AO Advice: College Application Tips for Parents

Are you a parent unsure of how best to support your student with college applications? Get the inside scoop on handling college application stress from

Former Admissions Officer Ferrell Armstrong will share his tips and advice on helping your student through the college application process during a 60-minute webinar and Q&A session.

In this webinar, you’ll have all your questions answered including:

  • How do I start the college application conversation with my student?
  • What do I need to know to best support my student through this process?
  • What resources are available to help?

Come ready to learn and bring your questions!

Date 01/24/2023

Webinar Transcription

2023-01-24 – AO Advice College Application Tips for Parents

Moderator: [00:00:00] Okay. Hello everyone. Welcome to College Advisor’s, AO Advice College Application Tips for Parents. To orient everyone with the webinar timing, we’re going to first start with a presentation and then we’ll answer your questions in the live Q&A on the sidebar. You can download our slides and you can start submitting your questions in the live Q&A.

Now, let’s meet our panelist.

Ferrell: Good evening everyone. My name is Ferrell Armstrong. I am a former assistant Director of Admissions at Vanderbilt University. Before that I was at the University of Georgia. While at Vanderbilt I became one of Vanderbilt’s admissions committee members making me one of only five people that got to vote on who was accepted to the 14th great school in the country.

Looking forward to speaking with you this evening and kind of walking you through this process.

Moderator: Okay. So before we get into the presentation, we [00:01:00] know that this webinar tonight is tips for parents, but we want to get a sense of what grade your child is in. So if you can let us know by answering the response in the poll, we’d just like to be able to find ways to just address our audience.

Okay. I’m gonna give it a few more seconds. I see the responses coming in. So, we have about 64% of our, uh, participants are 11th grade, are representing 11th grade, followed by that we have 10th grade as well as 12th grade. So we have 10th through 12th grade represented in this webinar. So I will turn it back over to you to, um, go through the presentation.

Ferrell: Awesome. Thank you so much. Uh, well, I think it’s important to kind of start off by, by talking about really understanding, you know, how this process works and what you really should be focusing on if you really wanna create support, uh, for your child. And I think the number one thing, and if you’ve, if [00:02:00] you’ve come to any of the webinars that I have spoken on before. Um, the number one thing that I’m, I’m always gonna really push is time understanding. Time, understanding the asset that it is, and, and realizing that there is no better time to start the process than right now. Uh, I know the majority of you are 11th graders this evening, um, that are 11th grade families, I should say.

Um, we have families that we start working with as early seventh grade in this process, um, just because the more you can spread this process out, the better it’s gonna be, the less stress it’s gonna place on your family. So the number one thing that I want you to walk away from this evening with is understanding that time will really allow you, uh, a lot more leeway in the process by the more time that you give yourself. Um, that being said, it, it’s important that you understand that this process over the last 20 plus years, ha, has become very kind of trackable. And it’s predictable in many cases, uh, because schools that accept federal funding, which is all but two to my knowledge, um, are [00:03:00] required by law to publish their, their data every single year or within a, within a year and a half period, every year and a half.

Um, so it is very possible for you to be collecting this information. Um, but the difference is understanding how to interpret it. And, and that is where it is gonna make some sense to get a little bit of help in terms of understanding how schools are using this historical data to determine who they should be admitting in the future.

Um, that’s something though that if you can learn to leverage for yourself in this process as a family, you can predict a lot more accurately what schools you’re gonna be more competitive for, uh, and how to go about applying to those schools specifically. Uh, but the, I think of all three of these, second only to time would un would be to understand and, and to remind yourself that this process is constantly changing.

Um, one of the things I, I struggle with is, I get a lot of parents that come in and they still think this is just a GPA and a [00:04:00] test score situation that determines if your child gets into school. Uh, respectfully, I would like to remind everybody here that your son or daughter’s GPA and test score only determines if we decide to review their application.

Everything else, uh, that they have accomplished. That should be, you know, communicated through activity, descriptions and letters, recommendation and, and essays. That is actually what gets your son or daughter admitted to a school. Again, the GPA and test score that was 20 years ago, right? That was when I was applying to college and, and I’m, I’ve been in this industry now 13 years.

That’s all I’ve ever done since I’ve graduated. And it’s never been about GPA and test score since I’ve been in it. Um, so to that end, it’s important to understand that even what worked just a couple of years ago, is not the same approach that you should take to this process. And I think a, a perfect example is the, is the global pandemic.

Um, nowhere in in history did anyone in this industry predict that schools en masse essentially, within a flip of a switch [00:05:00] would go test optional and not require students to submit SAT and ACT scores. Obviously a, uh, global pandemic was, uh, not predicted either, and, uh, that did force schools to do so.

But what ended up occurring is it completely shifted the review process, I should say. When you go from 84% submitting test scores to 31% of applicants submitting test scores overnight, how schools process your application, what, what weight they place in certain areas of it changes.

And so even if you have a, a child that went through this process five years ago, you need to reset your thoughts on how your next child in the process, how their application is gonna be reviewed and judged because it’s very different now. Um, the other thing that I’ll tell you is you constantly want to be verifying

any information that you are hearing secondhand. And, and what I mean by secondhand is getting information from someone that has not served as an admissions officer [00:06:00] recently, or that you’re not getting direct from a school. Uh, the reality here is that the number one thing that tends to really ruin, uh, potential outcomes is making, or excuse me, taking action off of information that you as a family have not verified.

And, and I, I don’t say that to be rude. It’s very common. It’s, it’s just very second nature when perhaps you’re a member of a lunch group or maybe you attend, um, you know, a religious, you know, place of worship and, and you go to a, a prayer time with a group of individuals. Uh, or maybe you have an athletic group that you take part with where you play, you know, neighborhood softball and your friend group.

That kind of group of colleagues is all talking about different things that they’re doing in the process. It’s, it’s very second nature to just all that work for them. It’s, it’s gonna work for us. And the reality here is that that’s the worst way to approach this process because every school is different in how they’re reviewing an applicant, what they’re looking for out of an applicant, what they prioritize [00:07:00] in an admissible applicant.

