College Prep 101: A Primer For Parents

I’ve already been to college.
Twice.
It might surprise some of you to know that I actually have a Master’s Degree when to read most of my posts it appears that I’m nothing but a lazy, shallow TV watchin’, celebrity gossip lovin’, wine drinkin’ kind of a girl. 
Don’t get me wrong: I’m definitely all those things, but way back in the day I studied and wrote papers and stuff. And that was after working all day at a real job. A real job surrounded by 26 nine year olds, but still. And I graduated — both times — with honors. 
Okay, okay, you can sit down now. Stop applauding. Thank you. Thank you very much. 
The point is, I thought I was through with college. 
And for all intents and purposes, I am. 
But Thing 1 isn’t. She’s just getting started. And much like when your kid starts bringing home the hard homework (which is in about fifth grade; there’s a reason I taught fourth grade), this whole college thing — all of it — becomes your life, and your headache, all over again. 
You might think because she’s a senior this year that we’ve just gotten started. But you’d be sorely mistaken. I like to say that college prep starts as soon as your kid starts her freshman year, because that’s when her grades start to count for something other than the honor roll and trips to Dave & Busters and special donut breakfasts with the sulky administration and a performance by the choir who’s pissed that they had to get to school that early, donuts or no donuts. Thing 1 thankfully hit the gate strong and for the past three years has worked her fanny off, and as a result has a GPA she has damn good reason to be proud of. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. 
And over the past two years I’ve learned that it’s a Titanic worthy iceberg. 

Frankly, I can’t even remember my college application process. Maybe it’s because I only applied to one school (one school — ASU — that I knew I’d get into) or maybe it’s the effects of 26 years of Chardonnay, but whatever the reason, this whole partay (or foray into Hell) we’ve been living the past 14 months has been new to me. And to Husband (who also went to ASU).  And the thought of having getting to do it all again in a few years truly brings me to my knees.

Technically, college prep starts at the beginning of junior year. I live in a community where many start this whole business a lot sooner, but this is how we did it, and to be honest, had we started sooner I’m not sure either of us (or Husband) would be alive today.

 
Let me break it down for you and prepare you for what your son or daughter will be in for one day when they’re navigating the treacherous road of college prep. And unfortunately, because you are usually a direct recipient of the effects of all their stress…you’re gonna be riding shotgun. 
Buckle up. 


Junior year – 
Classes become harder, grades become even more imperative. Every quiz, test and project matters. And if they were a slack ass their freshman and sophomore years and spent too much time watching cat videos on YouTube when they were supposed to be studying? I hear there’s an opening down at YOU ARE SCREWED U, so no worries. 
And while they’re trying to juggle their three+ hours of homework a night, it’s time to take the ACT (or SAT). But they can’t just take it cold. Don’t be preposterous (<< ACT worthy word). They need to either take a prep class for six hours a week for about six weeks, or self-study for the same. 

And in between all this mind numbing studying they’re doing every waking hour of their day, don’t let them forget to volunteer
Lord help them if they forget to volunteer (but really). 
College visits: 
Starting in the fall of junior year, you better hit the road (or the air) and start visiting campuses. Your kid doesn’t know where she wants to go yet? Why the hell not? What has she been doing the past 16 years? Oh, that’s right. Cat videos. No worries! Your mailbox will be stuffed full with about twenty catalogs/letters/cards daily from colleges big and small all over the country, courting her. And if you somehow miss these stacks of entire felled forests, check your email. They’ll all hit you there about five times a day as well. For about sixteen months. 
ACT (or SAT):  
Usually in February. No pressure. Their score could just be the difference between a reputable university and the lunch shift at Taco Bell. 
Spring/summer of Junior year, fall of Senior year-
Time to take the ACT again. And maybe even again. Only a fool would submit their first score. Or a genius who scored a 34 on the first try. But we don’t like those people. 
More campus visits:
Say goodbye to spring break and that weekend at the lake. You’ll be on a road trip with a stressed out 17 year old who will spend ten hours arguing with you about why it does too matter if the campus has an Urban Outfitters. 
Applications and the dreaded essay questions (this part can last anywhere from one to three months, depending on how many episodes of Friends she watched when SHE WAS SUPPOSED TO BE WRITING ESSAYS DAMMIT): 
I’d like to go into detail here, but I’m still suffering from PTSD from the past two months of editing essays with questions like, “Consider something that goes unnoticed in your life. Write about what it is and what impact it has had on your life.” Does it help my daughter that I’m a writer and can offer ‘constructive criticism’ (<< my term, not hers) and editing tips? I might say ‘yes,’ but if you ask her I’m fairly certain that she’d have some much different and more colorful words to describe my ‘help.’ 
Letters of recommendation: 
A very important component of the application, and something that is totally dependent on other people’s schedules. People that your kid needs to like them. A lot (i.e., Don’t let her go bug them to send in the letter or else they might write horrid things about her. And spit in it).

And so here we are. October of senior year. Most colleges have an early decision deadline of November 1 (and if you’re serious about a certain school, you apply for early decision). Most of Thing 1’s applications are not only complete, but sent in. 
And now we wait. 

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And wait. 

And I think this may very well be the hardest and most stressful part of all.  



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  • Dyanne @ I Want Backsies - Yeah, thanks for that PTSD flashback from a year ago! I hate to tell you, but you’re going to look back on this time as the easiest part of the whole process. We’re biting nails now, hoping our son can maintain a 3.6 gpa, so as not to lose his full-ride scholarship. And he has a 5 hour calculus class and a 5 hour chemistry class. Because (and here’s a little nugget your guidance counselor has probably not told you) when you go to college with a buttload of AP and dual credit hours (27 of them, in our son’s case), then you skip all the easy English 101 stuff and skip ahead on the gameboard to upper level classes.

    Have I increased your stress level any?!ReplyCancel

    • Michelle - I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to reply, I’ve been curled up in a fetal position rocking back and forth.ReplyCancel

  • Teri Biebel - Hold me. Mine’s a Junior and lazy as shit. I don’t want to do all of this for her. And I don’t want her living here for life while brushing up on her “Did you want fries with that” skills.ReplyCancel

    • Michelle - The thing is, you CAN’T do it all for her, for a multitude of reasons. That is part of the frustration; lighting the fire under the butt…and keeping it burning! She’s gotten super annoyed with us a LOT, but it did eventually (finally) click and she ended up really taking control of deadlines, applications, even making calls to colleges (shocking!). Keep at her. Maybe take her on a tour of the Dairy Queen kitchen and scare her straight?ReplyCancel

  • lingomj - I like the way your structure the article. I find it helpful. My son is a first year school kid, who studies far away from home. I can’t visit him that often, but I keep sending him care packages from College Cookies and other ordering websites. He loves it. I think I’m doing a pretty good job connecting with him while not being a “helicopter mum.” HahaReplyCancel

  • lingomj - I like the way your structure the article. I find it helpful. My son is a first year school kid, who studies far away from home. I can’t visit him that often, but I keep sending him care packages from College Cookies and other ordering websites. He loves it. I think I’m doing a pretty good job connecting with him while not being a “helicopter mum.” HahaReplyCancel

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