Parents Learn ABCs of College Admission


A panelist with experience navigating college entry provided reassuring advice about an anxiety-ridden rite of passage for parents and their children at the PTA’s Coffee Break talk last week.

college photoParticipants included representatives of the high school counseling department and community college, a private college counselor and author, and a private standardized test prep provider.

Parents learned that Laguna Beach High School provides ample help navigating the process if they can take advantage of the annual College Round Up, which hosts more than 100 college representatives for an open-house in Dugger Gym. Additionally, nearly 90 college reps visit the school for more intimate meetings with interested students. Each student can also take advantage of an online tool, Naviance, to stay organized, take interest inventories, research colleges or enrichment programs, sign-up for meetings with visiting college reps, or standardized tests, etc.

Dawn Hunnicut, an LBHS counselor who assists students with application essays, emphasized the value of speaking directly with a college representative when they make campus visits. It starts a relationship from one’s dream school. She also recommended visiting local college campuses during family vacations, even if a student isn’t particularly interested. It helps build familiarity with what to expect at a college campus.

LBHS counselor Nicole Rosa is expert in coaching the college-bound athlete, having attended college on a water polo scholarship. Her advice: “Academics will always get you in … do not bank on the scholarship.”

Of this year’s 15 LBHS seniors who received college acceptances based on their athletic participation, the majority didn’t get money, she said. She urges students to set realistic expectations about the college they seek and recommends the website for information. “I tell student athletes to use the broken leg test. If you break your leg are you still going to be happy?”

Cindy Muchnick, former assistant director of admission at the University of Chicago, said stress from parents trickles down to students and can add pain to the process.

Author of “Writing Successful College Applications,” Muchnick emphasized that the essays must reflect the experience, perspective and voice of the student. “There is no magic formula. Be real.” Essays that are obviously written above the student’s expected level are “red-flagged” by reviewers, who spend an average of three to seven minutes on an application, she said.

Academic transcripts, meaning the rigor of the subjects as well as the GPA, remain the most important element of an application, panelists agreed. Essays, letters of recommendation and extracurricular activities are a factor and standardized tests are important in the most selective schools and required by most four-year institutions.

Over a third of LBHS students choose to attend community college, where standardized tests aren’t required and costs are a fraction of tuition at state colleges and private colleges. Half Cal State graduates and 29 percent of UC graduates start in community college, which ensure acceptance into most UC or Cal State campuses.

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