What do you wish you knew before your first child applied to an elite school?

I am participating in a seminar being held at my oldest son’s high school that is part of a series on the college admission process. I will be doing a small group question and answer session regarding the specifics of applying to the elite schools (i.e. those in the top 20-30 rankings-wise) because my son did that last year. One of the things I wish to discuss is “what I wish I knew” that could be helpful to those kids and their parents who are applying to these schools. I need to finish it up this weekend and would be curious to hear what other parents think. I think there’s a huge learning curve for the first kid, especially for families with unrealistic expectations based on ignorance about the admissions rates nowadays (which is one of the things I will emphasize). Thanks in advance!

What type of high school is it? One that routinely sends many students to competitive schools?etc/

My kids did not apply to elite schools. But I had one who applied to an elite conservatory.

My biggest message is…life will NOT end if your child does not get accepted to a top 20 school where the vast majority of students do not get accepted.

Most important thing for ALL students is to choose one or two absolute sure thing for admissions, that are affordable, and where the student would be happy to attend. Find this school FIRST.

It’s really easy to find the high end, elite schools. It’s not so easy for some students to find their sure thing.

Families should not ignore the finances either.

I wish I knew she might actually get in! We were really not prepared for that, and it turned our world topsy turvy. ?

I wish I knew 4.5% was a really small number.

Here are a few things the head of college counseling shared with us.

I would emphasize how competitive it is. Google Columbia’s acceptance rate 10, 15, and 20 years ago and compare to today’s. Many parents don’t realize how much the landscape has changed.

Price tag if you don’t get FA. It may be important to keep powder dry if med school, law school or B school is a possibility.

Undergraduate schools attended by incoming Harvard Law class (Google ). These schools are not the only ticket to a prestigious grad schools.

Look at SAT stats for Wooster and Trinity CT. Then compare to %admitted. Geography matters. Wooster offers merit.

In summary, tell them to do their home work!

They should be at the 75th percentile, score wise, to apply, absent other hooks. Even then, keep in mind that, for example, USC had 19k applicants with SAT scores above 1500. Princeton rejected 92% of applicants with a 4.0 GPA. The reality of the competition pool can be hard to grasp. ED can help if used wisely.

Maybe also tell them the difference between EA, SCEA, and ED. Some of these elite schools don’t have ED. Some have SCEA which is different than EA.

Talk about the need to have all other applications ready to submit just in case a child is deferred or rejected from an ED school.

To add on to my original post - some of the things I already have noted to bring up:

  • the ridiculously low chances so be prepared for disappointment
  • the importance of ED/EA if you are able to get the application in, especially if you have a clear frontrunner
  • your regional admissions counselor should know who you are (in a good way)
  • emphasize your hook if you have one
  • everything “optional” on the application is really mandatory
  • make sure your list includes those match and safety schools
  • your strong stats will keep you from getting rejected, but they won’t help you get accepted
  • Today’s xxxschool is not the same as your parent’s xxxschool with regards to admissions

It’s easy enough to get across the selectivity. Noone should spend high school years focused on “getting in>”

But for some it is important to encourage them to apply.

Admissions is holistic. It is about assembling a class, not a contest between individuals on who has the best grades etc. If you have something to contribute on campus, get it across (arts supplement etc.).

Explain financial aid and again, encourage some who qualify but don’t know about elite schools’ aid to apply.

That acceptance into these schools is often more about institutional needs and desires than your qualifications to be successful as a student there. You really shouldn’t think more of yourself upon acceptance or less of yourself upon not getting into any program. Decisions are made quickly - no one in admissions really gets to know you.

It is not unusual for 70% of student bodies at elite schools to be from FOO in the top 20% of incomes and 20% to be from the top 1%. Understand the finances ahead of time and be prepared to say no if it is not a realistic option for your family. I think minimizing debt for an undergrad degree is always wise.

