12 College Readiness Strategies

The most common question I get from parents- “Is my kid ready for college? This is a major issue for many American families because college readiness is not a focus for high schools. The high school administrator’s main objective is graduation, not college readiness.  This issue is hurting students and making it much harder to be successful in college.

Here are my tips to avoid sending your students to college ill-prepared:

  1. Start NOW! The single most important variable in college readiness is timing! The best time to start college preparation is now. We start our formal preparation in the sixth grade.  It is estimated that for each day after a student starts the ninth grade that you delay starting a formal college prep process, you will lose $100 a day in potential college funding; that is $36,500 a year!  Timing is also important in starting certain preparation programs, such as SAT/ACT prep, starting the college selection process, and meeting deadlines for applications.
  2. GET Professional Advice! The average cost of a college education exceeds the average cost of a home in America, making a college education the single most expensive investment a family will make. Families need to get advice from a college professional, not a financial services person or trusted friends, who are well-meaning but probably don’t know.   Certainly don’t depend on someone who tells you ”I’ve heard that….” any more than you would have someone other than a doctor remove your appendix.
  3. Take the PSAT, SAT, and ACT Early and Often. The single most important factor in admissions and scholarships is the SAT/ACT score.  In my program, we start our students taking these tests in the sixth grade in preparation for the Duke TIP.  My recommendation is that in grades 6 through 8, the student takes the PSAT, SAT, and ACT once a year.  In the 9th and 10th grades, the student should take the PSAT in October, and take one SAT and one ACT each semester.  I recommend starting a formal test prep program spring of the sophomore year or the summer in between the sophomore and junior years to prepare for the PSAT in October of the Junior year that will be the score for record for National Merit Scholarship Competition. I recommend that a student takes any combination of four SAT’s and ACT’s before we start formal test prep training.  A student who has experienced the test will have more schema and be able to learn how to improve their scores better, faster, and easier than a student who is starting from scratch.  During the Junior year, I recommend students take as many as six SAT’s and ACT’s. The goal is to achieve the “go to college” score by June of the Junior year because the application deadlines are in the fall. There’s not enough time to get good scores in the fall.  Regardless of what “you’ve heard…,” you can take the SAT an unlimited number of times and you can take the ACT up to 12 times. Colleges can only see the scores you release.
  4. Curriculum High School v. College Prep Program. Do not confuse a high school curriculum with a college readiness curriculum. Many curriculum providers add AP and a Test Prep course to their regular high school curriculum and call it a “college prep” curriculum.  AP equals AP, not college readiness!  Others define “College Prep” by the number of English, Science, Math, etc.., credits the student needs to go to college.  Real College Prep consists of:
  • College Readiness Essentials: Counseling, Long Term Test Prep, Selection-Applications-Funding-Enrollment; and Search for College MONEY.
  • Learning Strategies: How to Read, Study, Test, and Write at the college level.
  • Academic Strategies: The proper mix of Content, Rigor, Independent Learning, and Exposure to Opposing Perspectives.
  • Self-Management Skills: Time Management, Goal Setting, Personal Organization, and Independent Living.
  • Support Team: Those who will help provide Tracking, Evaluation, Accountability, and Monitoring of Progress.

If your program doesn’t have these, then it is just a high school program with window dressing.

  1. Use of the PC and Internet – Guess what… 88% of college is online. If the student is not trained in MS Office (Word, PowerPoint, Excel) and not able to navigate the internet, the student enters college woefully unprepared.  Internet discipline needs to be trained BEFORE the student goes to college.
  2. Hazards of Dual Credit & CLEP. Many students tend to be aggressive about taking dual credit college courses or CLEPs while in high school.  Though many believe this gives them a head start on college, there is a downside.  Students who earn too many credits can be disqualified for freshman scholarships because they are technically sophomores and considered transfer students (with fewer scholarship options).  Also, not all colleges accept CLEP.  Some require you to be enrolled before you take the tests.  Make sure you look long term and have a plan when you do this.
  3. Don’t Worry about Majors. Less than 17% finish with the one they started.  You don’t have to decide at 17 what you will be at 47.  Unless the student has a Damascus Road or Burning Bush experience, I don’t focus on major.  I usually recommend a range of colleges that has their original major but large enough that if they change majors, they don’t have to change colleges and lose any scholarships they earned.  There are a host of surveys available, but they become invalid once the student gets exposed to other areas and develops new interests.  Mostly, these surveys make the parents feel better but are of little practical value.
  4. What Colleges Look For. Colleges look at five things:
  • Grades with the right subjects and unweighted GPA. Colleges usually do not consider a weighted GPA because weighting is so inconsistent.  A “B” in an AP class is still a “B.”
  • Rank in class – Some colleges will automatically admit based on class rank. These are usually state colleges.
  • Experiences (employment, community, volunteer, travel, etc.). A consideration at more competitive colleges or for scholarships, but don’t go wild with elective credit for babysitting or turning the song slides at church.
  • Activities (athletics, arts, clubs, etc.). Like Experiences, considered by competitive colleges.
  • Test Scores (the MOST important factor). The national leveler.  This is what will determine the viability for admissions and scholarships.  Indeed, many colleges award scholarships on test scores alone!

Focus on what’s important – Test Scores!

  1. Types of Colleges – I place colleges in four categories:
  • Competitive Colleges (Harvard, West Point, Stanford, etc.) consider all five areas, so Experiences, Activities, and Test scores matter. Many competitive colleges use the SAT/ACT score to rank if the school does not rank.
  • Conventional Colleges (Texas Tech, San Diego State, South Florida, etc.) consider test scores predominantly and may award scholarships on scores alone. Some may look at Experience and Activities.
  • Community/Junior Colleges don’t really care as long as you have a diploma or GED. Most require an assessment to place students and SAT/ACT scores can be used to waive development courses.
  • Creative Colleges (Thomas Edison, Excelsior, Harvard, etc.) really don’t need anything beyond a transcript. Even Harvard’s Extension program has open admissions where you can challenge three courses, and if you make a 3.0, you’re in!
  1. Time Table – Start Early. Spend the 9th and 10th-grade building skills, content knowledge, and taking PSAT, ACT, and SAT for practice.  Take an intensive prep course the summer before the junior year.  Start looking at 20-30 colleges junior spring and trim that list down to 12 by summer.  Of those, we want to look at 4 “Reach” colleges (challenge to get into), 4 “Level” colleges (probably get into), 4 “Safe” college (sure to get into and possibly get scholarships).  Prepare application material the summer before senior year, lining up recommendations and preparing essays, and looking for private scholarships.  Be prepared to send out applications between Labor Day and Columbus Day.  Then wait and see what happens.
  2. Scholarships. Any motivated, well-prepared, and properly managed student should be able to attract scholarship money.  I’ve worked with students who have attracted over $1,300,000 in scholarships from major institutions, received full scholarships to top colleges, and received service academy appointments.  It all comes down to:
  • Preparing the student in College Essentials, Learning Strategies, Academic Strategies, Self-Management Skills, and forming the proper Support Team.
  • Packaging the student to make it easy for the college to admit and award scholarships
  • Positioning the student for the greatest range of Opportunities, Choices, and Options.
  1. Vanity Colleges. Don’t get sucked into expensive colleges and huge debt.  There is no college in the nation worth the level of debt students have to encumber to attend.  Some offer “bribe” scholarships, but ultimately, you have to pay the difference back.  You need to be prudent and a good steward, and not go into huge debt for college.

This is just the tip of the iceberg.  There are a gazillion things you need to think about.  We’re here to help!

Dr. Beasley

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