bang for his buck earning money as a computer programmer during the summer. Recommendations and an income.

No ED. Current thought seems to be that you can turn down unaffordable ED offers. With today’s financial calculators you should already have a pretty good idea what the college will offer. I’m a big fan of EA and rolling admissions. Nothing like having an acceptance in your pocket before Christmas even if it isn’t to your first choice college.

Watch your assets. Okay - I agree that finding out what the FAFSA rules are early enough not to make financial decisions that would hurt you is a good idea.

Visit schools - YMMV one kid only cared about the department, the other kid did care about stuff that is hard to learn from a website. Even the non-visitor was willing to visit the schools that accepted him.

GCs - some know more than others. For us CC knew far more, but our GC and Naviance could still make better predictions about acceptances.

SAT - my oldest took an SAT prep course to try to improve his writing score. All his scores were within 10 points the second time he took the test. The course was particularly useless at helping with the essays. Younger son didn’t take it and his score improved significantly the second time he took the SAT. No college cares if you take the SAT two or three times. Really.

ACT - take it if you want to. Both my kids SAT scores were more than good enough to get them into the colleges they wanted to attend. Why take another test?

Saving - well yes, unless you are a high earner college has gotten ridiculously expensive. You can’t count on your kid to snag a merit scholarship especially since most of the top colleges only have need based aid.

***no early decision (ED is for rich people that know for sure that they can afford the school they’re applying to)- wrong, ED is for people who have done their due diligence, especially where the financial piece is concerned. **

This is a fallacy. There are many schools that have initiatives for low/ middle income families, where there are free tuition and no-loan policies in place (the challenge is that if your household income is $200k/ you are not middle income, even if you think that you are). The downside is that they they are probably some of the most competitive schools to gain admission.

If you have done the financial piece and you know that the money is not going to work, or you need to chase merit, then no, ED may not be for you. However, if you have done your due diligence as far as the financial (and even gotten an early Read from the FA office) and know the following:

The financial piece is doable
It is your child’s overwhelming first choice
You understand that you will not have the luxury of comparing packages (and you are ok with that)

*don’t depend too much on guidance counselor (some of what he says may be hearsay from other’s opinions which were skewed, CC is a better place to get a huge variety of opinions about a school from bad to good)

Guidance counselors are just like people who work in other professions/fields; there are good ones and their are bad ones (and I have met a lot of both good and bad GCs). Yes, a good one is worth their weight in gold and a bad one will drive you nuts. It does not mean that they are not useful. I have also met parents who did not realistically manage their expectations.

One of the challenges that the School Counselor (which is their correct title), is that the college process (which is just a really small piece of their overall job) is not their main job. They do not replace the student or their family in doing their research and due diligence when it comes to selecting a college. But the other side of the coin, have your child build a relationship with your GC, who will be your child’s advocate (especially if your child gets waitlisted or deferred) and gatekeeper in the process.

There is so much information out about colleges, from IPEDs, to CDS, visits, information sessions. The cost of college is the largest purchase you will make (outside of your home), for one of the most important people in your life. Why would you leave it mostly in the hands of others?

*take SAT improvement course before the first attempt (the $899 was worth it but would have been better beforehand to show only one test taken)

You can get this information from having your child take the PSAT, down load their information from the college board (what questions they got incorrect and the type of questions), and use Khan Academy and a number of prep books. It is easier for your child to raise their score in math than it is in reading. The only way that you will get better in the EBRW - Evidence Based Reading and Writing (the new title for the old critical reading portion of the SAT is to read)

the only ones I agree with are -
*visit schools
*don’t depend too much on guidance counselor ( especially in public school)
*take ACT also
*$90/wk from birth

Making your child do something just to get admitted instead of following their interests is wrong (swimming-instrument-summer programs)

In my neck of the woods (NY/NJ suburb) private school college counselors have excellent relationships with college admissions and can swing an admission. I have seen them get kids off of a wait list or deferral and admitted to a top tier school (Barnard, Notre Dame, etc.) Whether or not this is worth the HS tuition money - I don’t know - obviously don’t do if you can’t afford it and then college tuition after.

Well intentioned but I wonder how well people learn from others’ experiences. People are conditioned to learn new things. So without prior knowledge and experiences, to what degree they learn is a question mark. I’m a poor learner and have plenty of “If I Were To Do It All Over Again” thoughts.

I agree CC folks are great.

I’ll concede the point about summer programs, since I didn’t put my child through it I’m therefore still not sure if it would have helped. The rest of the points that were disagreed on above I still hold strongly even though there were some disagreements basically because of this–money. The disagreements by many of the above posters didn’t get my point that these were related in one or another way to money. For example, brass instruments. The most affordable school choice on my son’s list was Notre Dame, a very big school on the marching band scene. His grades make this school a ‘REACH’. Therefore, any ‘connection’ that he might get outside of academics would help him get in. My son is a born engineer so the rigor of his specific courses would not overwhelm him but he just needs to get in. The point is that their financial aid would have been our relief, their need for brass players would have been our solution. No other school was more affordable to us than Notre Dame, it was the most affordable choice so we needed to get in.

Swim team is connected to the athletic scholarships that are very generous to so many schools. It can be looked on as a College-Job that will partly pay for his tuition. The whole point is finding an extra curricular that will help a financial incapable family survive college-costs. I chose swimming at my example because it is one of the few that is additionally helpful with the leadership ability. You don’t have to be designated a swim instructor at a local swimming pool, but football and soccer equipment is a different story.