And every student’s story is different. You know, a lot of times people wanna talk about, well, you know, John had a 30 on the ACT and and got into to Duke, but then my daughter who had a 35 got denied by Duke. I don’t understand it. There’s a variety of different parameters there from actual major selection that could have affected that, um, affirmative action can affect that.

And also, did John really have a 30 or mom and dad playing it down? Did he actually have a higher test score? So there’s a lot of things in here that you need to always be verifying in terms of what you’re being told. Always check up on it. And, and I think to really highlight the importance of recognizing the ever-changing process, we should identify two very important things right now.

Um, the first one in, in, probably the one that is kind of surprising to a lot of people is that schools are already going back to acquiring tests. A lot of people were convinced that this was not gonna happen. Uh, but MIT went back to this [00:08:00] admission cycle. They’ve now required SAT and ACT scores again, and slowly you’re gonna see more and more schools do that because what has been determined is that these schools are admitting weaker applicants since going test optional, which is the number one reason why a lot of schools have only released their admissions data for students that applied with the test.

a lot of schools are still holding out, including all the Ivys, um, all of their data for students that applied as test optional. Again, that’s because they’re in, it’s leading to weaker, uh, qualified students getting accepted. And so you are gonna see this transition back to test requirements in many cases.

Um, and the other thing that I think a lot of people aren’t taking seriously enough, and it’s already on the front of the radar for most colleges, is AI. Okay? Now, what’s funny about this is universities use AI in the review process, right? We, we do use predict, uh, excuse me, predictive modeling in other formats to tell us, you know, which decisions to make and why in many cases.

But the reality [00:09:00] now is that students can use AI, uh, through programs or apps, I should say, like chat GPT. The number one concern is that now you can skew and create your own essay by typing in a few commands or a subject into an app, and it will essentially give you an essay out of you, you know, kind of keying a few things in to a search menu in an app.

Um, so open AI, uh, is, is the program that chat GPT uses. And the reality here is that more and more schools are already talking about this. You know, within the industry there are, you know, many directors of admission, deans of enrollment that are communicating about how they can avoid, uh, you know, situations where the essay is now being made null and void because of AI writing an essay for.

I will expect right now that this is gonna change things. Now, I will say this, I don’t anticipate this to be an immediate threat to the importance of essays because the problem with chat GPT um, and open AI [00:10:00] is that much of the information that will auto-populate is in fact inaccurate. Um, a lot of it sometimes is and I shouldn’t say sometimes it’s a great, uh, fair majority of the time. A lot of it is false and so it’s not consistently accurate. Uh, so therefore a student trying to get around and and technically is still cheating to use chat GPT to write an essay for yourself cause you’re not writing it. Um, it, it’s still not something that can, I believe, be vitally relied to help because of the inaccuracies that still have to be worked out within that system and, and other AI protocols. Uh, so to that end, I don’t see, you know, chat GPT or a similar program being an immediate threat to college essays the next two years, but definitely the next five, as that becomes more utilized, um, I, I do think you’re gonna see schools starting to counter that, you know, that new threat, if you will, uh, to make sure that they’re providing an accurate review process.

Things that [00:11:00] I would expect and, and continually increasing reliance upon interviews of applicants. We have seen a return to the interview, um, by most schools today encouraging it. I think you’re gonna start to see a lot of schools going back to requiring it in many cases. And the specific thing I would expect is a recorded interview.

Uh, something that, you know, um, certain Canadian schools do is they give you a, um, a prompt that you have to prepare for over about two or three minutes. It’s given to you in your applicant portal. You only have two or three minutes to kind of prep an idea of a response, and then you film yourself responding to that prompt.

AI’s not gonna do that for you. Uh, and so to that end, I, I would expect American School, US-based schools, to start implementing things like that to get around a lot of the essay pieces. Um, it’s also gonna put greater, you know, reliance upon letters of recommendation more than ever before because you can have a, a teacher or a mentor speaking to a student’s abilities.

um, not just having an essay that’s being crafted by a [00:12:00] computer, right? So now it’s making sure that things are lining up a little bit more, the greater lines you put on other parts of the process. So those are things that would, I would see, you know, changing in the next couple of years. But the biggest one that you should all be paying attention to right now, excuse me, is the possibility that the United States Supreme Court is gonna overturn the affirmative action within the review process. Um, we will have an answer on that by late June, early July, and depending upon how that turns out, that could completely flip how schools are legally allowed to review applicants and that will change how we can even use predictive data. To determine how you should target a school.

So all of this is, as I’ve already said, an ever-changing process. And if you want to make sure that you are giving your, your family, your child an, you know, an opportune chance of admission to their dream school, you need to be staying, you know, up to [00:13:00] date on all these policy changes as much as possible.

And that can be challenging considering your own time commitments as a family, uh, which is why organizations such as ourselves, but you know, resources that are available to help in this are CollegeAdvisor, right? We are wonderful, you know, resourced through our, our free web service with hundreds and hundreds of webinars that you can go through in virtual tours.

Um, and then we even have, you know, private advising that we do to help families in this process. Uh, another great resource would be US News and World Report, US News and World Report. Viewed as the standalone, um, organization to really provide you consistency in school evaluation rankings, uh, things of that nature, so you can always trust that data.

Now, when I talk about third party resources, I would encourage you to also be cautious on the information that you’re gaining in certain areas. College Advisors data, US News and World Report data. It’s accurate because we have former admissions officers that work at College Advisor and there are former admissions officers that work at US News and [00:14:00] World Report, uh, former Dean’s admission that work at both of these institutions.

So you can trust that data. Then you have wonderful resources like Niche and even YouTube. YouTube is probably the biggest open you know, website for information on, on many things. Um, but the reason I, I, I say you still have to check up on the information you’re finding on both Niche and YouTube is how old is that information?

You know, niche does a really good job of putting information that they confirm in, but when you’re reading the reviews of an institution from someone that might have applied four or five years ago, well, it’s a completely different experience now. So you, you need to kind. Understand that there is some weight that you need to apply to what you’re learning on, on resources like niche and YouTube based upon how old the information is, right?

