Preparing for College

Competitive College Crunch

The race is on to get into top colleges. Almost everyone knows we live in a competitive society, especially when it comes to matters of college admissions.

Just how competitive we've become can be seen in Jay Matthews' excellent blog. Here are some pearls of wisdom from Jay's treasure chest that bear repeating:

Everything piles up in April. The month starts with often frightful news about which colleges accepted you and your friends, and which didn't. By the end of the month you have to decide which school should get your unrefundable deposit to reserve a place in its freshman class. Your favorite school may have wait-listed you, and you have to figure out what to do about that. Your Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate final exams are just a month away, and you don't want to embarrass yourself. It's spring, so your social life may be heating up, maybe for the first time in your adolescence if you were a bookworm like me. You have to worry about your parents interfering in all these important personal decisions. They will be concerned about how college is going to fit into the family finances, which don't look so good this year.

More wisdom comes from this book:

"Improve your study habits. Think about applying to college on an early-decision basis. On a campus interview, give a firm handshake and make eye contact."

Advice for high-school seniors applying for college? Nope. It's from The Kids' College Almanac--A First Look at College, a guidebook intended for children as young as 10.

The purpose, the authors write, isn't "to pressure youngsters," but to "demystify college and to answer the kinds of questions young people think about at this age." Co-author Barbara C. Greenfeld, director of admissions and advising at Howard Community College in Columbia, Md., says elementary-school students, especially those with older siblings, often are curious about college. "Just like we have books about the birds and bees, when kids have questions and it's a teachable moment, it's really nice to have information in language they can understand," she says.

But some people think that kids shouldn't have to worry about college at so tender an age. Bill Tracey, a college counselor at the University of Chicago Laboratory High School, says telling youngsters about the admission process is "ridiculous." He says students "get very anxious. My feeling about this is, you're going to produce anxiety much earlier."

The Almanac does cover how kids can start preparing for college--exploring programs for the gifted, reading from a book list that includes Dostoevski's The Brothers Karamazov and Flaubert's Madame Bovary and putting aside "$5 a week" to start a college fund.

And you thought asking your high-school junior where he or she wants to go to college was premature!

Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.