The preparation for college seems to be reaching younger and younger these days, as educational professionals say grimly, sadly shaking their heads. While the fear of anxiety may be real for young teens, that doesn’t mean the parents can’t be assisting their young students in more subtle ways behind the scenes. Gaining this all important edge may make all the difference when the time to apply arrives all to quickly. But what are some of those ways that parents can affect the outcome without too much interference?

  1. Course Selection: With many schools electing to go test blind or test optional, the emphasis on other parts of other parts of the application becomes all the more apparent. One of those areas: the course selection on the student’s transcript. Dodge math requirements senior year? That says something. Involved in a lot of electives like art and music? That speaks as well. While it’s important to provide a student as much autonomy as possible, there’s nothing wrong with sensible coaching of course selection with this in mind.
  2. Extracurriculars: Another area that draws more focus in the absence of other data is the extracurricular activities of the student, which do speak to personality for admissions officers. There’s nothing wrong with encouraging a student in the activities that they engage in outside of classes. Providing them the space, time and enthusiasm to get involved in these activities is crucial. In the modern life of a teenager (and parent!), it’s difficult, but driving them to these activities, carving them out in the schedule and providing positive reinforcement can pay off when it comes time to apply.
  3. Athletics: I can’t count the number of times that I saw mediocre students obtain admission into highly competitive schools over their peers because of their athletic achievements. The students that scraped B minuses for me (and only through effort) would end up choosing between places like Yale and Dartmouth and Amherst because they could swing a racket or throw a football a long way, without even having to endure the rigors of applications. The schools would actually recruit them. We can shake our heads at that all we want, but that’s the truth of college admissions. Encourage them to sign up for school and Rec sports, point out the options that they have available. Preferably something niche and a bit more unusual like Javelin or Fencing. The difference between athletes and non-athletes is stark when it comes to admissions.
  4. Healthy Life Practices: There’s no area of focus that can more greatly impact a teen’s life in all areas than maintaining healthy life habits. It gets difficult as they go into the teen years to allow for the growth of their autonomy, and much of the healthy eating, sleeping, and thinking may be beyond a parent’s grasp. But not all of it! Subtly hinting at the importance of sleeping well, eating well and practicing mindfulness of some kind can go a long way. A parent actually has a lot more influence than he or she typically imagines. Providing them with research pointing to the huge benefits of these practices, and pointing to moments when these practices actually help them in a positive way are great ways for parents to influence things. Another more subtle and effective approach may be to conscript the assistance of someone who is not their parent to help influence their behavior, a trusted mentor or authority figure to them, someone they trust and respect. That’s much easier sledding for a lot of things!
  5. Early Test Prep: While you don’t want to sign them up for any SAT tests at age 13 before they’ve developed the necessary skills to excel at taking it, there is the PSAT to focus on in the young high school years. The PSAT is the JV version of the SAT and is suitable for some freshman and certainly sophomore students. Beginning the practice for these standardized tests early in their academic career is a huge help. As it is always said, “The SAT is a test of how well you take the SAT.” Start on that early under the auspices of prepping for the PSAT, and they’ll develop those bubbling skills to untold heights.