Um, if you’re, you know, watching a score view video on YouTube from five years ago, I, I, I wouldn’t put a lot of value to that. I, I would say you need to be looking at something in the last two, right? There’s significant differences. [00:15:00] So I think that the piece of information that most famous are surprised by is, is the recommended timeline that, that I would, you know, have you working on, and this is for everybody.

Um, for the majority of you being 11th grade families right now, this is probably gonna scare some of you. And that’s okay. There’s, there’s time to adjust, but an ideal timeline. Okay, I’m not saying that everybody can do this, but an ideal time. Would be that you start your research as a family in, in ninth and you know, ninth grade to start determining what it is your child maybe wants to go to school for.

And I’m not saying that they’re gonna have it locked in in ninth grade or 10th grade, but I’m saying trying multiple different things of exploration through internships, research opportunity, summer academic programs that expose students to multiple different academic fields. These are things that allow a student to get information on something that they could see themselves doing or what they might enjoy studying in college. And so as you go into your, you know, 10th grade [00:16:00] year, you obviously wanna start building in school list exploration. And, and that surprises most families, excuse me. Uh, surprises. Most families that I speak to, cause most families today through the rumor mill, are told to put their school together as 11th graders.

My respectful response to that is the sooner that you can get a school list in place that you are comfortable applying, the quicker you can become their more targeted applicant, because if you have your school list in place by the end of sophomore year, now all of your courses from 11th and 12th grade and any activities that you elect to involve yourself with, um, from that moment forward can be catered to what those specific schools are looking for.

And because you’re doing it over a two year period, you’re naturally going to acquire more characteristics, uh, and traits that they value out of an applicant because you’ve naturally been able to acquire more specific things, relatable to them families. In the 11th  process, again, the majority of you with us this evening time [00:17:00] travel doesn’t exist.

So you, you can’t go back and adjust. And so you can only operate within the time that you have remaining, which by the way is nine months before your first application is due right now. And so with that being the case, you need to facilitate a school list. You want to explore 30 to 40 schools and, and get it down to 10 to 12 that you physically apply to, uh, and then you really, in the 11th grade, at the same time, need to be building an application strategy.

Now, an application strategy should be built around historical data. You should understand that early applications, if you’re familiar with that um, versus regular decision applications is a center of great debate. A lot of families are kind of blindly told that early action is always better than a regular decision application.

And that’s not the case. But the reality is, is that by using data you can determine at what school’s early action makes more sense for your child and how regular decision might make sense for your child at another school. But the reality here is [00:18:00] self-evaluation is also a very important part of this process, and I, I should probably reframe from calling it self-evaluation and just calling it honesty.

If you can be honest with both your student and yourself. It will make this process a lot easier. You see a lot of families today aren’t necessarily being honest with their credentials, their qualifications, and they’re applying to schools that they are unfortunately just not going to be competitive at. And I never want to tell someone that they’re not good enough.

But I always want to be dealing within the world of reality so that you’re not setting yourself up. A, a very high hope of success when it’s never really, you know, gonna be that significant of an opportunity to, to gain admission to a school. So you do have to be honest with the credentials that your child brings to the table.

Do, do those credentials match what that school is looking for? You may have more, uh, a lot of credentials. You may have an, you know, an [00:19:00] uncharacteristically, a large amount of things that you know your child has accomplished. But is that what the school is looking? Even though you may have a ton of achievements that may not be specifically what that school’s looking for.

And so understanding the subtle nuances and differences between how each school’s gonna process an application and what they’re looking for out of an admissible student and accepting that at that that is in fact different at different schools, will dramatically improve the outcome for your family in this process.

And the last part is essay. Again, another thing I know I’m repeating myself. Most families are shocked when I tell them that they should be writing essays right now as an 11th grader and I, I go back to what I said a second ago. You are nine months away from your first application being due, uh, unless you’re applying for a BSMD program and you’re eight months away from your first application being due.

The reality here is that if you applied to 12 schools and you do this process correctly, where you don’t reuse essays, you don’t copy and paste essays between multiple schools. , you should expect for 12 schools [00:20:00] to write between 40 and 50 essays. That’s time consuming. Right? And I can tell you students that start these essays earlier have a much greater level of success because they’re able to take the time to research them, to build them up with the right information, to include unique information to that school’s unique community and culture.

When you’re able to tailor essays to a school in that manner. , it makes you a stronger applicant cuz you look a lot more sincere in your interest cause most kids are gonna go copy and paste their essays and, and shortchange the work. And the reason that a lot of students are doing that is because they started too late.

You know, respectfully, why would we take arguably one of the biggest decisions of a student’s life where they go to college and put the, the working timeframe for that process. The primary working, you know, timeframe is built around essays into a short eight week period that we call summer, when they’re probably gonna be about 17 years of age, being distracted by summer break.

And most students at that point are gonna have [00:21:00] a driver’s license, maybe not have a car, but they’ll have access to a car. Now you see why we start to see students pull in into senior year with their essays. This is why you hear the horror stories of college. Your students that start earlier, they’re the ones that are able to take breaks in between all of this.

They’re able to breathe, reset, and and not have the burnout that families are gonna have by putting this off until the summertime after 11th grade. And so there is not really a process of being too early in this, or excuse me, a, a, a time where you can be too early. Uh, most schools reuse the same essays two to three years at a time.

You can call and confirm and make sure that that essay is in fact being used next year. And once that school confirms it, you can start writing that essay right now as an 11th grader.

Moderator: Okay, so speaking of the timeline for starting college applications, we just wanna get a sense of where your child is in the college application process. So let us know where they [00:22:00] are.

Okay. So I see some of the responses are coming in. Um, it looks like we have about 50% that are researching schools. Um, like we said, it’s never too early to start building that college list. It doesn’t have to start in 11th grade. Um, and then we have about 30% that haven’t started, and then we do have about 4% that are almost done.

So congratulations to those who are almost done. All right, I’ll turn it back over to you.

