How to plan for college:

A no-B.S. guide to prospective college students to prepare for the next step

By M.G. Dobreski
Reader Contributor

The grand finale of education is college. While we spend a great deal of time trying to help our kids get into a great school, we have to ask ourselves, “Do we really know what colleges are looking for?” college-web

As one who has worked in admissions for both private and public universities (most recently University of California – Santa Barbara), it is often surprising what is and is not important to colleges and universities. As one who now works with students and their families helping to prepare for the submission of applications to college, I find that often individuals misunderstand the process or even where, when, or how to begin.

There is much more to cover than what can be addressed here, but this is a quick overview of some important aspects that play into the college admissions process.

There are four main components in the college application. Each has a number of subsets, but in general they are:

1) Academic Statistics: grades, SAT/ACT scores, classes, schools attended.

2) Personal Statement: the student’s story.

3) Activity Sheet: outside of the classroom

4) Additional Information: other stuff to brag about

I like to refer to this as a college resumé. An employer uses a resumé as part of the hiring process, and a college uses this “resumé” to decide who gets accepted. Proactively “planning” classes, clubs, sports, community involvement, levels of leadership, and many other things, as opposed to just “reporting” on what was done can be very helpful. This is why it is good to start this process early. But don’t be disheartened if it is late in the game; there is still hope in crafting a college resumé that accentuates accomplishments and provides a spin on challenges faced.

When is best to start planning and building this resumé? NOW! The truth is that it’s never really too early, and it certainly is never too late either. I work with families who seek counsel from which preschool to attend, what is the best plan for elementary and middle school, whether homeschooling is a good idea, while others contact me in the fall of their child’s senior year. Often I’m asked when is the ideal time. I’d say the ideal time is before or during middle school.

Middle schools have become the modern day “prep schools.” The reason is that middle school is where the classes are taken, and instruction given, that prepares a student for high school. Proper academic rigor will enable the student to excel in high school. For example the math classes that a student takes in middle school will determine the highest level math class available before the SAT and/or ACT exams are taken (usually in 11th grade). Let’s face it, you can’t really skip over math classes.

The SAT and ACT tests shouldn’t be confused with the annual standardized tests that every school gives starting in elementary. These scores SAT and ACT are a critical component in college admissions.

Regarding high school, it is important to know that every class taken in high school is used to determine G.P.A. (grade point average). This is used as part of the admissions process.  Taking “Honors” and “AP” (Advanced Placement) classes is a huge plus and will increase “weighted” G.P.A. Colleges sure like to see these rigorous classes on a high school transcript. The “personal statement” and “activity sheet” are more personal but suffice it to say that they can significantly tip the scales in the favor of a marginal candidate. These two items require individual attention and obviously are quite varied.

I’ll be giving a short seminar and answering questions this on Tuesday, Nov. 29 at 7 p.m. at Sandpoint Christian School. SCC is flying me up from sunny California and have graciously invited the entire community to attend this event at no charge.

M.G. Dobreski, M. Ed. is the founder and president of Executive Educational Consultants, LLC headquartered in Santa Barbara. He works with schools and students all over the country (including Sandpoint). He has twice been awarded Teacher of the Year and is well liked by students. Mr. Dobreski will be in the area for the next week or so and returns semi-regularly. If you wish to set up and appointment to discuss college planning or financial aid and scholarships feel free to contact him directly at (805)729-5606.

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