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Getting ready for college/university is a long process. A successful application reflects the years of hard work that help make your teen among the most desirable applicants possible. We’ve outlined a few steps you can take to help lay the foundation for a strong application in the early years of high school/secondary school. With some planning and effort, your teen will be ready to wow admissions officers when the time comes to apply!

1. Have Your Teen Take the PSAT or PreACT.

One strong strategy is to have your teen take the PSAT or PreACT as a freshman and sophomore. Most high schools/secondary schools offer PSAT and PreACT testing, and if your teen achieves a great score, there is often opportunities for honor societies and scholarships. If not, it’s a practice test that helps your teen get comfortable with the format, and can help identify areas of weakness, which gives you a chance to look into test prep programs. SAT® and ACT® scores can be an important factor on applications, especially to help balance out a lower-than-desired GPA and show your teen’s ability to handle upcoming rigorous coursework.

2. Think About Fit.

No two colleges/universities are the same. This is particularly true when it comes to academics and areas of strength. If your teen wants to be an engineer, or a specific type of engineer, that narrows your search criteria. If your child wants to study a particular segment of medieval European history, there may be only a handful of schools offering that specialization. Some students have very focused academic interests, which allows for a smaller, more targeted list of colleges/universities. Have them research schools based on their top interests early on, this will help them prepare for the specific requirements those schools look for.

Plus, narrowing interests and schools down early will help in the future when your family is figuring out what schools to tour. Having a smaller list will help you and your teen not be too overwhelmed with a long list of schools to look at!

What if my teen doesn’t know what they’re interested in studying?

If your child doesn’t necessarily gravitate toward one area in particular, start to talk about other criteria, such as location, proximity to home, large or small—it’s all about where they can see themselves comfortable and thriving!

3. Consider Extracurriculars.

Depending on your teen’s specific strengths, extracurriculars can round out an application or be the centerpiece. Colleges/universities look at extracurriculars as a way to see what makes your child tick. They look at what students do outside of academics, whether it’s a part-time job, volunteering or getting involved in the community another way.

Plus, if the school has a specific need (a starting position on a team, a seat with the band, etc.), your teen’s extra talents can make a big difference at admissions time. The important thing is to pick a few extracurriculars and stick with them. Colleges/universities like to see consistency and growth throughout your teen years, and they would rather see a few specific activities where students excel rather than a laundry list of clubs with minimal involvement.

4. Be Unique.

If colleges/universities wanted to, they could fill their entire class with students who have 4.0 GPAs and perfect SAT or ACT scores. One reason they don’t is because that would not make for a well-rounded and diverse campus experience. Schools want a little bit of everything! Athletes, musicians, writers, and yes, maybe a legacy or two.

With more and more schools going test optional or test blind, it’s important to make sure students have other ways to distinguish themselves. Figure out what makes your teen stand out from the crowd and make sure that talent is highlighted in the application.

The college/university essay is also a great place to tout how your child is unique. Encourage your teen to start a list of ideas for his/her essay as early as possible! Someone who stands out is much more likely to get admittance letters in April.

5. Cultivate a College-/University-Going Culture at Home.

First and foremost, use language that shows you appreciate the value of a college/university education and education in general. Remember that it’s never too early to ask your child what he/she wants to be when he/she grows up. Encourage goals or dreams, no matter how silly. If you have any friends, family members or acquaintances even remotely in a field of interest, have them talk to your child about his/her career. Connecting dreams to reality will help children see college is attainable and that hard work and perseverance pays off!

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