Resources for the College-Bound Teen

Category: Education Advice ( The Process)

Welcome to the wild ride called college applications. Below are resources that Park Slope Parents members have found helpful in the journey through planning, touring, applying to and accepting offers from colleges. It can be an emotional time, so make sure you have joined the PSP College Discussion group. We will get you and your kids to the end of this rollercoaster intact.

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HS grad

Pre-application resources


College fairs in NYC:

College Readiness. "There’s a fair at the American Museum of Natural History in October and I think they do them typically in the fall. Usually your college office invites you." 

The Colleges that Change Lives hosts virtual and in-person college fairs and information sessions.


On high school involvement and prepping in junior year:

Colleges Love Activities (And You Should, Too). Insight on the importance of not just being involved throughout high school, but being actively involved. Here you will find ways to prioritize extracurriculars in ways that will exude active involvement on applications.

College Basics for High School Juniors. For high school juniors who attend a prep or elite public school, advisers are readily available to help you find the right college. For everyone else, here are the basics.


On testing:

Preparing for High-Stakes Admissions Tests: A Moderation Mediation Analysis. A study that builds on current research surrounding the outcomes of SAT preparation.

Verifying SAT Scores. A resource for double-checking and verifying SAT scores as well as access to the difficulty levels and types of each answered question.

Colleges that Allow Self-Reporting of SAT and ACT Scores. It costs money to send test scores. Here are some places that allow self-reporting.

  • Have your student take the ACT/SAT twice: once in December of junior year for early action/decision applications, and again in the spring.
  • Test prep is above all a financial issue, and colleges are increasingly questioning how much value standardized tests provide. Some of the schools your student is applying to might even be test-optional.


On test prep:

The Two Codes Your Kids Need to Know. The College Board came up with a surprising conclusion about keys to success for college and life.


On college essays:

Essay Brainstorming Activities Workbook. The purpose of these activities is to help uncover a menu of potential essay topics, or perhaps specific images or details that you can use in your college essays.

College Research and Essay Topic Tracker. Use this Google spreadsheet to organize your thoughts.

How I Know You Wrote Your Kid’s College Essay. “Every college is like a dinner table. What will make you the most interesting contributor to that dinner table conversation? What will make you help everyone else have a more interesting experience?”


On college counselors:

  • Hiring a college counselor can help offset the stress between parent and child.
  • A counselor may be a smart choice if you’re at a huge school and not getting much individualized attention.
  • It's important that your student doesn’t feel pressured into doing something outside their comfort zone when writing their essay.


On college visits:

Daytripper University. A resource for both students and parents that provides tips, tools, advice, and wisdom on college tours.

The College Bound Mentor College Visit Guide. A guide to college visits that provides you with an extensive list of questions you should be asking while on campus.

  • Some schools care if you visit. Always make sure you’ve signed up at admissions and your student has given their name—even if you don’t tour.
  • If your student thinks a school might be a good fit, have them request an interview. Interviews may be evaluative or informative, but they'll always help you and your student get a better idea of the school's culture and fit.
  • When visiting schools, consider talking to people who work on campus and asking, “How do they treat you?” This is a unique way of exploring the school's personality by investigating how well the students and faculty treat the staff.
  • Let the kids ask the questions!
  • Try not to let your opinions influence your student's view of the school.
  • Doing a tour with friends is ideal; it adds camaraderie and eases the stress of the process.
  • It’s always a good idea to lighten things up. If there’s something you can do to make the visiting and touring process more fun, do it.
  • Explore the surrounding neighborhood if possible. Even if the school has a vibrant on-campus culture, your student will want to venture outside the campus bounds on occasion.
  • Be careful not to try to cram too much in at once. You run the risk of it all blurring together when you and your student try to think back and evaluate what seems like thousands of visits.
  • Take photos to help remind you of places.
  • If you can't visit a college (or even if you can!), check out YouTube videos to get a feel for the space and student body.


On applications:

College Resume Templates for High School Students. Tips and information on college resumes, plus access to free college resume templates.

How to Write a Narrative Essay. An instructional video for a 15–20 minute exercise with questions that will assist in the mapping of a personal statement.

Applying to college: Why there’s no shame in safety schools. An argument for the benefits of applying to “safety schools” and why they should not be dismissed just because they are considered "lower quality."

The Real Way Teens Should Respond on their College Essays. Advice and direction on writing college essays from an experienced parent who has gone through the application process with her three children.

Personal College Admissions. Click on "resources" for a helpful spreadsheet on early decision acceptance rates.

  • Note the difference between Early Action and Early Decision. Action is not a commitment, while Decision is binding: If you get in, you have to go.
  • Apply early action to safety schools so that if you get in, you don’t have to apply to other safety schools. It’s also nice emotionally for your kid to be able to say, “I have an option I’d be okay with.”
  • Applications are about who your child really is.
    • Colleges value work, whether that means camp counseling, ice cream scooping, or interning.
    • Colleges care about what kind of your student you're going to be.
    • They want to know if applicants are interesting, authentic, and passionate.
  • Let applications be kid-driven as much as possible. Let your student email questions to admissions teams; don't communicate on their behalf. Empower them as much as you can. Even if you have to do the research sometimes and then show it to your kid, help them feel some agency.
  • Look into Writopia Lab in Park Slope as a resource if your student wants to start working on their essay during the summer before senior year.


On comparing stats and chatting with fellow applicants:

Naviance allows you to compare admissions decisions for other kids from your school. You should start your account in ninth or tenth grade. This will help you manage your expectations based on your high school's admissions history. It's also easy for staff to send letters of recommendation through Naviance, and it streamlines workflow by keeping all your resources in one place.

