The Road to College
By May S. Ruiz
We in the San Gabriel Valley know it’s the middle of summer when temperatures are soaring in the triple digits, and many of us are looking for ways to beat the heat.
Summer was traditionally when teenagers found jobs flipping burgers at fast food joints, cashiering at retail stores, or working as lifeguards at Southland beaches. However, as I mentioned last month, today’s teenagers are busy pursuing summer enrichment activities or internships. These seasonal occupations are either being taken by older people who are working past retirement age or young foreigners who come to the country on a work-study visa.
This is a lost opportunity; getting a summer job is an important component because employers are looking for work experience from applicants, even from those fresh out of college. It shows that they are responsible and have been successful in the workplace.
That said, there’s the reality that your children are facing – build impressive resumes to look attractive to admissions officers. They should be in some enjoyable classes, recreational camps, or professional internships to spend their time productively. There are test-prep courses students can take during summer to get them ready for all the standardized exams required for their college application. Today’s high school kids want to be as good as, if not better than, their classmates. Nowhere is this cutthroat competition more apparent than in the western San Gabriel Valley where a record number of students are getting perfect scores on the APs, ACTs, and SATs.
There is an abundance of things to do during the summer months. There is absolutely no excuse for boredom and inertia.
High School is going to be an exciting phase in your children’s academic life. Having completed middle school and their tween years where they found their identity, they are now ready to assert themselves in this new environment.
If your children had not shown much interest in reading during their elementary or middle school years, you need to encourage them to spend this month reading – just for the sheer pleasure of it. Persuade them to look for different authors and genres, familiarizing themselves with various styles and themes would help them find their own voice. Reading would expand their vocabulary as they gain maturity in their writing and that would prepare them for composing their personal statement.
As mentioned above, summer is an opportune time for reading. Encourage your children to spend part of their day in this pleasurable and educational pursuit.
Your children should find an enrichment program or perform community service work related to something they are passionate about. Sustained effort and interest in one particular cause shows that your children are sincere, and not just padding their resumes.
If your children are so inclined, they can start researching colleges. Nowadays, they can go online and get virtual campus tours of most colleges or universities.
Your children should be preparing themselves for one of the busiest years of their high school career. They should be immersed in community service work, professional internships and enrichment programs. Some students enroll in test-prep courses during the summer months to get them ready for PSAT and SAT. They can attend one of the many schools offering these courses with some of their friends to make it less of a chore.
They can likewise start researching colleges and going online to get virtual college campus tours. This would also give your children some idea about the college application process.
Summer is the perfect time for them to read extensively to expand their vocabulary and prepare them for writing their essay for the college application.
This is the year that would test you and your children’s mettle. Be prepared for the marathon (which actually started in the spring of their junior year).
They should still be continuing the community service work they began back in their freshman year, getting an internship, or looking for avenues to use their talent.
If your children did not visit the schools to which they are applying, this summer would be a good time to take that trip. It would help them narrow down their list to a more realistic number of applications.
They should also be thinking about their personal statement. Some universities also require a supplementary essay specific to them, with topics that range from the practical to the philosophical. Admissions officers are constantly on the lookout for something fresh and original in applicants’ compositions. However, it requires a certain amount of creativity and proficient writing skill to come up with a treatise that would impress seasoned readers.
That said, your children might also find some time to actually enjoy this summer before they get swallowed up by the vortex of college applications.
Unless your children are spending this summer agonizing because they’re waitlisted at their first choice school, they must be very excited to have completed high school and are anxiously looking forward to the next phase of their education. By this time, they should have put in the deposit on the college they plan to attend. Some colleges would be sending out the procedures for class registrations, information on housing, meal specifics, and such other details to the incoming class.
Let your children take the lead on the college moving arrangements and only offer guidance when they ask for it. In all likelihood, your children would be moving away from home, maybe going to the other side of the country. They would need to practice being on their own and the preparations for moving would be a good place to start.
If your children will be attending a university across the Atlantic, as my daughter did, there is a whole set of preparations you have to attend to. Applying for a student visa should be your priority as it could take a month to secure. You and your college-bound student need to communicate closely with the school as their requirements may differ greatly from those of American universities.
Email or call the university to know when to wire the tuition and other college fees. Make sure your student has the necessary information on how to register for classes, how to apply for housing, what essentials to bring to school, where to find items that your student would need.
Going to school in another country would take more preparation so make sure you have enough time to spend helping your student settle into his or her new environment.
At this juncture, let me address another situation. If your children weren’t accepted to any school they applied to, then they would need to decide if they want to attend a community college. Most of these institutions will accept new students close to enrollment time. Some of them have arrangements with the UC system so graduates can attend a UC school for their junior and senior year. This has the double advantage of ensuring your children get a college diploma from a four-year university and saving on the cost of their education.
There could also be some instances when your children could gain admission during the spring term to their first choice school (this scenario happens if the school wants to keep their school ranking and your children did not receive a perfect SAT score but they met all the other requirements for admission. If your children have highly desirable qualities that will enhance their student body, they will wait until after their school has been ranked so your kids’ SAT scores will no longer affect their place). Confer with your children’s college counselor about how to accomplish this.
Some college applicants who are on waitlist of their dream university, ask to be deferred (this would only work if your children met all the academic qualifications for admission to the school with only the problem of the university not having the space for your student this year).
Of course, there is the option to take a gap year after high school. Europeans have traditionally done this and it is a growing trend among American students. They spend a year pursuing activities that employ their skills and talents. One of my daughter’s classmates used it performing charity work in Africa. This alternative could help your children stand out in a sea of similar-looking applicants. Several universities consider this as a major boost in an applicant’s resume. Admissions officers tend to see the student in better light – this person has some tangible experience to bring in and, therefore, adds to the school make-up.
So whether your high school graduate is going directly to college, going by the community college route or taking a gap year, recognize their decision as a first step towards their independence.