Expert's advice on getting into college: Excel in what matters to you

Credit: Maureen Downey

Credit: Maureen Downey

Greg Kaplan is a college application strategist and author of “Earning Admission: Real Strategies for Getting into Highly Selective Colleges.”

By Greg Kaplan

As the nation’s student loan debt burden skyrockets, the cost of a college education has become an election issue. Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Donald Trump all agree that college is too expensive and offer various different proposals to combat rapidly rising college costs.

While the candidates focus solely on the cost of a college education, families are first faced with the increasingly difficult task of getting their kids into college.  This process can also be very expensive.

We have heard about families that spare no expense in creating unique opportunities for their children to shine. However, most parents on a budget are at a loss for what they can do to help their kids stand out if they lack the funds to send their kids to Botswana to undertake preservation work to demonstrate their passion for the environment, or to swim the English Channel to show their perseverance.

Instead of waiting for solution to the impacted college admissions system, recognize that there are numerous free and inexpensive ways to enable your child to demonstrate value to a college and stand out in the admissions process. Parents can maximize any budget to turn their high school student into a standout applicant.

Consider the following:

•Create a community service or interest group. Colleges seek leadership, initiative, and an entrepreneurial spirit in their future students. Creating a service or interest group at your child’s high school will allow your child to demonstrate that she is a leader at no cost to your family.

•Enroll in a niche sport like crew or squash. Admissions officers scramble to find enough applicants to fill their teams for niche sports, which makes athletes skilled in these sports desirable. There are so few kids playing some sports that clubs offer steep discounts to families to attract youth athletes. For example, many rowing and squash and rowing clubs and associations offer competitive and novice crew programs at affordable prices during the summer and school year.  Check online to see what is available near you.

•Earn recognition. Recognition from a free or inexpensive competition, tournament, or other opportunity to showcase your child’s skills will separate her from a sea of applicants who are excelling, but not demonstrating their talents to admissions officers. For example, an aspiring English major with a knack for poetry could enter a local youth poetry contest or submit guest editorials for publication to local newspapers.

•Be strategic with the applications. Recognize that colleges seek to balance genders and backgrounds in different programs and applicants that provide that balance are more valuable to a college. For example, women earn over 57 percent of all bachelor’s degrees, but only 19 percent of engineering degrees. A female applicant with a demonstrated interest in engineering may stand out more than an equally qualified male applicant as admissions officers strive to create a balanced and diverse class. The same would go for a male applicant that applies to a nursing program.

The most important part of the college application process is to stay true to the skills, passions, and interests that make your child unique. By encouraging your child to excel in what matters most to her, she will develop the skills and leadership that college admissions officers covet.

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