How to Guide Your High School Senior Through College Admissions

SAT Prep, ACT Prep, College Admissions, Parents, High School
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Parents play a vital role as their teens prepare for and go through the college admissions process.

My parents were NOT at all involved in the college admissions process for me… perhaps they were too tired of it all after putting my two older siblings through college, and they wanted to take a break with the third kid (me). Regardless, they supported me when I needed it, and, to that end, I’m always grateful.

The parents I work with nowadays are the completely the opposite of mine — they want to be involved in the admissions process and want to learn more and more about it. It’s great.

So, let’s go through each aspect of the admissions process your high school senior will navigate in which you will play a vital role.

The Common Application

SAT Prep, ACT Prep, College Admissions, Common App

The Common Application essay prompts are already available.

And, let me tell you: Many students have already begun their essays. The essay is actually the fifth most important admissions criteria. So, don’t take the it lightly.

Make sure your child is clear on the message he or she wants to communicate in the writing. In other words, the personal statement must feature an anecdote that clearly illustrates this one-liner message that the college admissions officer will remember.

Most importantly — if you end up being one of the editors for your child’s essay, make sure that you preserve his/her individual voice in the writing. As a college essay coach, helping my students develop a clear and authentic voice that’s not overly pedantic has always been a critical factor to essay success.

College Selection

By the time school starts, make sure that your senior has finalized a college list. You can even help him/her choose which colleges are good fits. I know that prestige of the name might be an enticing factor, but do keep in mind… maybe your child may enjoy a smaller liberal arts school more.

I’m speaking from experience: After attending the University of Pennsylvania for undergrad, I sometimes do wonder if I would’ve made more out of college had I gone to a smaller school (although, I absolutely LOVED college).

Finally, help your child decide about applying early. If your senior is set on going to a certain college, he or she should think about whether applying early is a good option. The summer is the time to decide because early applications are usually due in November.

SATs and SAT IIs

Do keep in mind that if your child wants to take the SATs again, now is the time to study. Your child should ALSO be studying for the SAT II Subject Tests if the schools he/she are applying to require them.

Activity Resume

After test scores, grades and the personal statement, admissions officers look for how students spend their time in and out of school. An activities resume provides colleges with information about how your child spends his/her time.

This is probably the first time your child has had to write a resume. And, as a parent in the workforce, this may be your forte! Helping your child elucidate the activities he or she has been doing for the past 3 years could be extremely helpful.

Not only is the resume a necessity in the admissions process for some universities, but it also helps to differentiate your child from the prospective candidates — especially if it communicates a clear picture of his/her passions. You can also use it for give-away at interviews. As an alumni interviewer at UPenn, I’ve always appreciated students who brought me their resumes.

And, definitely remind your child: It’s not the quantity of activities but the quality that matters. In other words, colleges are impressed with students who choose an activity, stay with it, and develop it over a period of years.

Teacher Recommendation

Developing a relationship with your child’s counselor and teachers is one of the biggest roles a parent can play in the admissions process. You can start by attending Back-To-School night functions to meet your child’s teachers. Encourage your child to develop a relationship with a few key teachers at the school so that he or she has a teacher to write a solid recommendation.


Nae graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and worked at Google for 4.5 years. She has been a college essay coach for since 2010 and has helped students across the world write their best possible college admission essays. She is a college essay coach and consultant at Winning Ivy Essays. Reach out to Nae directly: [email protected]

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