Ok, the truth is it’s been roughly 25 years since I last sent in a college application to my local university. I remember submitting a copy of my transcripts, SAT score, a check for $50 and mailing it in. Yes, snail mail. Things are done a little differently these days, and it can be hard to navigate the process and know what your child really needs in their portfolio when applying to schools. Are letters of recommendation necessary, and who should they come from? Does your child need to have both ACT and SAT scores? What about volunteer hours and extracurriculars? We want to make sure we are helping our teens give themselves the best possible opportunity by helping them with their college applications!
Using a checklist might be helpful for staying on track and ensuring all boxes have been checked. If your student is applying to multiple programs or schools, they may have slightly different requirements. Tammy Stuve, Ed.S, LMHC is a school counselor at Gainesville High School. I looked to her for advice on what she tells students every day about applying to colleges.
WHERE TO START
Her first thought was to keep in mind that every student varies depending on what their goals are. The requirements are different if one student is applying to an Ivy League university as opposed to a technical/specialty program at a small private school.
“Students should definitely have a resume done before applying to any colleges,” Stuve said. She iterated that some do this as part of a class assignment and some on their own. Counselors should have a template for them to follow if needed.
Other documents typically needed are SAT/ACT scores, mid-year report cards, transcripts, pertinent letters of recommendation, a personal statement and essays. Required college applications for the universities themselves should be completely filled out before applying.
LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION:
According to BestColleges.com, two to three letters of recommendation are most often required when applying to four-year learning institutions. These should come from teachers, counselors or mentors, and it is best to ask them early, as they will be busy with requests close to the deadline. Asking a family friend or a relative isn’t the best choice, so avoid that situation. These letters should attest to your academic and personal character.
What about volunteering and extracurricular activities? Kaplan.com indicates these things are very important to college admissions. This is the way schools can get to know your character in a way that grades and test scores cannot. Be sure to include any volunteer positions, clubs, sports or even employment you have been involved in.
What SAT score should you be aiming for? Collegeboard.org advises looking at the average scores for students attending the schools you are interested in because they do vary. You can search for that information on their website. For example, the average median SAT score for the University of Florida is 1390, while Florida State University’s is 1270 and the University of Central Florida’s is 1255. Some schools may weigh essays heavily, while some value a high GPA over SAT scores. You can find information regarding admissions directly at individual universities’ websites.
“Getting into college these days can be a challenging and complex process. Generation Z faces higher expectations and standards than any other generation before,” said Mike Testa, a private college planner and the co-owner of Sisyfly. “Our students’ mental health must be our number one priority. Students must realize their value and be able to deal with the results, no matter the outcome.”
At the end of the day, finding a school that works for your child and your family is possible! Start planning early by sitting with your child and making a list of schools they are interested in attending.