College Confidential is a college admissions counseling company founded in 2001. It hosts popular college admissions forums on topics such as admissions chances, financial aid, standardized testing, and school life.


On choosing a college:

The Common Data Set Part 2: Colleges by the numbers. Connecting with the Common Data Set (CDS) for a particular college or university will provide you with a wealth of information to kick-start your college search.

College Admission, Helplessness And Choice. A helpful article that outlines the admissions process, discusses choosing a college, and puts forth realities that will bring you back to earth throughout the admissions process.

Challenge Success, Ignore College Rankings And Engage. An argument for the devaluation of college rankings. More specifically, a college’s selectivity is not an accurate predictor of student fulfillment or academic success.

The 5Is. This assessment asks students look within themselves to determine five key factors that can affect their college choice.

How to Choose a College: A Step-By-Step Guide

CollegeXpress. Search tools for schools and scholarships, plus extensive data on lists and rankings.

  • Kids may change their minds about the type of college. Your kid (or you) may think they want something small and liberal artsy, but that may change.

  • Visiting a number of different types of campuses (small, medium, large; rural, urban; public, private; liberal arts, research university) can help you narrow down the type your child want to go to. It's difficult to make a concrete judgment on the right type of school for you until you've physically experienced the campus—and preferably had a chance to speak to some current students.
  • Some NYC kids may want to get outside of the “NYC bubble” to gain a wider range of experiences. Keep in mind, though, that some universities are just replacement bubbles where kids won’t actually get a diverse (ethnically and financially) experience.

  • Some colleges have honors programs, which can help guide your student and can also give merit aid. This helps a school because they attract better students that are (hopefully) more successful. Beware, though: These honors programs can also be lots of pressure.


Pre-enrollment resources:


On deferrals, decisions, and disappointments:

Dealing with deferral. Advice and tips on handling a deferral and proceeding with the admission process.

Preparation Day. More advice on handling deferrals that is directed towards students applying to schools with admittance rates that are less than 50%.

I Got Rejected 101 Times. How to turn inevitable “nos” into a positive experience. An interesting take on how we can make rejection work for us.

  • Something to remember: Colleges aren’t admitting individual students, they are “curating a class.” They need a varied composition of students, so they may not take your awesome kid if, on paper, they have 10 others just like yours.


On scholarships and aid:

Scholly. A helpful tool that takes the hassle out of the scholarship search so that you can direct your energy towards scholarship applications.

Unigo. Search tool for a wide variety of scholarships sorted by various criteria.

  • The cost of college can be a source of anxiety and should be discussed as a family early on in the application process.
  • Many colleges are extremely expensive, but you can find some that are not.
  • Need-blind admissions schools tend to be more racially and socioeconomically diverse.
  • Don’t fall in love with a school and apply early decision without doing the math. If you get in early, you may be stuck with whatever financial aid package they give you.
  • Merit aid may be available even for "B" students, but generally not at the most selective schools.
  • Set up realistic expectations if the cost of a college will be an issue without funding. Some colleges won’t budge on financial aid, and there doesn’t seem to be an adjustment for cost of living in NYC with its crazy rents and housing prices.
  • Bottom line: If money matters, put money on the table and discuss it. You need to weigh your own debt (and lack of retirement savings) against the payout of sending your child to a more expensive school. If you talk about money but then let your kid apply early decision, you could end up stuck.


Post-matriculation resources:


On college loans (and debts):

Understand the Consequences of Student Loan Default. Most struggling borrowers know that their loan is in default or at risk for going into default, so some of the consequences such as tax refund and wage garnishment may not be a surprise. But there are other consequences of defaulting on your federal student loan you may not be aware of.

Personal College Admissions. Click on "resources" for helpful spreadsheets on financial aid (need- and merit-based).


On choosing a major:

Knowdell Card Sorts. Recently revised career-aptitude instruments that could potentially help a student choose their major.

CollegeBoard - College Majors. This website features a variety of resources and articles that provide a vast and useful range of information on the major selection process.


On dealing with the transition:

Grown and Flown (website and Facebook page). Grown and Flown is the destination for parents of teens and college-age kids to find information, insight and support for this season of life.

How to Help Your College Freshman When They’re Homesick.

This Video Explains Everything About Being Lonely Freshman Year.

Advice to College Freshmen from Recent Grads.

Leaving for college? Why families argue more right before the separation.

Parents, We’ve Created “The Loneliest Generation”—Here’s What We Need To Do About it Now.

Paying For College 101. This Facebook group is a place for families to discuss and ask questions related to financial aid, college search, test prep, merit scholarships, private scholarships, college applications, student loans, college costs, and everything/anything else related to paying for college.

  • We spend so much time trying to get our kids into college that it's easy to forget about the struggles that may arise once they've moved in and started class. Remember: Just because it's a rocky start doesn't mean they can't adjust. Every college has its version of an academic resource center.


Final thoughts:

Keep in mind your GOAL: to get your child into a school that’s the right fit for them. That means a school that will  help them grow, but won't force them into four more years of a pressure-cooker environment—unless they thrive in such environments!

In parenting through the college processes, reflect on your own experiences and regrets, as they can impact what you think your kids should do. Remember: It's not about you. Let your student feel like they are driving the process; the last thing you want is for them to end up blaming you for a decision they weren't ultimately happy with. Be careful not to sour the process by placing too much of your own worries on your kids. Students are already inundated with pressure at this pivotal, so try to be a source of levity rather than stress.