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College Prep for Sophomores and Juniors: Advice from an Expert

You’ve heard it before and we’ll say it again: It’s never too early to start thinking about the college application process. In fact, like everything else, the more prepared you are, the smoother the journey will be. That’s why we love the advice Dr. Rachel Rubin, the founder of Spark Admissions, shared with us about how to support our teens through this important time and how sophomores and juniors can prep for college admissions.

How do we reduce the anxiety that we feel as parents regarding college?

1. Students and parents need to stop feeding off of each other.

Students are stressed about choosing, paying, going off, leaving their friends, work in school and teenager pressures. But they are also really stressed about disappointing their parents. When students push back against their parents, it’s often because they’re worried that they can’t live up to their parents’ expectations.

This process is enormously stressful for us parents as well. We have to understand that it’s going to be okay. Even if they don’t get into their top choice school, their life is not going to be worse. It may be different, but it could very well be better. The more parents can reassure them that they’ll be happy at a variety of colleges and universities, the more that will take the pressure off of both of them.

2. Set aside a specific time to talk about college

Schedule family activities that don’t revolve around college. Perhaps set up a once-a-week time to sit down and talk about college. That way, parents and kids have that meeting and bring up any issues and questions they have. They can share opinions in a nonjudgmental way that focuses on what is best for child in terms of fit and reasonable expectations. As discussion continue, the goals of parents and students will align.

Does every kid applying to college have to be a leader?

If we only accepted leaders, then all of the clubs on campus would only have one person in them. Colleges love to see students engaged, but they really want to see them engaged and pitching in for the larger good. Some students feel comfortable taking a leadership role and others would rather dig into research or helping the homeless. You can’t force people to be who they’re not.

Colleges appreciate students who go above and beyond in whatever they care about most. Maybe your child really loves to read and that’s their favorite thing and they actually know a lot about a variety of issues. So perhaps they could be the founder of a book club where adolescents can get together and talk about literature. Maybe they could start a book club for younger kids to get them excited about books.

What matters is not necessarily your title but that you’re engaged with your school or local community, that you take responsibility, and that you care about bringing peers together in a collaborative manner.

How should my sophomore and junior be preparing for college?

College Prep for Sophomores

  1. Develop an interest in a particular academic area and choose some activities around that activity
  2. Find really meaningful extracurricular activities. Recommended: Get involved in community service
  3. Think about what you care about most in terms of leadership and how you can Partner Spark Admissions Logodemonstrate it.

College Prep for Juniors

  1. Build on academic narrative. Try to align extracurricular activities, volunteering, and summer plans around your academic choice.
  2. Plan for summer experience before senior year that aligns with your interests.
  3. Start virtual college visits and tours as a way to create a balanced list of schools. Ideally, teens will have a list of schools by the end of junior year so they can work on their applications over the summer.

Susan Borison, mother of five, is the founder and editor of Your Teen Media. Because parenting teenagers is humbling and shouldn’t be tackled alone.

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