Ferrell: Great. So I think understanding your role as a parent regarding this process will add not only a lot of security to your student, but it’ll also make this process a lot more efficient for your family. Number one, be a supportive teammate, um, you know, and be an encouraging individual, you know, help your son or daughter.

Explore, um, you know, create questions, ask [00:23:00] questions of them that are gonna naturally make them more curious to go a little bit deeper in the process and encourage them based upon their findings, um, but also set an expectation, right? Set an expectation, um, of response from your students, uh, and, and do hold them accountable to it, which we’ll talk a little bit more about here in a second.

Uh, I, I think the big one for me, uh, again, I’m always so focused on time, is understanding. Uh, for many students, this can be the first time they’ve actually had a, a true long-term project. You know, it, it’s not really something for a student to, you know, have something that they’re planning for, you know, one or two months as a high school student.

But really and truly, this is the first time in a student’s life that they’ll probably be doing something for, you know, focus on something for six months to a year or even two years. Um, and, and so helping them kind of establish a schedule to kind of operate will make a significant difference for you.

It’ll definitely, um, allow them to kind of be more on point. You know, you’ll be setting expectations around that [00:24:00] timeframe and you keeping them, you know, not only apprised of that timeframe, but you know, holding them accountable to it makes a difference. Now, this next one can be a little bit, a little bit challenging for some families.

It’s a little bit personal when I talk about this and, and I do want to, you know, frame this appropriate. Finances are the source of my worst moments in college admissions. And, and the reason I say that is, is because a lot of families are afraid to have that conversation. I would encourage you and I would in fact beg you to have that conversation before any other conversations.

Um, and the reality for that is when you can set an expectation of what you are comfortable with in terms of affordability for your, you know, students. Uh, college attendance and the cost of attendance. You’re gonna allow your family to set a much more realistic expectations of what schools you should be spending time exploring and applying to.

And that’s gonna take away a lot of the heartache that some families have after they’ve gotten admissions decisions back. [00:25:00] And they have to tell their child that they can’t afford the dream school that they spend all the time working to get into. So, I, I say that with respect, uh, because I, I, I want those conversations to you know, I want those conversations to be easier than, than what a lot of families end up experiencing cause they, they try to ignore it. Um, so please try to have that conversation early and don’t run from it. I think honesty is the best policy here as a family. It really is. Now the last one, it’s my least and it’s my least favorite.

I think most people think I’m an enforcer though, cause I’m pretty direct. And the reason I’m so direct is that I don’t wanna sugarcoat things for families. I found that when we kind of sugarcoat we kind of avoid the reality of what needs to happen and sometimes families hear what they want to hear and go and do what they want to do.

So that’s why I’m kind of direct. It’s not to be mean, but you yourself have to be kind of direct and, and play the role of the enforcer from time to time in this process. And I know that’s not fun, but it’s just a requirement. It’s part of the, part of the role that you play. And I, I think the number one thing here is by [00:26:00] establishing expectations early on and holding your son or daughter accountable to that.

Um, it, it’s gonna naturally, you know, make them progress at a, you know, quicker rate in terms of this process. And it’ll get you, it’ll make the, you know, the overall time experience a lot more efficient. That being said, I, I say that you should be establishing those expectations and maintaining them because most of the overwhelmed parents I hear from are overwhelmed because their son or daughter have not really made any progress.

But that’s because that individual gave their son or daughter a little bit too much room, in my experience, giving them too much freedom and just expecting them to go do it. I respectfully submit that students are still teenagers, and I’m not trying to discount the maturity of a lot of teenagers, but I’m also here to say that I remember what it was like to be 17, playing sports, being in theater, um, you know, holding a job, right?

Wanting to hang out with my friends. Uh, and, and that’s all. Okay, and, and sometimes the importance of how big of a moment this [00:27:00] is isn’t really on a student yet. So making sure that you are giving that student, you know, firm expectation of what they need to be doing and by when, will significantly de-stress the process and leave room for no surprises.

Okay. So I think the other thing here to talk about is understanding where your son or daughter really has a firm hand in this process. Uh, and the number one piece is academics. You know, they control their performance. They should be engaging themselves in a, you know, challenging curriculum. And they should be working hard to perform well.

Um, and that comes from them being willing to put in the effort, um, you know, understanding that, you know what, I don’t need to go watch Netflix tonight or play, uh, I think it’s Call of Duty that these kids play today. I’m getting old, by the way. I’m, I’m not in touch anymore. Um, but it’s, it’s. You know, making sure they understand that their commitment to their academics is gonna be a, a massive determining factor in, in their outcome for college applications.[00:28:00]

Um, so that’s number one, and that’s pretty easy. One thing I will say as, um, you know, as a, a young father, having a small children right now, . Um, but something I’ve seen students and parents not necessarily do. The moment you start to notice that there may be an academic issue, like a student is struggling with certain material, if you see, you know, one or two in a row, quizzes that are low, um, maybe a third quiz in a row that’s low, don’t wait.

Don’t drag your feet until the, the GPA takes a hit to go. You know, seek help. Seek help. As soon as you start to see that. You know, performance drop a little bit because if you can prevent the actual term grade from, you know, dropping and you can get it back up before the end of the term, your GPA won’t take a hit.

Uh, and, and that’s important. So if you think there’s the possibility that your child is having trouble with something, address it and seek additional help for it as soon as possible to make sure that, you know, their performance maintains at a, you know, solid level. The other piece is, you know, they should have a very heavy hand in their school selection and [00:29:00] parents, what I’m about to say is meant to be totally respectful, not trying to take you out of the conversation as a parent or a guardian. But what I mean to say is this, this is still their life where they have to live, where they go to school. And I, I would ask that you allow them that opportunity in terms of being honest with you, in terms of the type of school that they, excuse me, type of school environment that they’re gonna feel comfortable in.

Are they looking for a more supportive? Are they pretty motivated by being in a very competitive environment where they’re in direct, you know, competition with their, their roommate and their classmates on a daily basis? Um, are they looking for a more rural setting or more urban campus? You know, what type of resources are important to your child?

