Don’t let the competitive top tier hype discourage your teen or you.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAParents worry about grade fluctuations, lack of extra curricular activities and low SAT or ACT scores preventing their teens from getting into college. With the news on college admissions inundated with statistics on the super competitiveness surrounding acceptances to the top colleges in the country it’s understandable. But of the over 4,000 colleges in the United States, top tier schools make up only 75-150, depending upon who you ask.

So yes, your teen can gain admission to a good, accredited institution where they’ll fit in and receive a solid education that will help them find success after graduation. These range from popular colleges with good reputations to schools you may have never heard of.

The keys are being honest about your teen’s strengths and weaknesses and doing your research. Focus less on rankings and more on what your student wants from a college and what they’ll bring to campus. 

Keep perspective on grades Colleges look favorably on students who challenged themselves with their course load. The type of courses matters. Taking Honors, AP and/or IB classes when available and earning a B or C is more impressive to many colleges than taking a regular class in the same subject and getting an A+.

Be conscious of where your student spends their time outside the classroom. If working to help support your family, save money for college or learn skills in a potential career field has kept them from reaching their full academic potential, they’ll want to mention that on their application. The same if they made extra-curricular activities a priority, such as sports, music or dance because of their career aspirations in these areas. This explanation shouldn’t be an excuse, but a mature, realistic account of the situation.

Many kids’ grades slump in sophomore year. Getting back on track in junior year is important. Colleges want to see rising grades as a student heads into senior year, not the reverse (again, unless they took more challenging courses). If this isn’t happening, help your student figure out how to make the most of their senior year academically.

Any learning disabilities that impacted a student’s academic performance should be discussed in the “additional information” section of the application. Note: Colleges are required to have resources available for students with any type of disability. Look carefully at what each college offers in terms of accommodations that will meet your student’s specific needs, including tutoring and writing centers, extra time on testing, etc. Search on a college’s website with these terms: college resources, learning disabilities, office of accommodations, tutoring centers, etc.

Go test-optional If your teen’s academics are fine, but they don’t perform well on standardized tests, look at colleges that don’t require SAT or ACT scores. Some schools will ask for an additional essay instead or scrutinize a student’s grades and choice of courses more carefully.

IMG_2203Research Find admissions requirements for colleges using Naviance or the College Board’s Big Future site. You can search by a specific college or by criteria, like test scores, grades, as well as majors, sports, size and location. Use a PSAT score for a student who hasn’t taken their SAT or ACT yet.

When looking at specific colleges through these sites, you’ll find information on the average grades, scores, etc. of accepted students. Your teen can enter theirs and see where they fall. Remember, “average” or “midrange” means this is the middle, so some students are accepted with higher grades/scores and others with lower. Selectivity tells you the percentage of applicants accepted.

Majors Look at where your student earned their best grades. They might be an overall B student because they earned A’s in Science or History, but C’s in Math or English. Generally it helps to pick a major in an area you’re most interested in, that works to your strengths.

Take the pressure off of your family and look past the hype of college admissions as you help your teen find the right colleges for them.