Humorist Dave Barry once said that he believes parents must encourage children to become educated, so they can ultimately get into a good college that the parents cannot afford. All joking aside, getting into college is a serious business—and the decisions that your teen makes now can have an impact on his or her future.
For the advisors and admissions officers who work with prospective students on a daily basis, there are steps that parents and high school students can take now to help prepare a student academically and financially for college. Admissions professionals from six colleges and Universities in the metro area share their insight about what they would tell your teen now to help their college dream and future aspirations come true.
When it comes to preparing for college academically, it all comes down to three sets of letters: GPA, AP, and ACT/SAT.
When applying for college, a strong GPA in senior year alone might not be enough. “Colleges look at cumulative GPA, so keep it up for all 4 years,” says Ali Sexton, Coordinator of High School Relations for Rose State College. Macey Panach, admissions counselor for Oklahoma State University (OSU) concurs. “Students should take their classes seriously and really work to maintain or improve their GPAs,” Panach explains. “Many times, students do well enough on the ACT to be admitted, but a low GPA can decrease scholarship opportunities.”
A head start can also make a huge difference in overall academic progress. “AP courses and concurrent college enrollment are both excellent ways to prepare for the next step in their education,” recommends Amy Rogalsky, special assistant to the vice president of enrollment management at the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO). In addition, AP courses can give your teen a glimpse at what college will be like. “Take AP or concurrent courses to get a better idea of the time and effort required in a college-level course,” Panach explains.
Lastly, scores on the ACT and SAT play a large role in gaining admission to the college of your choice. “Take ACT/SAT prep courses early during your high school years,” advises Andy Roop, director of prospective student services at the University of Oklahoma. “Don’t wait until the middle of your senior year to try and upgrade testing skills.”
Preparing Emotionally & Psychologically
In addition to the academic demands of college, students go through a mental adjustment as well. “No matter how prepared a student might think they are or how much they are ready to get out on their own and be independent, every student will go through a transitional shock period of adjusting to college life,” Rogalsky cautions. “Students may feel they’ve made the wrong school choice or that they aren’t yet ready for college, when in reality it is an adjustment phase and will pass."
“Visit your college choice often so that you know your way around and make contacts early,” advises Michelle Lockhart, senior director of admissions at Oklahoma City University (OCU). “Start using a planner, learn how to cook a few items, how to do laundry and set up your own doctor’s appointment so that you know how to do these things when you get to college.”
“College is filled with various academic and personal commitments, and students should be able to strike a balance among all ongoing activities. The earlier students get into a habit of scheduling and prioritizing, the better,” reminds Amy Reynolds, first year experience and student life programs coordinator at Oklahoma City Community College (OCCC). “Students should also prepare to step outside their comfort zones by [meeting] new people, speaking with professors, and learning to navigate a new environment.”
“The best remedy [for culture shock] is getting involved in campus activities, organizations, and study groups and just being patient,” Rogalsky says. “Adapting to change takes time.”
Earning a college degree can be a significant expense for families from all income brackets, but it is important to remind your teen that it is an investment that will pay off with higher income and greater career opportunities in the future.
“The reality is that saving early, even if it is a small amount, can make an unbelievable difference,” Roop explains. “Once a student reaches the spring semester of their junior year, parents and students should diligently begin the scholarship search.”
“Financial Aid like grants, scholarships, work-study, and student loans may cover much of the expense, but, in some cases, it just won’t be enough,” Rogalsky explains. “High school students should intentionally build an impressive resume of high school activities that shows them to be well-rounded, interesting citizens.”
Sexton also recommends looking into scholarships both within the college and from community organizations. “Find out requirements early and use the time in high school to meet them,” she says. “Then, complete the Federal Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) for grants, loans and work study. Call the Financial Aid office of the school and ask for specific tips.”
How to Stand Out
Whether your student is applying for admission or a scholarship, there are certain traits that our experts say will help them be competitive and stand out in a crowd.
For Rogalsky, admission to UCO is helped by a successful student resume. “A student that has an ACT score of 25 and above, has a 3.5 GPA and higher, and has taken on leadership roles will stand out,” she says. “A minimum of two years of foreign language, as well as a diversified amount of electives, are also important.”
Not all college admissions criteria are based solely on classroom performance. Crenshaw describes the ideal student applicant to OSU as “a student who expresses a genuine interest in learning and developing as a critical thinker, has a sense of service to the greater community and is open-minded about change and exploring the larger world.” Reynolds says OCCC is also looking for a well-rounded student. “[We’re] looking for students who understand that pursuing higher education is a commitment and are willing to dedicate the time necessary to attain their educational goals.”
There are also a few practical steps that students can take to shine in front of the Powers-That-Be. “Doing the work themselves instead of having a parent do it [is important],” says Lockhart. “Parents should be part of the process but should let the student do the work and make the calls.”
Sexton adds another important tip: “Be sure to proofread—don’t give reviewers any reason to throw your application out.”
Once your student has been admitted, what can your freshman do to increase her chances of college success?
“Go to class,” Roop says. “Hands down, there is not one single thing more important to success than attending class.”
“Get into the habit of asking questions,” explains Stephanie Driver, Assistant Director of Academic Retention and Outreach at UCO. Many freshmen get into trouble they could have avoided if they had only asked for what they needed.”
Crenshaw cautions that freshmen need to understand that college work is going to be more demanding than high school assignments. “Assume three hours of study or preparation for each hour in class to achieve the desired final grade,” she advises.
Sexton encourages students to connect and get involved to increase their chances of college success. “Find a faculty or staff member that you click with, as well as clubs and organizations that you like and jump in,” she recommends. “On-campus involvement directly relates to success—both in higher grades and a higher graduation rate.”
Reynolds adds that incoming freshmen should understand that they must take responsibility for their learning. “You no longer are doing an assignment just for the sake of doing it, but the assignment is in place to prepare you for your future career,” she says. “You must take the initiative in your studies.”
As families look towards preparing their student for college, Panach recommends starting early and staying organized. “Many institutions send out separate correspondence for housing, financial aid, orientation dates, etc., so it is important to keep them in a file for easy reference.”
Rogalsky says that many college-bound teens believe they can get their college degrees by pursuing it just like they did their high school diplomas. “Finishing a college degree is a battle. It takes commitment and determination,” she explains. “Parents and students must know that there will be bumps in the road, but they cannot allow these to influence their drive to obtain a degree.”
Lockhart’s offers a final piece of advice for college-bound families. “Find the school that is the best fit for you and do what you can to make it work even if it’s at a higher cost,” she says. “The education you receive, the experiences you receive and the contacts you make can never be taken away from you.”
Meet the Experts
University of Central Oklahoma
Amy Rogalsky, Special Assistant to the Vice President of Enrollment Management and Stephanie Driver, Assistant Director of Academic Retention and Outreach
Oklahoma State University
Macey Panach, Admissions Counselor and Christine Crenshaw, Director of Undergraduate Admissions
Oklahoma City University
Michelle Lockhart, Senior Director of Admissions
Rose State College
Ali Sexton, Coordinator, High School Relations
University of Oklahoma
Andy Roper, Director of Prospective Student Services
Oklahoma City Community College
Amy Reynolds, First Year Experience and Student Life Programs Coordinator
Families earning $50,000 per year or less can enroll their children (in 8th-10th grade) in Oklahoma’s Promise for help paying for a college education. For more information, www.okpromise.org.
Brooke Barnett is the Assistant Editor of MetroFamily Magazine