According to John Katzman, there are hundreds of top-notch colleges and universities to choose from—and with the right preparation, chances are your son or daughter will gain acceptance to a school that's right for them. John, founder and chairman of the educational preparation company The Princeton Review, shares with Jean his advice for parents looking to help their college hopefuls better navigate the college admission process:
Phase 1: Starting now, parents should be saving money with college savings plans, including aggressive 529 savings plans and rewards plans.
Meanwhile, students should be taking the highest level courses offered by their schools and getting good grades in hopes of qualifying for merit-based aid down the line. "Ultimately, the best way to make college less expensive is to have kids who qualify for all kinds of merit aid," John says.
Phase Two: From the middle of sophomore year all the way to the end of junior year, students should focus on preparing and taking either the SAT or ACT college admissions tests—not both, as all schools accept one or the other. To determine which test you should take, John says to consider taking a practice test in each or a test called the PRA, which predicts both scores. "You want to take the test that's going to show your abilities in the best light," he says.
In the meantime, students should compile a list of 30 schools they would feel good about attending—big and small, private and public and in various parts of the country. "Cast a wide net," John says. Demonstrate your interest in the school through alumni interviews and campus visits that include trips to the admissions offices and e-mail correspondences.
Phase Three: Students should narrow their lists down to 15 schools, and then concentrate on filling out good applications that showcase their talents. High school students don't need to excel in every area—rather, they should focus on excelling in one activity that they're truly passionate about, as well as a secondary activity. The application should tell this story. "Schools are not looking for well-rounded kids—they're looking for a well-rounded class made up of specialists," John says.
Finally, John says there's no need to stress—college admissions involve a lot of luck because of the sheer number of applicants. The time to fall in love with a school is after you've been accepted. "The notion of a 'best' college is so silly—it's really what's right for you," he says.