College Admissions: How to get into highly selective colleges
The hallmark of a well-written advice book is that it leaves you inspired to move forward with a clear plan of action. Earning Admission: Real Strategies for Getting into Highly Selective Colleges, a new book by Greg Kaplan, investment banker turned college advisor, definitely fits the bill.
While not written specifically for homeschoolers or other non-traditional students who plan to apply to college, the author offers strategies and ideas that are relevant for any parent wondering how best to help their child gain admission to a selective college or university. As Mr. Kaplan stated during a recent conversation, “This book is for parents who want options for their children.”
The overarching message of Earning Admission is that applicants need to be prepared to demonstrate the value that they can bring to a college. This includes understanding the admissions process from the admissions officer’s perspective and knowing how to effectively market their skills and accomplishments during the process. The book walks the reader through step-by-step tactics for doing this in the objective components of college applications, including grades and test scores, as well as the subjective components like essays, letters of recommendation, and interviews.
I have to admit that, as a homeschooler who places little importance on grades, the first section of the book which focuses on high school transcripts and entrance exam scores left me feeling a bit cold. Recommendations like, “Your child will need to take classes he will earn A’s in,” and “You must be an engaged parent and make sure your child is on track to earn an ‘A’ throughout the entire semester,” just didn’t resonate with me. Among the many reasons I homeschool my two boys, two of the most important are that I want them to be motivated to learn by the pure love of learning (not grades), and I want them to have the power to direct their own education (without me “keeping them on track”). If you share a similar philosophy, the advice in the first part of this book may not appeal to you, either. Unfortunately, however, grades and test scores are an integral part of the college admissions game these days—a game that we should be aware of and understand if our children aspire to attend a competitive school.
The second part of the book included some great advice that I think will be helpful for any college applicant. I especially appreciated the information provided in the chapter “Application Theme,” which included the idea that “a compelling theme in a college application will grab the attention of an admissions officer and help your child’s application stand out from the rest.” Several personal essays and examples of effective themes are offered, and the recommendations could easily apply to a job application/resume scenario as well. Other helpful tactics described by the author include considering less-selective majors, and leveraging extra-curricular activities, including sports, even if the applicant hasn’t been directly recruited for these. Additionally, many parents will welcome the sections on how to maximize scholarships and financial aid, and what to do if your applicant is “wait-listed.”
When I asked Mr. Kaplan if he had any particular advice for homeschooled students, he responded,
Homeschooling means that you have the time and flexibility to pursue what you’re interested in—the sky’s the limit. You can use this time to excel in something you care about, to focus on developing your uniqueness. You’ll be able to demonstrate your value to college admissions officers because of your different background.
So, if your child plans to apply to a highly-selective college in the next few years, and you’re wondering what the current rules of the college admissions game are, Earning Admission will provide you with the basic information you need. However, you might also want to seek out other books or advisors that focus on providing specific information for homeschoolers as well.
Lori Dunlap worked for almost twenty years in the corporate world, first as a management consultant to Fortune 500 companies, and then at a large research university as a program director and adjunct faculty member. She is now pursuing her long-held interests in research and writing, and writes regularly about homeschooling and higher education. You can find her at http://www.teachyourown.org. Look for Lori’s GHF Press book for college admissions professionals, scheduled for 2017.