Activities that Help Students and Parents through the College Admissions Process

Katie Creel

Where do you begin? Are you a new college counselor and are not sure where to start? Are you a veteran looking to enhance your current college guidance program? Or, maybe you stepped into a position that has worked for many years and you need some fresh ideas?

With the increased level of anxiety surrounding the college admissions process, more parents and students want to get started earlier. Before you tackle your student and parent population, read below for some of the many programs that have traditionally yielded success.

Junior and Senior Families

Financial Aid Night-November

Invite a college financial aid officer to do an hour presentation.  The presenter should cover an array of loans, grants, scholarships, etc. A good place that you may want to start is by asking a financial aid professional at a local college/university or investigating what some of your colleagues have done.

Using titles like “Making Cents of Financial Aid” or “Financing Education” opens the doors for all families of different financial backgrounds.  This event should be available to both students and parents.

Athletic Night

This evening can be run in conjunction with your athletic department. Items to be covered are NCAA requirements, Division I, II, III and creating an athletic resume.

It is helpful to have recent alumni athletes of your school, your athletic director and a college coach serve as panelists.  This event should be open to both students and parents.

College Roundtables

An informal breakfast event that happens three times a year.  This is a parents-only meeting in which they are the agenda. This is a great opportunity for questions and answers.

Handouts for the group are strongly encouraged. They can contain pertinent information, an article about college admissions, or an updated timeline on where the student should be in the process.

Junior Year

Junior Parents College Program/Junior College Evening

These are two separate events for parents and students, respectively, which provide the opportunity to introduce the office and a college planning timeline.

Some schools enhance the presentation by showing an appropriate video, having a parent/student/admissions person come and introduce the process. A question and answer session should always be included.

Junior Families College Night

A school program in April featuring presentations on college search and admissions, panels composed of college admission officers and/or a modified college fair. This event is for parents and students. If you don’t plan on having a college fair, or if you will be doing that separately, then it can be just for parents.

Junior College Tour

An optional trip in June open to juniors. This three-day excursion allows students to visit five or six college campuses, which will expose them to different types of college campuses, academic expectations, and admission policies.

Each campus will usually provide students with a presentation and tour. If you have trouble filling a bus, try inviting the sophomores. You can also get information from a variety of professional college tours that (for a fee) organize the same trips.

Senior Year

Essay Night – September

Invite a veteran admissions representative who has read thousands of essays to give a presentation. This representative should address do’s and don’ts about essay writing and bring samples to read to the audience. Allow time for a question and answer period from students and parents.  This event should be open for seniors and parents.

Back to School Night/ Senior College Night – September

After the college guidance team reviews the nuts and bolts about the college process, this is a great opportunity to invite past parents as panelists. Some topics should include: procedures for filing an application, early decision/early action, and making the match This is an evening event for parents.

Note: You should repeat the exact information to the senior class

Interviewing Workshop

This is an excellent opportunity to use your parents as resources in which they serve as interviewers for current seniors. (Note: it should not be a parent who is familiar with the student’s family.) This is an optional event for seniors.

Freshman Return

Invite several members of your past senior class to serve as panelists to discuss their first-year college experience. This event can work very well around any homecoming events. This event is open to all members of the senior class

Letting Go/ Transition Night

Invite guest speakers from a college’s student services, residential life and health offices. It is also helpful to invite past parents and students to speak about their experiences being apart. This evening event should be mandatory for both students and parents.

Admissions Committee Exercise

This program can be done with either a parent or a student group. Using the Common Application, you can develop fake student records that the group (acting as an admissions committee) will make decisions on.

To make the exercise really work, make up admissions criteria and a mission statement for a fake college/university that the group is working for. To make the exercise especially challenging, limit the number of students that the group can accept and/or waitlist.

General Points

One of the best ways to gain knowledge of other programs is to attend professional conferences and talk with colleagues in the field. Different people have new ideas that just might work for your school.

It does not hurt to ask your audience (students, parents or administration) what they want to achieve. A survey may be a helpful. Use their answers to help you design your programming.