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College Talk Blog

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Leveling the Playing Field for College Bound High School Students

Posted on June 9, 2011 at 2:43 PM
The college preparation and application process requires high school students to use new skills for the first time.  It does not seem fair that some of those new skills are not taught to students prior to the time they must use them. 

My favorite example is the essay that students must write to apply for admission to college. I asked Joan Turner, a writer whose career includes teaching high school English and journalism, why students seem to struggle so much with their college admission essays. Her response explained what I had seen.  She said that the essay is a form of writing for which instruction is given during the freshman year of college.  No wonder students struggle with their admissions applications and often skip the whole idea of applying for scholarships!

Another example of a skill that we ask students to use that is not familiar to them is choosing a college.  For 12 years, they have little choice regarding where they go to school.  Then, when they hit 11th or 12th grade, the question educators and adults love to ask them is "where are you going to college?".  The average student does not know what types of colleges there are, how colleges differ by cost, program length and opportunities and which colleges offer their major.  Even students fortunate enough to take a college prep class as part of their high school program complain that they are unprepared to make a college choice.  Some don't even know if their parents went to college or where.  Forcing students to make such a critical life choice with inadequate preparation sets them up for needless stress and failure.

And finally, there is an issue that pits students and parents against each other.  And that issue is college cost.  Parents are often unaware of the costs they face with regard to college.  Prices continue to rise and financial aid is not keeping up.  So college cost is an area where both parents and their children need more preparation.  Because parents are unaware of current costs and how financial aid currently helps, they often don't have a discussion with their child to let them know the limits of family financial support in the college process before the student chooses a college.  So if the student blindly chooses a college that is too expensive, he feels blindsided if parents tell him he'll have to make another choice.  That does not help parent child relations and it is a huge barrier in getting a student to college.

Clearly, we need to level the playing field for our students.  We need to play catch up with rising juniors and seniors to make sure they know what they need to know and have the skills they need to have. High schools do not have the staffing time that is needed to provide the level of support that students need. And we need to start earlier than 11th and 12th grade to prepare children for college.   It's up to parents to make sure their children are ready to launch.

On June 17, 2011, there is a free seminar in Williamsburg for parents that outlines what parents can expect and how parents can prepare for their critical role in their child's life.  For more information go to

Categories: Positioning Students for Success