The road to college
By May S. Ruiz
The mere mention of college applications is enough to cause apprehension among parents and high schoolers. To say that the process is a complicated one to navigate is a spectacular understatement. Frantic parents are now deeply involved in the process that should have been between their children and the high school counselor.
While we’re already dismayed about legacy admissions, finding out that some parents have resorted to downright fraud makes us enraged. It also calls into question the credibility, much less the integrity, of the American education system. The bribing scandal that was exposed a few months ago is proof that the process isn’t a meritocracy and it benefits mostly the wealthy. It’s a tragedy for the thousands of students who worked so hard but were denied acceptance because they had no other means but their best efforts.
We can only hope that all the negative publicity would lead to the overhaul of the admissions process. It clearly isn’t working. The College Board, for one, is expanding the adoption of the adversity SAT score which I plan to talk about in greater detail after the summer break.
June 21st is summer solstice, marking the beginning of summer. Most high schoolers have recently graduated, or are about to graduate. When I was in school, the onset of summer meant taking a break from the harried pace of schoolwork, extra-curricular activities, and campus club events. But our children have a widely different experience from ours. Increased competition to gain admission to highly selective universities has forced teens to fill summer hours with other pursuits to pad their resume.
There was a time when teenagers worked summer jobs. More than the financial gain, having a summer job shows admissions officers that your children took on responsible roles and gained invaluable real-world experience. It also gives young people the satisfaction that they have the ability to earn money.
Challenger, Gray & Christmas (CGC), an outplacement career and transition service company, forecasts that teens will see a hot job market this summer to fill the 180,000 total jobs created per month this year. It predicted job opportunities could increase around 5% and the teen participation rate could rise as well.
According to the CGC outlook released last April, teens gained 1,388,000 last summer, which was 7.8% higher than the 1,288,000 jobs gained by teenagers in the summer of 2017. This was the highest number of teen jobs gained since 2012, when 1,397,000 jobs were added.
“Teens have not participated in the job market at the same rate they did since their peak work years in the 1970s. In fact, teen participation has dropped since the recovery in 2009, when 37.5% of teens were in the labor force,” Andrew Challenger, Vice President of CGC, said in the same press release.
While the teen participation rate hovers near 35%, the sheer number of opportunities, as well as student desire to gain employment experience, may bring more teens back into the labor force.
“Employers value work experience, in some cases, more than education. The summer job for teens is incredibly valuable in showing future employers they are able to work in a professional setting,” pronounced Challenger.
High school counselors all agree with Challenger’s assertion. However, if there are no job opportunities in your area, I hope your children will find some beneficial ways to spend the summer months. The gap between school years is so big that kids forget everything they learned then go back to school in the fall unprepared for the work. Parents should let their children have a variety of fun, educational, productive activities that stimulate their brain.
It’s also the time to look at what your children have accomplished, and what benchmarks they need to achieve to propel them to the next school year.
Ninth grade is behind them! Your children’s grades should indicate that they took high school seriously and that they put all their efforts at getting good marks. They should have already made plans for summer programs, internships, and community service work. They should engage in activities that truly reflect their passion. Instead of yearly joining a group of kids building houses in Guatemala, they might consider an activity that would really mean something to them.
College admissions officers see the same pursuit on all the resumes they receive that your children would not be doing anything memorable. Encourage them to think outside the box, avoid the herd mentality. If your kids enjoy music and performance, for instance, they might consider organizing an original musical to be presented to seniors at your city’s retirement center.
In 2016, the Harvard Graduate School of Education released a seminal report called “Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good Through College Admissions” which was endorsed by 80 colleges and universities. It points out that today’s process puts much emphasis on personal success rather than service for others.
It recommends students engage in: meaningful, sustained community service; collective action that takes on community challenges; authentic experiences in diversity; work that helps them appreciate the contributions of the past generations; contributions to one’s family.
All the recommendations in the study, however, are courses of action that high school counselors are already preaching to students. So, in that regard, it really isn’t anything new. What’s new is the strong emphasis that admission officers place on the depth, rather than the breadth, of students’ engagement with any given community service.
Should American universities really take this study to heart and use its recommendations, it is incumbent upon you to encourage your children to do well in school and to put a lot of thought into what community service they want to embark upon.
Your children’s end-of-year marks in 10th grade should have improved over last year’s if they didn’t do well in their freshman year. College admissions officers want to see students who continue to better themselves.
They need to take whatever standardized tests are required – ACT or June SAT subject tests are the norm. They also need to continue the community service activity they started last summer. While it is advisable to show consistency for admissions officers to know that your kids have a passion for such work, they could do a variation of it; they don’t want to be monotonous.
Your children can start researching about colleges, specifically looking for the institutions offering the courses they want to major in.
The school year that just ended was a pivotal one for your children as it would be the last full year that college admissions officers will see on your kids’ application. It should reflect your children’s efforts at getting the best marks they could muster, and an improvement over the first two years of high school.
Make sure your children have their community service work, internship, and enrichment program ready for summer. These activities should be a continuation of the previous years’.
This is going to be their busiest summer with standardized tests like the ACT, SAT, SAT IIs, and APs. If they have not seen the schools they are considering applying to, this would be their last chance to visit college campuses. You might consider making it a fun summer trip for the family (my daughter and I spent two weeks visiting universities as part of our summer vacation).
Your children should start thinking about their essay topic; meeting with their school counselor to make sure they have taken all the required courses for graduation and college (the UC and Cal State universities have their A – G requirements that need to be completed); and lining up teachers they would like to ask for recommendations.
Well, your children have accomplished a major milestone – successfully completing high school and getting accepted into a college or university! This period in their life will never again be repeated, so let them revel in what they have achieved. Give yourself a pat on the back while you’re at it, you’ve been a major influence in whatever path they choose to take from here.