And, and when I talk about resources, I think the easy thing to overlook is off-campus resources, you know, on-campus resources, it, you know, study abroad internship opportunities, uh, research. You know, writing, lab support, tutoring, those are all good things. But there’s a lot of other things [00:30:00] that, you know, your child probably takes part in.

Uh, and they need those, those outlets. You know, and I’m not trying to sound funny here, but I, I’ve worked with a student one time that was, you know, very deep into the practice of yoga and having access to a, a yoga gym within a relatively easy distance of campus, or short distance of campus, excuse me, was, was very important to that young lady.

That made a difference for her because for her that was how she kind of depressurized after, you know, a lot of strenuous academic work. Having access to that was important. Um, if you are religious, a place of worship, knowing that you have the opportunity nearby, close by to find a place of worship, um, that’s important.

Um, perhaps you have eating restrictions, right? Understanding what, what kind of opportunities to cover, you know, your needs there both on campus and off campus, you know, is very important as well. So make sure you’re having that conversation and listening, um, because there are things outside of what you might be [00:31:00] prioritizing that might be more important to your, to your child.

That being the final time, I’m gonna mention this, I hope. Time management. Um, one of the things that I will tell them is that, the better off you are with time management, the stronger your application looks, right. Time management is kind of like a little hidden secret that admissions officers are looking for.

And, and if you can demonstrate solid time management, uh, based upon what you’re involved with and your academic performance, I’m gonna rate your, your child higher for that. When I, when I notice that coming out of the material that they’re submitting in the application process, so by then learning good time management skills and practicing that.

Not only is gonna improve their application, it will shorten the overall process that your family spends in this. Because there’s no need for you to have a child still writing essays November, December, you know, of senior year. You know, in an ideal world, your child is done with their essays in September at the latest.

Um, and that’s because they’ve practiced quality time management.[00:32:00]

So I think the other piece here is when you’re really looking at how you can lower the stress of the process, I really want to encourage you to, you know, obviously start early, but spread this process out in stages. Now, I, I think the importance of understanding that you start early is that if you start this as a ninth grader, as a 10th grader, you get to maintain your child’s enrollment in different clubs and teams and other outside of school, activities that you know, he or she may be taking part in that your family may be taking part. The longer you wait to start this process, some of those may be in threat of having to be cut from your student schedule to make sure that they’re gonna get done with the application process in time, uh, because of how involved this is one thing that’ll help that is, is working in stages, breaking this process out.

Um, I, I am kind of a list person, I, I respond well to having kind of a checkoff list and, um, when I can understand that, hey, right now my, my main focus is just [00:33:00] identifying kind of what it is. I’m, you know, encouraged by what do I enjoy from an activity perspective, and. That’s all I have to focus on, then I’m really gonna invest in doing that.

And once I accomplish that, then I can transition down to building out my initial school list. Then I can transition to building my application strategy. So when I can do one thing at a time like that, to me, it makes the process a lot easier and it’s not overwhelming to a lot of the students I interact with because they only have to do that one thing at a time.

The other piece here is making sure that you’re talking about this as a family. I, I think it’s important that you do set up a regularly scheduled time, maybe once every two weeks or once every week. Maybe it’s, you know, Monday evening, maybe it’s Sunday evening, but have a time where you as a family are reconnecting and going over this, not, not doing it via text message, not, not doing it in the car ride.

You know, I mean, I guess a car is fine, but if you can sit down for 15 or 20 minutes, Where are you at on this, right mom? You know, establishing to the, you know, to your child. Where are you at [00:34:00] within your, your school list that we’ve talked about two weeks ago? Have you done, like, how’s your research coming along in this?

And then you as a parent showing them and talking about them like, okay, I’ve gone and done my financial research using this school’s net price calculator. Of what, you know, we can expect to pay here. This school, we, we feel pretty good about that. You should keep that on your list. So that’s how you should be working through this process and having set times to do it.

But the more important thing here and, and I, I go back to me saying, I’m, I’m Mr. Serious, you have to provide yourself breaks, not just for the students, but you as a, as a parent. Listen, as a parent, you have your own responsibilities. You’re, you have your own jobs to maintain, you know, a roof over your family’s head, put food on your family’s table, and that is all incredibly important and it’s extremely time consuming.

And then you have to add this on top and it becomes very stressful. Understanding that by breaking this process up and scheduling breaks in purposely will not only, [00:35:00] I think, allow you to enjoy the process a little, but it’ll also take away from the feeling of this being monotonous and it prevents burnout.

Uh, I always make the suggestion on, on these webinars to go get ice cream, um, or, you know, to be correct here, whatever dessert you choose. Um, and to that end, the antenna, me talking about ice cream breaks is really about taking time away for yourselves, both as a. and as a student. So what I want you to do is not just have family time, but also be scheduling in individual time where you have your outlet as mom or dad, you’re able to go do what you do to kind of decompress, you know, your child is also to have their own decompression time to enjoy the things that they do to kind of, you know, pull that pressure away from them.

In addition to having just family time where maybe you’re getting ice cream together, maybe you’re going out to a nice meal. That’s how I would encourage you to really kind of de-stress the process overall by following those kind of four points. The final thing here is I really [00:36:00] want to commend you.

The fact that you’re here this evening tells me that you are an incredibly caring parent. You know, I unfortunately need a lot of parents that don’t want to be any part of this process. They just, you know, want their kid to get, you know, led through it and they don’t want anything to do. That’s okay, I guess.

Um, but the reality here is the fact that you’re prioritizing this information seating you’re being here, it shows your commitment as a parent, as a guardian to your child. And I, I cannot tell you how much I appreciate that. Understand this, I know it’s overwhelming, but you’re not alone in your feelings of you don’t know this process. You, you, you’re confused on something. That’s okay. The reality is that you can do it, but you may need to get some additional guidance. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, right? Whether it’s from someone that you trust that you know actually knows what they’re talking about.