I wish I had taken the time to go through every single piece of paper- past tax returns, visa bills, bank statements, etc. to come up with “here’s where every dollar is going to come from” plan. It’s easy enough to say “If she gets into XYZ college we’ll come up with the money” (which many people do). It takes a LOT more time to have an actual course of action- four years- showing your financing plan.

It’s real money, and knowing how you are going to pay for it and what lifestyle sacrifices you are going to NEED to do in order to pay for it is just as important as buying the bumper sticker. I have friends who have saved $2500 per kid for college. They have a great lifestyle and take wonderful vacations. But their “financing” plan is “We’ll come up with the money when we have to”. Really? To me, that’s not a plan. If you haven’t saved in the past, what miracle is going to occur in the future?

Understand that if you are rejected the outcome won’t seem fair. You’ll see people getting in who you might think are less smart than you, but who had something (sports, legacy, disadvantage they’d overcome) that the school wanted and you didn’t have. Don’t be bitter about that.

If you are accepted remember how the rejected applicants are feeling (per the above).

We are expected to pay sticker price.

There is a college for every student.

They will grow where they are planted.

Expect to be rejected and understand that it means nothing about a students’ ability or potential. They just weren’t the right fit for the class the school was trying to build for that particular year.

Once your stats (GPA and test scores) are above a certain level - say 3.8 UW, 1500 - higher grades and stats don’t increase chances of admission. At that point the determining factors become things we don’t discuss as often here:

  1. Fit. Most students think fit is about whether this is the student’s dream school and feels s/he fits. But for the purposes of the app, it’s not about what the student wants - It’s about whether the student fits with what the college wants and needs. There are important differences in what the top selectives value and prioritize. Figure out what each of the colleges you’re applying to wants and make sure every single piece of that app screams those attributes, make it crystal clear you are the fit they want. Again, this is very, very different than emphasizing that the college has what the applicant wants - most applicants don’t understand this difference and it can be what makes or breaks an app.

  2. LoRs. Most students have no idea what colleges want to see on LoRs, so don’t always ask the right teachers or do the right work to make sure those LoRs are properly targeted. Again, once you know what a college is looking for, think where you demonstrated those things and ask those teachers to write the LoR - it might not be the teacher who is nice, who “loves” you or whose class you got an A in. Generic LoRs, even if they’re nice aren’t enough. The LoRs have to show how that student is what the college is looking for and provide some concrete examples. Make sure you understand what you want that college to know and prep the teacher when you ask. Be sure to thank the teacher and give them a brief written summary of what that college seeks and a few examples of when you’ve demonstrated that; this is different than the “brag sheet” many students write that list generic grades and awards.

  3. Essays. Just like with the LoRs, your essays aren’t a confessional or a cute story, they’re your chance to clearly show you are the EXACT kid this college is looking for. Once you’ve figure out what that college is looking for, make sure your essays show those characteristics.

That my kid should start with finding matches and affordable safeties that they like before looking at reaches. That I would not let them apply someplace I couldn’t or wouldn’t pay for (run the net price calculators). That there are a lot of GREAT applicants at the most selective schools, and odds are low unless applicant is hooked and well qualified — but there are many other good schools out there. That a student (and parent) should not have a “dream school”, but should have a list of safety, match, and reach schools that appear to be affordable and the student would be happy to attend. To ignore pressure and comments from other parents or students (in fact, keeping the application list between your family members and GC, and no one else, has many benefits).

“Once your stats (GPA and test scores) are above a certain level - say 3.8 UW, 1500 - higher grades and stats don’t increase chances of admission.”

I disagree with that statement and I’m sure the statistics do not back up this statement. All things equal, if a kid has 1600 and 4.0GPA they will have an advantage over the kid with 1500 and a 3.8.

@socaldad2002 An admissions officer from an Ivy told us exactly what you do not believe. So you saying he’s lying ? My son got in and did not have 800 on any SAT I or II test (and no he’s not an athlete nor legacy).