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How College Success Happens – Proof That A Proactive College Plan is Profitable!

I received an email today from a mom who is a client with an 11th grader, asking about our plans for next summer. This made me so happy!

You see, we just passed a key college deadline (November 1) – my 12th grade students were so ready — and are already reaping the benefits of planning and acting early (see below)!

The key to great college planning is to… wait for it…plan, and then act on that plan. The earlier that plan is formulated, the greater the options will be for your child for college admissions, for your family’s financial well-being and for all of your sanity.

Often the best antidote to anxiety is engaging in the right activity. This is true in college planning and frankly, in life. In fact, I had a mentor early on who was famous for saying sh*t happens, but success doesn’t. What he meant was that you can — and actually have to — force good things to happen for you. It’s a philosophy I’ve taken to heart, especially in my business, and with 17 years as an independent counselor, I’ve been able to create success.

Ideally we start planning with our families by the second semester of 10th grade. This allows us to look ahead — and position your student academically and your family financially —  so that you are not scrambling at the end and so that you are maximizing every institutional scholarship opportunity available.

When we start early enough, we can optimize your child’s academic plan and help them select the right high school courses for their aspirations and abilities. We can advise you when and whether your child should take the SAT or ACT; when to take it again; when to build an initial list of potential admissions targets; when to reach out to those colleges to establish a relationship; when to visit colleges; how to properly pare that list to Best-Fits academically, socially and financially. We can advise on the building blocks of a great and stand-out college application while there’s still enough time to influence that application. We’ll tell you when to start writing the essay – and it’s often way before you think but not too early because your child isn’t ready. We can help your child decide whether and how to start a new club, join the track team, or turn their interests into an internship or research experience.

That’s why I loved the email I got from the mom I mentioned above. She is a planner who got started with us when her son was in 10th grade with a twin focus on admissions and early financial planning. We both want her son to be prepared for the college admissions maelstrom that will come between now and next November, when his early applications will be due. And we both sleep better at night knowing that he will be! The next few months (for all 11th graders) are heavy lifting – as in uber stressful- academic months. Having a college plan in place is reassuring to all. When the maelstrom strikes, this family, at least, has shelter from the stress that will come with it.

As a counselor and higher education consultant, managing stress is definitely part of the job description: parents and students stressed about their chances of getting into first choice school; students who worry about their SAT/ACT scores; whether that B- in AP US History will permanently blemish their transcript; whether they have enough (or the right) extra-curricular activities; if they drop from AP Physics can they still study engineering. It certainly helps to have a plan and regular access to a real life human to help adjust that plan as necessary!

We just finished a typically stressful application season. Yes I said finished (more or less) – note that this is well before some (stressed out) students have even started. Most of our students planned ahead and completed their essays over the summer, but even so, when human nature has a way of procrastinating until the last minute, our kids stayed  on plan and many are already enjoying returns. Consider that it’s not even Thanksgiving and many of our kids already have at least one acceptance to be thankful for (Alabama, Michigan State, Missouri, UCF, LSU, FAU, Pitt to name a few).

The college admissions calendar can be cruel – typical deadlines are on November 1 and January 1, which means the procrastinating high school senior might be spending Halloween Night, or even New Years Eve, scrambling to rewrite that last supplement on how their experience at University of Texas will help them improve the world; or how a particular artifact represents learning in action for University of Michigan; or that letter to your future Stanford or Harvard roommate; or the thank you note for the University of Pennsylvania, expressing gratitude to someone in your life.

As cruel as these deadlines might be, they’re no secret. Your delay, and the consequences that come with it, belongs to you. That same mentor also had this to say when discussing our role in shaping our future (I’m paraphrasing): ‘No successful fisherman sits on a dock watching his boat roll out with the tide and then is disappointed when the tide rolls back in and his net is empty.’ And by this analysis, it might be true that it’s the students who bear the ultimate responsibility (after all, it’s their future we’re talking about) for planning, while our job as parents and adult counselors, professionals and mentors is to assist by creating the right conditions for their success. My team and I take this responsibility very seriously, and so we have a stake in this, too.

By planning ahead, your chances at success not only exponentially improve, but the student experience is far more rewarding, with growth and maturity, ownership and accountability becoming visibly apparent. And as a counselor, seeing these characteristics develop in a young man or woman brings a silent joy that cannot be quantified. Indeed, much of what we do is transactional – either you get admitted to a particular college or you don’t (OK, you could get waitlisted or deferred, but that’s another conversation). That’s the hard truth. But if your student approaches this exercise the right way, and at the end of it there is growth, maturity, ownership and accountability, then it won’t really matter where s/he enrolls in college, because they’re already successful. And you will very likely even enjoy the benefit of receiving an early scholarship offer like the one you see below.

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