Maybe hopefully it’s your high school counselor and they have worked at an actual college. You know, maybe you have a resource in your, your friend or colleagues group that formerly was an admissions officer in the last couple years [00:37:00] at these. Make sure that you’re seeking help and not running from any problems or questions that you have, but you are enough in this process.

You are capable and you’re gonna really do a great thing for your family by continuing to prioritize these conversations like you have this evening. So that’s a great sign alone, that you’re already on the right track and, and don’t feel that you’ve failed your student or you know you’re not doing enough for your student because you don’t have all the answers.

By the time I’m at your stage and I’m 35 and I’ve been in this industry for 13 years, I myself am gonna have questions that I’m gonna have to seek third party advice from because I will have been out of, you know, actually being an admissions officer for so long that my own in-person information won’t be as reliable in my personal opinion at that point.

So getting that advice is important and making sure that you’re honest with yourself to say that it’s okay to get that is totally acceptable. So if you need help, don’t be afraid to go get it. And, and we are certainly a great resource for that. You know, we, we have a [00:38:00] lot of different options here at College Advisor that we’d be more than happy to kind of walk you through.

Uh, and we’d be willing to have a conversation with you about that at a later date if that’s something that you feel you need. Uh, but it’s been a pleasure speaking with you this evening and I’m looking forward to taking your questions.

Moderator: Okay. Okay. So now that concludes the presentation portion of our webinar this evening.

We are gonna move into the questions and answers. Um, so, um, going into our questions answers, how this is gonna work is we are going to read through the questions that you have submitted in the Q&A tab. We’ll place them into the public chat so that you can see them and then read them out loud before our panelists gives you an answer.

As an heads up, if your Q&A tab isn’t letting you submit questions, just double check that you joined the webinar through the custom link in your email and not the webinar landing page. Okay, so our first question, how do you [00:39:00] know what the college is looking for?

Ferrell: Yeah, so the number one thing is that a school for the most part, it’s gonna give you pretty, pretty detailed information about the type of applicant they’re looking for from a course perspective of do you have, have you taken the, the type of rigor they’re looking for outta someone that they’re gonna prioritize in the review process. You know, they’ll tell you, do they expect AP classes?

Do they expect you know, certain levels of experience, do they expect leadership? Um, this is typically very easily assessed by when you go to a school for, uh, a tour or take part in their information sessions, whether in person or online. Um, they’re pretty good about putting all that information out there for you.

Um, and it’s always, you know, a recommendation of mine to pick up the phone and have a conversation with the school. Um, understand. I love high school counselors, but sometimes high school counselors don’t get to visit a school, you know, but every four or five years, because their own schedules are so busy, and so maybe your own high school counselor [00:40:00] doesn’t have the most up-to-date information anymore.

So that’s why it’s imperative that you yourselves are contacting these schools and making sure you’re getting the most relevant information possible, uh, to the time for that you’re applying as a family.

Moderator: Great. Great, great. Our next question is, is it helpful to take the PSAT?

Ferrell: I mean, I think the P S A T sets an example of expectation to kind of give you a range of where you are in the process, um, for a test score, and it’s a good example of should you look into getting test prepped to raise your score.

Just understand that the PSAT does nothing more for you other than telling you kind of where you. Um, if you were to take an actual test. Um, so it is in my opinion, worth it. Um, but you should no matter what, in my opinion, if I’m just being completely honest, you should plan on getting test preparation because quality test prep does lead to significantly higher scores on SAT and ACT.

Um, but there’s nothing wrong with taking PSAT.[00:41:00]

Moderator: Okay. So can you repeat what you said about when essay topics can be found and how to find them?

Ferrell: Yeah. So most schools will publish their topics on their school blog or on their own website. Um, others will, you know, only release it within the application itself. But you can always pick up the phone and call the school and confirm that, you know, Hey, how long are you using these essays?

When I was at both UGA and at Georgia, we would release our topics three years at a time. Hey, and we would say to the public, these will remain our essay topics for the next three cycles of admission. The next three. So that is something that you can easily find, uh, by just doing a little bit of, uh, digging on a school’s website.

Uh, and then I always encourage you to pick up the phone and just reconfirm, uh, through a conversation with the school.

Moderator: Can you give some input on the contents of an essay for college applications?

Ferrell: I mean, that’s, I don’t [00:42:00] wanna be dismissive of your question. It’s relative to what the school is looking for. So the school itself, will tell you with the topic they’re asking you what they want you to address. Now that being said, a little bit of a light insider guidance here.

There are some things that are being implied by a school, even though they may not be writing it. If a school is asking you why this major, they are not only asking you why that major, they’re really wanting to know why you’re wanting to do that major and why you’re wanting to do it at that school. So think a little bit out of the box.

Don’t just be, to some degree, so black and white with your responses, because a lot of times there’s a little bit of implied kind of meaning behind the question, but overall what they’re asking is how you wanna direct your response.

Moderator: Okay, this is a good question right here. Uh, what is the most efficient way to research schools? Uh, start with a big book and narrow it down and then go [00:43:00] online. Is there any online resource to easily research schools based on certain wants and criteria?

Ferrell: Yeah, I mean, we’re probably one of the best resources for that.

Um, you know, when you create an account with us, you have access to dozens and dozens and dozens if not hundreds of webinars specific to different schools. But the best part about it is we have a profile page for every school where we publicize average test scores, average, you know, SAT um, excuse me, average, SAT and average ACT, uh, average GPA, the most popular majors at that school.

Um, you know, the type of campus that it has. So our website is a very really, uh, excuse me, very, really, it’s a very good resource to provide you with a lot of high level context so you can start to kind of group, based upon your son or daughter’s academic interests, you know, location, um, things like that.

I think that’s important. Um, the initial way to look at 30 to 40 schools and then once you have that list of 30 to 40 schools, you really wanna [00:44:00] start interacting with current students and recent graduates. And I think that’s the kicker that no one really does, no disrespect intended to admissions.

That’s what I am. I am a former admissions officer. What I will tell you is that you need to verify what an admissions department is telling you about a school, and you need to verify that with somebody that’s attending that school not being paid to speak with you. An admissions officer’s job is to get you to apply, uh, so don’t just take what you’re getting on their websites and, and the school visits to your high school.

