Collegebound juniors: Listen up!

Article featured in U.S. News & World Report

Alex Kingsbury is an education writer for U.S. News & World Report. He is a graduate of the George Washington University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, though neither school taught him to be a better fisherman. A native of Maine, Kingsbury has a passion for Cold War history, the Boston Red Sox, and fried mozzarella sticks.

Rachel Toor, author of Admissions Confidential, has spent nearly a decade in the college admissions business. A former admissions officer at Duke University who now works as a private college counselor, Toor has some college knowledge to share with collegebound juniors.

What should juniors do right now if they are thinking about college?
Start talking to grown-ups who are not your parents or teachers. Find someone you can trust who is not directly involved in the process.

So Mom and Dad aren’t good enough?
Your parents will go insane. Junior year it’s not so bad. But as it gets closer and closer to application time, they lose their minds. Even the best parents lose their minds. It’s brutalizing what the college admissions process can do to the kids, and no one wants to watch someone get beat up.

So where do you find these adults—craigslist?
Friends of parents are good; employers are good also. There’s nothing better than being the “cool grown-up” in someone’s life. For a lot of adults, it’s really fun to be involved with somebody at that stage in their life, because it’s really interesting all the stuff that they go through. Start off by asking them what books they are reading and what books they recommend students read. For one thing, it starts students reading more widely, which will be very helpful.

Will parents feel left out?
In fact, parents also need to find someone to talk with. They need to be reassured that their kids are great candidates, but they also need someone to say, “Listen, Johnny is a great kid, but getting into some of these schools is very competitive and Johnny may not go to Harvard. But look at all the other schools that Johnny could go to and succeed.”

Any examples of kids and parents overlooking something?
One of my counseling clients, an awesome girl, was a junior in high school last year and was worried that she would not get into her top-choice school. I asked her what activities she did. “Nothing special,” she said. “I do all the typical things: cheerleading, trying to help develop alternative energies, and prom committee.” I love that quote: “I do all the typical things.” Many students do amazing things, and neither the parent nor the student realizes that what they see as typical or boring is really unique. The admissions process is about emphasizing how you are different from the other applicants, and having unique activities can really help.