College admissions is a complicated process and it has been reported that 26% of college applicants today use a private college admissions consultant. This is primarily because of a rapidly growing applicant pool – students can now apply online through the Common App and thousands of international applicants are applying for admission to US colleges. But aside from systematic change in the admissions process, which we have pushed for in the form of changing the matching process itself, what can students and parents do to prepare their child for their future?
Option 1: Getting Outside Help
Some people that getting outside help is the most practical way of preparing students for an increasingly competitive world. College admissions is one part of the education story in America, but it is representative of a job market and a world that is becoming increasingly competitive. The nature of work itself is changing with globalization and technology.
According to the report from the Government Accountability Office found, about 22 percent of Americans who earn between $12.01 and $16 per hour now hold college degrees, compared with 16 percent in 1995. The divide between low-skilled and high-skilled workers seems to be increasing as some young people continue to adapt to new realities. Education is one way to jump this gap.
Getting an outside tutor or college counselor to guide your child in learning new skills, demonstrating that excellence through exams, and finding their true interest is the first and most practical route. Students tend to listen to a third-party more than parents and sometimes counselors have unique insights or trends they have noticed across students which can be helpful. When vetting external help, make sure the philosophy and value system aligns with yours.
Option 2: Focusing on Skills
This leads us to the second option for parents: do not focus on admissions as much as actual skill that students gain. Often, this is correlated with their external environment, their peers, and the resources around them, which makes going to university important. In high school, we urge our students to actually explore what interests them – any seed of an idea – and see how their interest evolves over time. Parents can do this too or at least put students in an environment where experimentation is encouraged.
This skill, which we call “skill discovery” is almost more important than the skills students or recent graduates have today. As the world changes, the requirements in the workforce will change beyond our imagination in the next 20-50 years. The only option is to develop a toolkit to adapt your skills – whether that is computer science, arts, or the pure sciences.
Summers are a great time to explore interests in high school and college. Utilizing them for an independent project, a structured program, or local classes are all valuable. For college admissions, often these three are equally valuable but what really matters is a student’s deep introspection on how these summer activities affect their interests. This introspection – the human aspect of a person’s interests outside of their resume – is what really matters for college admissions. More importantly, this introspection matters for a person’s intellectual development and career as the world changes.
Option 3: De-emphasizing prestige
Parents can also help students by not playing into the mass media view of college admissions – as a game to be won. Admissions is really the first step in a sequence of a child’s educational journey. The real indicator of success of a student will be their drive, their ability to adapt, and their willingness to work hard.
Parents can help stressed out students by helping student’s develop their own minds as independent thinkers. They can help students by instilling values of hard work and keeping an eye on the long game.
Former President Obama set a new national goal for college admissions – the North Star goal. He hopes that the United States will have the highest proportion of college graduates of any country in the world by 2020. This is a noteworthy goal, but in addition to that, we will need systematic change in the admissions system, particularly through a more uniform need-blind process.
Until that change comes, parents have three practical ways to help their students – hire outside help, focus on skill development with their child, and de-emphasize prestige. At Empowerly, we take a holistic approach – parents should do all three things. Usually students will listen to a third party, but they will also imbibe the value system that is taught at the home.
Education is a collaborative effort and starts at the home – the values, the philosophy, and the ideals that are in place shape a student early on. After that, finding passions and giving your students a toolkit to find that interest is important. Usually parents find it easier and more effective to have a third party with experience help their students through this second stage. Once that is complete, students must look deep inside and take advantage of the resources around them – school clubs, the college environment, or summer programs. Finally, education is not a destination but a continuous journey. We never stop learning, and that’s what makes life interesting. Embracing this fact and knowing that college admissions is the first step to a lifelong journey is the most important thing student and parents can do.