Guidance with College Admissions

Five Things Teens and Parents Should Know About College Admissions: Part 1

by | Apr 26, 2017

Find a Mentor or Coach to Get Guidance with College Admissions

“Many of our young people have little, if any, guidance on how to pursue higher education. This is a serious loss … Today, workers with a bachelor’s degree make an average of $16,000 more per year than those with just a high school diploma, and three-quarters of the fastest-growing occupations require a college degree”

Michelle Obama

Whether you’re a low-income family or from an affluent suburb, whether both parents went to graduate school, or whether you or your child will be the first person in your family to go to college, the process of college admissions can be intimidating and stressful.

For students starting high school, it’s important to start as early as freshman year to develop a plan for college. And that often starts with finding a mentor or coach who can help each student develop a sense of college as a real, achievable, next step from high school; provide guidance with college admissions to help craft a plan to get there; and keep students and parents accountable.

“You need to realize that wherever you come from that you can envision college as a possibility for you: not for others in the abstract, but for you individually. That is a developmental realization that needs to be forwarded to you. A mentor or key adult figure can help students realize their own capacity,” says Joshua Weintraub, college counselor at Lighthouse Charter Academy in East Oakland, California.

For students from affluent, highly-educated families, this seems obvious if parents have inculcated this idea from early childhood. But even for those families, it can be critical for students to have access to mentoring and guidance with college admissions. The college admissions process is complex and needs to start early. Parents and students need help to develop a plan that includes extracurricular activities, coursework, and building a résumé for college admissions.

As Weintraub says, “Once students realize they’re on track for college it helps to have someone checking in on the various steps they need to do. Everything from signing up for the SAT, writing a personal statement, selecting colleges, filling out applications. Not all students have the capacity to do all those things on their own.”

Camille Sheffield, College Access and Success Manager at the East Bay College Fund, echoes this point. Teens, she says, need help with both the process and the outcome. College admissions can be both complex and consequential, so students need help finding the right path and getting the details right.

Parents often think that school counselors can provide this kind of guidance with college admissions. And indeed school counselors work extremely hard to provide it. But at many schools counselors are overburdened, and don’t have the resources or time to get to know each student. The average U.S. high school has one guidance counselor for every 470 students, and many schools have even lower ratios.

The Importance of Mentoring

So, if you’re a parent of a high-school student or a student yourself, find a mentor. This could be a teacher or sports coach who takes an interest in helping students work through the process; a relative who is knowledgeable and willing to help; or a counselor at your school. Some students or families can get professional help from a private admissions counselor. A strong guide or mentor can help students develop a deeper sense of their personal needs and goals; develop a sense of possibility; and craft a process that leads to a college that will both challenge and support them.

Finding the right school can be critically important. Fewer than 50% of college-bound students graduate within six years, according to the U.S. Department of Educations’ College Scorecard. And research shows that many of the reasons for not graduating have to do with finding a college that is a poor fit for a student. Perhaps the university is be too academically challenging or not challenging enough; a poor cultural fit; a school which is the wrong size for the student, or not diverse enough. A mentor can provide guidance with college admissions throughout the process and help achieve a better outcome for students and families.

This article is part one of a five part series. Part two is at this link.


  1. Terri Mead

    I think this overlooks a simple fact that some kids just don’t want to start taking about this as freshmen and resist the efforts to do so. Attempting to force them to deal with this before they are ready can be harmful and can backfire. I think there should be mention of something to the effect that all is not lost if you don’t start as a freshmen. The way this article is positioned it makes it sound like if you don’t start as a freshman, all is lost. This isn’t very motivating when you are finally getting your kid to talk about college and take it seriously as a junior. I know we are not alone in this.

    • Venkates Swaminathan

      That is a really good point. No matter when in high school you are when you start planning for college, there are good options out there. One key is to make sure that each student sees the potential in themselves, and starts developing a sense of what they want to be “when they grow up.” This is as much about inspiration as it is about planning.


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Venkates Swaminathan

Venkates Swaminathan

Venkates Swaminathan (Swami) is the founder and CEO of LifeLaunchr, the world's first virtual college admissions coaching platform, and a member of the National Association for College Admission Counseling. Swami has been an executive in the education and technology industries for over 25 years. He has an M.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the University of Illinois, and a B.Tech in Electrical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi. He is the father of a child in college, and in his spare time, he is a jazz and Indian classical singer and pianist.

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