With regard to ap’s i realize that some schools say that they don’t care how many ap’s the child is limited to as long as he challenged himself as much as possible. Yeah, yeah, I know that’s what colleges say, I’ll just leave it at that.

Yes I agree with Early action, I don’t have a problem with it, It would save money on having to apply to 10 colleges, my issue was with early decision, I stated that I didn’t know that you would have been pressured to attend if accepted with little financial wiggle room. Now that I know that the net price calculator was wrong and I would have been paying an arm and a leg, I’m glad we were rejected.

In our case the SAT prep course increased my son’s grades almost 200 points so I can understand if your child didn’t benefit as much, but the article is about MY experience.

With regard to taking the ACT, well ofcourse if the SAT were high enough it wouldn’t make sense to take the ACT. Again you have to understand that the article I wrote is about what “I” would have done differently. After the second attempt taking the SAT we were better but not great, so while we had time, we could have taken the ACT to get a third shot at it. Taking the SAT three times would look bad in the admissions’ eyes, but sending only the better ACT would be a loophole.

There are other places that people disagreed with me, but I realized that it would take to much effort to demonstrate to them how I wrote about “Me” and my situation, and that there is more under the covers that they don’t understand, yet they used words like ‘you’re wrong’ and then give a response that has nothing to do with me. So for that reason, I’ll leave it there.

“Swim team is connected to the athletic scholarships that are very generous to so many schools. It can be looked on as a College-Job that will partly pay for his tuition.”

If you are counting on an athletic scholarship to help pay for college, swimming is NOT the right sport. You have to be swimming at the National level to be recruitable at most DI schools and have any hope of meaningful scholarship money. Swimming is not where the money is.

There’s a difference between a school looking to fill needed seats in their swimteam and getting paid a scholarship as an added perk. Both results are monetary benefits.

The first benefits in getting into an affordable school.
The second benefits in getting paid additional money.

If he didn’t get the scholarship but atleast got in because they needed more swimmers for their swimteam, that would have been fine. The school is affordable on it’s own.

Your student would have to be a super-star swimmer or brass player to have that be the thing that gets them over the goal line at Notre Dame. Good swimmers are not in short supply and my guess is that most swimmers, scholarship or not, at ND are athletic recruits. Take a look at the bios of the swim team members, in HS they were winning state and national titles. I have a family member who was a good swimmer in HS and on a club team, but was not at all good enough for ND, even though she went there.

Same thing for marching band. The band is big because it is a popular activity. Not going to be begging for more trumpets to fill in the brass section. My niece went to a highly regarded school with a big band and had to switch to an unpopular instrument to gain a seat.

Whatever activity a kid does in HS should be because they are committed to that activity be it swim team, another sports, student government, theater or whatever else. They may or may not get a leadership opportunity, but sticking with an activity and getting some success can be great for them and perhaps a slight boost for college admission.

I have two competitive swimmers, a D18 and an S20. Swimming is good for them in countless ways. It teaches discipline (getting up for 6am swim practices six days week during the summer is not easy!), instills work ethic, promotes a healthy lifestyle, promotes great bonding opportunities with teammates, forces good time management, and yes, can provide opportunities for community service and/or employment (my kids team swim lessons to the young swimmers). My D has pretty much decided she does not want to swim in college and that’s completely fine with me. It’s her choice. My S20, who is pretty fast and very competitive, just might swim for a DI school. If he can, great, but if he can’t make the needed times or chooses to focus elsewhere, that’s fine, too.

The way I see it, swimming has helped shape my kids into hard-working, focused, disciplined young leaders, and not just in the pool. That is how I think swimming (and many other sports) helps prepare students for a successful college career.

I like the OP for one reason especially: it looks broadly at factors that may at the margin make a difference in successful applications and options once acceptances arrive.

Much of the discussion on this forum is about grades and test scores + some EC of distinction. Grades and test scores are clearly important, nothing to argue with except perhaps the value of test prep. But the more selective the college, the more valuable it is to have a “hook,” and the college may value diversity in talents as well as signs of interests and achievements outside the classroom.

I see the “brass instrument lessons” item as a stand-in for “exposure to music” – could be tap dance, flute, or voice. Or it could be something else. For my #1 it was debate, as well as writing (newspaper, journalism). For my #2 it was art, including summer pre-college programs. They both were exposed to music, enough to figure out that this wasn’t a major interest or area of advanced talent. Neither had test prep (beyond a bit of self-study), but they had experience with standardized tests beginning with middle school talent search exams.

So I’m not jumping on the OP for the specifics but rather applauding the broad thinking. As for the money/savings recommendations – unquestionably one should save early and often.

Well stated @mackinaw and that’s basically what I was thinking (not as cogently as you!).

OP, I think you are really overstating the potential benefits of playing a brass instrument or swim team with college admissions. Sure, if it’s a passion and your child enjoys these, I would encourage these activities. The average trumpet player or swimmer is not going to get a boost at ND or many top schools.

Oh, and it’s not just about money. I’ve got money, but I hate to waste it on pursuits that will not offer a tangible return for admissions.

My one nephew did every one of these things (substituting saxophone for brass) and, surprisingly, his admission results were less than stellar. He should finish up his BS at an OOS public after six years. He is a great kid, very smart, 4.0 and 35 ACT, but all that prep did little to focus him on entry to the adult world.

Except for public schools and brass lessons for S1, our kids did almost none of these. Their preparation was just fine. There are many paths between points A and B. We work with the kid we are given.