The Conversation You Need to Have With Your Teen About College Admissions

As a parent, your teen probably believes (and perhaps because that’s what their teachers told them) that they need to show appropriate academic rigor to get into a good college — especially if they want a shot at top colleges. Just like the telephone game though, over time the concept of “appropriate rigor” turns into “take as many AP classes as you can handle — at least five.”

The workload required to do well in that many advanced classes means your child will be studying late nights (every night), their weekends will be eaten up by school work, they won’t get enough sleep, and they won’t have the appropriate amount of recovery time their nervous system needs. Not to mention the fun memory-making with friends they’ll miss. But if you tell your teen that they should take fewer AP classes in order to have enough time for sleep and fun, they will ignore your advice while they focus on their Ivy League dreams.

It sounds like being stuck between a rock and a hard place when trying to figure out how to healthily support your child, but there is a way. As an expert who helps teens get into their dream colleges (including Ivy League colleges), let me guide you through the conversation that could actually get through to your teen.

Grades are part of what admissions officers look for, but that’s not the whole picture

It might feel like everyone is saying the same things: take the hardest classes, get perfect test scores, demonstrate leadership, and develop a ‘wow’ factor. But this advice is based on the understanding that admissions officers are looking for the smartest, hardest working, or most qualified applicants — which is an incomplete understanding of the process.

The truth is, yes, colleges want some students who fit this description — but as a part of a rich, diverse class of students. This is just one type of student that colleges look for.

Think about it like picking a basketball team. You need a variety of players. If you have an entire team of three-point shooters, you’re not going to have anyone for defense. So while you might have all-star scorers, the team is incomplete without solid defensive players who know how to block shots, steal the ball, and drive it to your center. If your child is a musician, you can help them see that no orchestra would ever be effective if everyone played the same instrument.

Colleges are like any other team or community. Monotony doesn’t serve them. They are after a rich, diverse class of students (in personality, interests, zones of genius, backgrounds, and majors) who can support each other. This is how admissions officers ensure students have a great experience during college, and then can go out to do great things in the world — bringing honor and prestige back to the university.

What they care about beyond grades

Admissions officers first want to know how you fit into a rich, diverse class of students; second, they’re evaluating if you are likely to graduate and then do great things in the world after college.

Colleges report statistics on the success of their students. That’s how colleges develop legacies of their own. Admissions officers aren’t just looking for promising freshman. They’re looking for students who have the tenacity, grit, and drive to both graduate and excel in their careers. To put it in perspective, admissions officers aren’t simply looking for excellent students; they’re looking for future respected doctors, lawyers, inventors, entrepreneurs, artists, leaders, and more.

The way for your teen to demonstrate how they fit into the next class of freshman is by focusing on the personal development work required for them to have a strong sense of self, clear core values of their own, and the ability to problem solve, even in challenging situations. This is a vital piece of the college admissions equation that’s often missed.

The competitive advantage isn’t necessarily being competitive with others

The teens who are too busy with too many AP classes will not have time to figure out their own core values, and therefore will not be able to communicate where they fit into the freshman class to the admissions officers. They also won’t have time to create a track record of success in their communities outside the classroom. This consistent success (beyond excellent grades) helps your teen feel more confident so they’re highly likely to graduate and go on to improve the world.

When you share this with your teen, you can feel confident encouraging them to take one or two less AP classes than they think they can handle, and use their extra time to explore their interests with curiosity. This lets your teen get involved in the communities they care about and meaningfully contribute in ways that build their confidence and sense of self. Once your teen understands well enough the issues facing their community, they can begin working to solve one of those problems that violate their core values.

This act of commitment to their core values, dedication to developing their sense of self, and focus on making a difference in their community is what gives admissions officers a clear vision of how they fit into the college.

Having this conversation with your teen can not only help them succeed but also keep them from burning out in the process.



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