Sending Your Baby to College: Advice from a Teacher

As a mom, it is way too early for me to send my own son to college.  I think we’ll start with preschool.
But as a high school teacher, I have reassured many parents as they prepare to help their baby apply for college.  Parents often ask me for college suggestions for their student who is thinking about studying science or engineering.  I also help my students with college applications when they want someone to look over their essays.  And I can’t even remember or count how many college recommendations I have written!
The college application process can be very overwhelming for students and parents.  I have a few college application tips for parents and teachers who help with the process:
Advice for Parents and Students:
1.  Some of my students and their parents feel pressured to apply to 20+ colleges!  College application fees add up and I always suggest students stick with less than 10.  Pick a college close to home just in case you decide you don’t want to go too far.  Pick 3 or 4 “reach” colleges, colleges that the student may or may not get in.  Pick 2-3 “mid-range” colleges, colleges that the student will probably get in and would be happy attending.  And pick 2-3 “safety” schools, colleges that the student would be ok with attending and would very likely get in.
2.  Start early!  I suggest finishing college application essays over the summer.  The essay seems to be the hardest part of the application process.  Once the essay is done, filling out all the forms doesn’t take that long.  In fact, almost all of the applications are now online, which makes it even easier.
3.  If a college allows the student to use the common application, use it!  It saves the student soooooo much time.  So many colleges use the common application now.  This saves students so much time.
4.  Before the summer or right in the beginning of senior year, students need to ask teachers for recommendations.  Some colleges require more than others, but a good number to aim for is 3.  Colleges like to see a math teacher and a science teacher if the student is applying to a science or engineering program.  They often will also ask for an English teacher as well!  PLEASE, as a teacher who writes a lot of recommendations, ask your teacher in the first week of senior year (or very soon after).  I prefer students even ask me before the summer, so I have time to work on them over the summer!
5.  Picking which teachers to ask for a recommendation is a very important decision.  The teacher that gave a student the best grade he or she has ever received is not necessarily the best teacher to ask!  Pick the teacher who truly knows the student.  Does the teacher see the student outside of class, in a club, sport, or community activity?  Does the teacher truly understand the student’s strengths, weaknesses, and dreams?  Does the teacher encourage the student to follow his or her dreams?  If the answer to these questions is yes, pick that teacher!  If not, look elsewhere.
6.  If a teacher, when asked, suggests that the student pick someone else, follow that teacher’s advice.  DO NOT press a teacher for a recommendation when that teacher gives a slight indication they are not excited about writing it!  That teacher may have a negative opinion of the student’s work ethic, a negative memory of the student’s behavior in class, or maybe the teacher just doesn’t have the time to dedicate for that particular student!  I have seen this happen when students are desperate, running out of time, and applying late.  They need a recommendation fast and they ask a teacher who has a) no time to do it or b) cannot write an excellent recommendation for that student honestly.  I have even seen that student pressure the teacher to write a not-so-good recommendation, just because the student needed one ASAP.  This is why it is so important to start early.  The student does not want a mediocre recommendation.  Every student wants an excellent recommendation.
7.  Provide the teacher all materials the teacher requests at least 3 weeks before the first deadline.  I have a form that I require students to fill out that helps me to write the recommendation tailored for them.  Other teachers ask for their college essay or extra information about their activities outside of school.  Addressed envelopes with stamps are needed if they are being mailed.  Teachers love it if these envelopes also have a strip to peel off when sealing it, rather than having to lick/wet the envelope.
8.  Students should definitely write, hand-write, a nice thank-you letter to the teacher who writes a recommendation letter.  Remember, that teachers don’t get paid for the time they dedicate to writing college recommendations.  I always write personal letters for each student.  I never use a template.  Each letter I write takes me over an hour, at least.  I do it because I care about my students future.  And getting a thank you note really adds a nice touch.  I keep all the letters I get from my students.  They mean more to me than any gift or the money I could be paid doing something else with my time.

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