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Countdown To College

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Countdown to College: How to avoid information overload

By Lee Bierer

TMI: Too much information.

I’m not referring to the fact that some students share too much stuff inappropriately in their college applications – though unfortunately some do.

What I’m hearing repeatedly is that the biggest reason parents and students are so overwhelmed with the admissions process is that there is too much conflicting information out there and no one knows what’s really true.

Parents talk on the sidelines of lacrosse games about the “required” test scores at certain colleges, the “assumed” value of specific extracurricular activities, the belief that community service and specifically a mission trip is “mandatory.”

The worst offenders are the parents who spread “gospel” about a specific college based on a single anecdote.

“College X only cares about test scores because my friend’s nephew got in and he didn’t have any extracurricular activities.”

“College Y doesn’t give any money, don’t bother applying.”

Don’t listen and don’t participate.

I know it’s hard, but once parents get caught up in the college conversation, it’s almost impossible not to transfer that stress to their children.

Extricate yourself from the discussion, change the topic and move on.

According to Compass College Advisory Center, it takes 300-plus hours for parents to help their teen through the admissions process. I believe that’s because a big chunk of that time is wasted visiting colleges that aren’t a good fit for the student and obsessing unnecessarily about the wrong things.

If you’re just starting the process and feeling overwhelmed, here are a few tips:

• Carve out college conversation time. Don’t allow every dinner discussion to focus on grades, test scores and recent rumors you’ve heard about specific colleges.

• Set up a weekly meeting with your child to research colleges, discuss campus visits, receive an update on academics, review testing strategy and make specific assignments for the next meeting.

• Understand your limitations when you plan your visits. Many families pack everyone in the car with the intention of seeing as many colleges as possible in just a few days. Trust me, this is not a recipe for success.

It makes sense to bring along siblings who are in high school, but, if at all possible, leave the younger ones at home or find something else for them to do while you’re visiting college campuses.

• Research before your road trip by purchasing a college guidebook and reading about each college of interest. Guides include “The Best 377 Colleges” ($23.99) or “The Complete Book of Colleges,” ($26.99), both from Princeton Review.

• Do your best to determine which colleges are reach, target and safety schools and focus your visits on the reach and target schools first.

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte; collegeadmissionsstrategies.com.
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