Students helped by the Barrio Logan College Institute. Photo courtesy of the institute

Every college has different requirements their applicants must meet, and the application process is much more competitive than when previous generations applied. So, what can students do to leave a lasting impression on the admissions committee for the particular school they are applying to? How can parents and guardians guide their teen during the college application process?

It’s important to set realistic expectations, arm yourself with information, and provide positive support and advice to your child.

At the nonprofit Barrio Logan College Institute, we’ve been studying what gets highly motivated first-generation. low-income students into college for years, and helping them prepare for a successful college career. Our students have a 100% college enrollment rate—and most of them followed all of the steps below.

While most application deadlines for fall 2020 college admissions have closed, the time to truly start shaping your college career begins as early as sophomore year. Your teen can begin now to best position themselves for college application success. Here are a few of our top tips:

Before You Apply, Build Your ‘Resume’

  • Take challenging courses and earn a high GPA.
  • Don’t wait until your senior year to take tests like the SAT and ACT for the first time. Practice makes perfect, and the more prepared you are, the more likely you are to earn a college-ready score.
  • Participate in extracurricular activities such as clubs or sports with a leadership role because 49% of colleges regard students’ extracurricular activities as moderately or considerably important.
  • However, don’t sign up for a bunch of clubs and then never show up for meetings. Colleges prefer someone who is deeply committed to one club or activity, instead of someone who’s an inactive member of many.
  • Off-campus volunteering is a must. Find an organization you are interested in and keep track of the hours you spend volunteering there.
  • Create a resume to keep track of your extracurricular involvement.

During the Application Process

  • Make a list of “Reach,” “Target,” and “Safety” schools. There should be at least five schools in each of these categories.
  • Create a spreadsheet that organizes your information in one place: college, username and password for application account, deadlines, and any supplemental documents needed for the application.
  • Have copies of your transcripts readily available. A higher GPA often makes an application stronger. It is recommended to have a GPA that is higher than the average GPA of admitted students at the college you are applying to.
  • Create an honest and eloquent personal statement with specific examples, such as school involvement, personal challenge you have overcome, and what makes you an outstanding applicant for college.
  • Personalize your statement for each application. Keep in mind that 56% of schools consider application essays moderately or considerably important.
  • Check your email frequently and be responsive to the college admissions staff person to get them additional information as needed.

The Role for Parents

  • A parent’s role is to empower and support their student throughout the college application process and remind them that you will love them no matter what.
  • Let your students decide where they want to volunteer outside of school and inspire them to go as far as they can.
  • Encourage your student to reach out to admissions officers directly. This builds your child’s self-confidence and communication skills, and also shows a demonstrated interest.

The college application process is one of a teen’s first forays into adulthood. With the right amount of preparation and encouragement, they set themselves up for success, to enter the next chapter of their lives, and create a path of their choosing.

Cristina Aguirre is chief programs officer at Barrio Logan College Institute, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to break the cycle of poverty by preparing underserved students to be the first in their family to go to college. BLCI has a 100% college enrollment rate among participants. 

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