Also, making sure you’re asking real questions to current students too. Now, one thing I will say is that the other side of things that we offer here at College Advisor is one-on-one advising. So if, if you’re looking for some help and putting together, um, a school list, we, based upon our knowledge of what these individual schools are looking for, having served at these schools, we can help you put together an initial list that your child will be competitive within. Uh, and we can help you break that list into, you know, a [00:45:00] categorized list of reach, target, and safety schools that you end up applying to. And then we can physically walk you through the entire application process from interview preparation, activity development, helping you kind of come up with the ideas for passion projects, uh, using our summer opportunity database to help you locate internships and research programs, SAT uh, development.

We can do all of that with you in a private meeting, that’s just you and your advisor and your information is never shared with anybody. So if that’s something that you think you might benefit by, or if you just have a few questions about the process that maybe you’d like to have a little bit more of a personalized response to, feel free to scan the barcode that’s in front of you right now.

And it’s gonna take you to a calendar page where you can sign up for a meeting that works for you and your family. We just encourage you to have your whole family present so both you know, both, you know, parents and guardians can ask whatever questions you have. Your child can ask their questions as well, so everyone’s kind of feeling, you know, fulfilled with whatever questions you’re kind of sitting on right now.[00:46:00]

Moderator: Great. Thank you for sharing more about College Advisor, and we are gonna keep the barcode or the QR code that is on the screen as we continue with the remainder questions and answers. Our next question is, what can I do if my child’s GPA is not too strong?

Ferrell: So, I mean, my, my response to that is gonna be one, it’s depending upon you.

The graduation year that your student is, if you’re a ninth or a 10th grader, you’ve got some time to help raise it. If you’re an 11th grader, you need to be building a list around schools that your child is gonna be academically viable for. I, I’m gonna say this with respect. If your student’s GPA is not arranged that an Ivy League school is looking for an Ivy League school doesn’t need to be on the list.

Um, and so you should be building the school list around what that GPA is because if you’re an 11th grade student at this point, you’re not a child’s an 11th grade. They are not gonna be able to do enough, uh, within their, you know, [00:47:00] course, you know, performance to significantly raise their GPA, uh, by the time they you submit your application.

Moderator: Okay. So is it helpful to take some classes in a trade school during high school related to, to your future major?

Ferrell: Yeah. I mean, I, I think if, if, if you’re going to, uh, if you’re planning on a traditional four-year school and, and I’m not talking, I’m not talking a trade major, I’m talking something, you know that you’re gonna go to a traditional four year school and, and they have courses at a trade school that you can take during high school.

Sure. It looks great. Um, any, any relevant experience that you bring to the table that is connecting you to your intended major that you’re applying to only gives you more qualification for why that school should admit you. We use your, your activities and your experiences to essentially qualify you for the field that you’re applying for.

And when I see [00:48:00] multiple experiences that relate to your area of interest, specifically, if you’ve taken courses that directly relate to it. Yeah, it, it’s a definitely an, an added piece to your application that it would be good to have.

Moderator: Okay. Um, does it help for my child to test for SAT and ACT? Is one better than the other?

Ferrell: What I traditionally tell families is take one of each test, see how well you do on, on both, and then take the one you did better on a second time. That’s my traditional advice. Now, if your test scores are very similar and there are charts that we can show you that will tell you what the comparisons are, but if your scores are very similar between the two, I would encourage you to have your child take the one that they felt more comfortable in the testing environment.

For example, the ACT destroyed me, personally. It, it wore me out. [00:49:00] Um, I was exhausted by that test. I crushed the SAT, right? The SAT to me felt like a walk in the park in terms of how it’s done, kind of how they broke the test out and all that. So both of my test scores were very similar. I ended up taking the SAT a second time because the testing environment and how you’d go through it really kind of just worked for me, uh, worked for me a a little bit better, uh, which led me having a much higher score in the long run.

Uh, so that would be my approach. either way, you should be, you know, doing some initial, um, you know, practice tests to kind of see what side, you know, your child’s falling more towards SAT or ACT, and then try to plan accordingly to that through proper test prep.

Moderator: Great response. Uh, is it better to take AP class versus dual enrollment?

Ferrell: 1000000%, yes. Um, I’m a little direct on that. I’m sorry. Uh, but the reality here, schools prioritize [00:50:00] AP or IB courses over dual enrollment. Uh, dual enrollment is great, but most, basically all of your elite, you know, schools, anything in the top 50 to 150, they’re gonna tell you that they would prefer that you go through any available AP or IB course before you dual enroll.

Only dual enroll if you’ve exceeded an available course. That’s their normal recommendation. Um, a lot of times high schools are encouraging you to do enroll because you’re gonna get so many quote unquote hours, um, in towards college. That is unfortunately in most cases, not gonna actually be given to you, um, unless you’re going to a local state school.

Um, and even when I was at UGA, we did not prioritize dual enrollment courses. We prioritize AP courses over dual enrollment. And kids that were being told to take dual enrollment, you know, by their, their school system, we’re at a disadvantage in comparison to students that were taking AP courses.[00:51:00]

Moderator: That’s super insightful. Uh, our next question reads, uh, my student has SAT accommodations through college board. Do colleges see this?

Ferrell: They do see that you have extra time.

Moderator: Okay. Uh, are the SAT and ACT mandatory for 2024 entrance?

Ferrell: It, it’s, it’s dependent on the school. Um, my, here’s the answer that most people don’t wanna hear.

You should take the test and you should prep for the test and ideally have a strong outcome. Because when you elect to go test optional, now your essays, your activity descriptions, your letters of recommendation, those are weighted two to three times more in the process than they would be if you submitted a test.

So if you have a weakness activity-wise, if your child does not have enough credentials that connects them to their intended field of study, now that’s gonna be magnified. Um, and so by prepping for and taking a test score, um, excuse me, that was grammatically [00:52:00] incorrect. By prepping for and taking an SAT or an ACT test and ideally getting a, a good score relative to the schools that you’re applying to, you’re gonna be probably in a much better spot.

