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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

College Admission Tips from a recent Graduate's Parent

College Admission Summary:

My daughter graduating, I have become a bit retrospective to see what we did right and wrong. It's been a huge learning experience, and I am very happy with how my daughter turned out. The one big thing I did not realize, until it was too late, was how competitive getting into a top colleges is. I view the college admissions application process as an arms race, and many Northern Asian parents are fueling it.

By the time I figured out the college admissions game, having just starting around the beginning of her junior year, it was a bit late. Luckily, my daughter ended up at an A+ school that she was able to finish in 3 years, no student debt, and got an amazing job she starts in a few weeks. I was surprised hearing about other of her classmates and where they were admitted, and rejected from. My impression is a bit random (crap shoot), and unless your child stands out from the pack, your rolling the dice. An example is I heard of a student accepted to UC Berkeley, but turned down by UC San Diego that is a much lower ranked school.

My daughter's best friend in Kindergarten family started in middle school preparing to be a top candidate for college applications, hired a big name college admissions consultant, and it worked! Her friend is now attending one of the top colleges in the US.

Which College?

The important item with choosing a college, is focusing on the major, then the college, and look at value.

Value Includes: 

  • Graduation rate 
  • Job hiring rate - if it's hard to find, that tells you something, and try to drill down by major.
  • Hiring Salaries
  • Total yearly cost to attend (her yearly college cost about 50% of a UC, and about 25% of an Ivy League). 
  • Party reputation. Your child is going to college to get skills they can use after they graduate. There are also lists of top party schools you can find, being on this list was a huge negative to me.
  • Average number of years to graduation is good to know. If it takes 6 years to graduate, the total college cost is now 50% more than if you expected graduation in 4 years.

College Admissions Tips:

  • Make it so your child is not the typical Chinese American applicant.
  • Get Leadership stuff, and start early. Leadership is one of these nebulous terms. My take on it is being a class officer, and in leadership positions in clubs. 
  • The college tour is a tour de force of marketing, and the student guides are coached -  and yes, the walking backwards is planned and rehearsed. Many colleges now even have Chief Marketing Officers!
  • Many colleges try to get as many applicants as possible, to make them look more selective in the admittance.
  • Think about who is going to be scanning your child's application, and what they are looking for. Avoid stereotypes, and make your child's image unique that stands out in a positive way from the crowd. Most schools are not looking for another Asian musical genius.
  • Get some type of non profit stuff. If you can, start your own! That got one of my daughter's classmates into Yale, and another a Gates Scholarship and into Stanford.
  • Keep the grade up, and the GPA is more important than the classes you take. In other words, if a hard class is going to kill your GPA, skip the hard class.
  • IB - International Baccalaureate - It was a great experience for my daughter that built useful skills that will remain with her forever. Unfortunately, I feel it did hurt her GPA and may be part of the reason some top colleges did not admit her. I am glad she did IB and I wish the college admission process would give the premium completion deserves.
  • The admission essay makes a huge amount of difference
  • Getting college admissions help is smart. Or at least study up on it. I suggest do this at the beginning of middle school.
  • The Ivy League is biased against Asian applicants. What this means if your want your child to get in, you need to have your child stand out from the competition.
  • Have your child take up a sport. Some sports seem to help more than others to get admitted to the right college.
  • Good teachers help a lot. Not all K-12 schools are created equally. Who your child associates with, makes a difference. If they are going a school where the norm is going to a great college, your child will have a higher chance of going. This is why so many Chinese parents will pay a premium for a house in a great school district.
  • College admissions will just spend a few seconds with your application to screen it (think job resumes), so write it accordingly.
  • SAT Prep classes make a difference
  • Have your child take a college level class at a local Junior College or in High School. Junior College classes are usually easier than the usual AP classes, but colleges for some reason think more of them. And no, this does not make sense to me.

Future of Education:

There is some very exciting things happening with online education, that may change drastically. The entire higher education model in the near future. My daughter finished her college before this happened, but I expect huge changes in the next 5-10 years. Many colleges may fail, due to the short comings of the current higher education model with costs that are increasing super fast, students coming out with lots of student loans, and the education quality is wanting. We live in interesting times. The positive is now you can take a lot of college classes online for free! Is a top college worth $62,000 a year?

Wow, I did not realize I had so much to write about college. It's been a huge focus for my family for the last 7 or so years. I have this habit of becoming an expert on areas that interest me. 



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