Moderator: All right. So is there a good website that lists the colleges by tuition costs?

Ferrell: So, uh, College Advisor is a great resource. U.S. News and World Report is a great resource. Um, yeah, there’s a lot of great places out there. The number one place is, is the school website. Um, they’re gonna be the first one to report it.

Um, they’ll be the first one to report. Um, price increases every year as well. So, um, you know, that’s should always be your first stop. But if you’re looking for, you know, a website that you can go to and instead of having to go visit and dig through, you know, each school’s financial aid page and all that, CollegeAdvisors website or US News and World Report’s website are probably the two best resources for that.[00:53:00]

Moderator: Okay. So would you recommend applying for a school even if your GPA is lower than the average accepted grades, considering you have great extracurricular activities?

Ferrell: Probably not. If I’m being completely honest with you, um, the reality here is I’m saying this relative to how far out of that, you know, middle 50% that you are, if you’re a 10th out of the middle, 50% Yeah.

Fire an application off. But if, if the middle 50%, like I’m making numbers up here in my head, if, if the middle 50%, you know, ex, you know, GPA range is a three, five to four oh, and you’re a, you’re a three oh, or you’re a 2.9, no.

Moderator: Okay. Um, any thoughts around like, community colleges?

Ferrell: Yeah, so I, I think the community college conversation is a very good conversation to have, especially depending upon where you live. So I’m in Tennessee, I’m in Nashville, the state of Tennessee and the state of California have[00:54:00] guaranteed two free years at community college.

The problem with community college is, many, many schools will end up requiring you to redo your gen ed classes for certain majors. Uh, engineering programs are notorious for this because the school, the university’s insurance, um, won’t sign off on your credentials, your certifications, because you did not take the core course curriculum through that school.

So in most cases, when you go to community college, it’s going to end up costing you more money in the long run and more time. So the ideal situations that you go, you land at a four year school, um, even if you’re still undecided on major, it is still technically better from a financial and a time perspective.

If you can land and start at a four year school, lock into a major within a year or so, and then progression.

Moderator: Okay, so this question was submitted, um, uh, during the [00:55:00] registration. When should we start making our kids fill out scholarship applications?

Ferrell: That’s a great question. I am not popular with my answer on this one.

Um, one of the number one things I struggle with is when families tell me they don’t have a school list in 11th grade, but they’re applying to scholarships. That, that’s a, that’s a huge, to me, that’s just backwards. Um, I try to tell you, If it were me, okay, and this is Ferrell talking. This is not a CollegeAdvisor.

I would say you should be getting your college applications majority of the way completed before you start focusing on scholarships. Um, my goal for any family that I support, I want them done September, truly October at the latest. Sometimes we bleed into November. But the goal would be that you’re done 1st of October at the latest, and that gives you October, November, and December for your school specific scholarships.

And then it gives you the entire second semester of, um, senior year for third party scholarship applications as well.[00:56:00]

Moderator: Okay, so we have time for about two more questions. Is it better to use the maximum allowed word count for your essay application, uh, to make it look like you spent a lot of time on it, or can you get by with a short, but hopefully quality submission?

Ferrell: I don’t let students that I support submit something less than 10 words of the max. So if you have a 500 word essay, I’m making you do 490. So, um, it’s just, if it’s a thousand-word essay, my policy’s always been 20 words. Um, if, if you’re doing it short, it doesn’t look like, and this is just from the conversations I have been privy to sitting on Vanderbilt’s submissions committee.

If you’re short, you’re brief. It looks like you’re just trying to get done. No matter how well rounded, or excuse me, how well worded it is and how smooth it sounds, looks like you’re in a hurry. I, I want to feel that I’m your one and only, right? I, I wanna feel that you’re genuine to be here. And even though you may have communicated your answer pretty effectively, [00:57:00] I would still rather you be a little bit more in depth and be closer to your word count maximum.

Moderator: Okay. Um, what are your thoughts on people telling parents that it doesn’t really matter what college they attend, um, for their Gen A? I think like general kind of maybe general classes. Is it all pretty basic that first two years?

Ferrell: No, it, it’s, it’s vastly different these schools today. Um, it, it’s, in my opinion, it, it does matter a lot because you’re not, when you go to undergrad, you’re not just going to get your undergrad degree, you’re also going to set yourself up with, you know, a, a community of support 20, 30 years down the road. This is not a four-year decision, this is a 50 year decision. So when you’re choosing your schools, you know, a part of this should also be influenced by what, what does their community support look like?

You know, when you’re 10 years out for, if you’re searching for a job, right? What type of resources exist for that? What kind of network can you expect to [00:58:00] build being a member of that community? Um, so no, I wholeheartedly disagree and that’s not because, and I was accused of this recently. Someone called me an elitist because I worked at Vanderbilt.

Um, I went to a small liberal arts school and I chose that small liberal school because the amount of resource. It has for people, you know, 10 to 15 years down the line. I had plenty of other opportunities to go swim at different colleges. Uh, and I chose to end up not swimming in the long run. And I chose that school because of the long-term networking opportunities and resources it provided me, post-grad.

That is something that I think is not talked about enough and I would encourage you to make it a part of your conversation as much as you can.

Moderator: Great. Great. Well thank you Ferrell for that last tip for our parents, and I think you ended on a really great note about the first two years and how that actually is very impactful.

And you said, you know, comparison, like you’re planning for the next 50 years, not just the next four years. So I really [00:59:00] appreciate you sharing that. So with that, everyone, that is the conclusion of our webinar this evening, and we do have more webinars. I noted the slide that you all are seeing says January.

We do have more that are gonna be coming up for the month of February. So please stay tuned. And at the conclusion of this webinar, you will have a pop-up screen that will appear as an opportunity to talk to a representative to learn more about our services that we offer within CollegeAdvisor. So please, if you have time, you know, please check it out. And thank you once again. That is the end of the webinar. Goodnight everyone.