Guest author: Pamela Donnelly
Getting your son or daughter into a top school is difficult. This year, Harvard accepted only 5.9% of applicants. Stanford was even more choosy, accepting a mere 5.1%. But these days, getting into any school has become an increasingly chancy–and complex–proposition for teens and their parents alike.
This is a problem that bothers Pamela Donnelly. Although she is a summa cum laude graduate of Columbia… and a provider of tutoring to kids of Hollywood celebrities… Pamela has a very non-elite, grassroots mission: To make sure every parent in America can figure out the right school for their child. And, at the same time, she wants to make sure all parents have the best possible chance of helping their children get into the schools that are best for them.
Donnelly in June 2014 on campus at UCLA
“I was raised in a farm community where almost no one had a college degree,” she says. She began teaching in 1995 in New York City public schools, and later taught in Northern Virginia from 1997 to 2007. There, many of her students were immigrants from El Salvador and Guatemala. “Education was the one hope for these kids,” she says. “That’s why I teach. That’s why education matters.”
Pamela’s the kind of person I call a “Disruptive Visionary.” That’s because she sees a lot of things wrong with education as a whole–what she calls “the federal government/corporate stranglehold on the American education system,” for one–and she has devoted a large part of her life to upend the problems she sees. Her work includes helping parents and their teens at the grass-roots level, both in the U.S., and internationally.
While running a full-time, high-end business, Valley Prep Tutoring in Sherman Oaks and Burbank, Calif., Pamela has a robust “second career” helping underserved students, both at home and around the world.
Recently she was recruited as a pro bono advisor to nonprofit Agora Enterprises. She’s helping with curriculum, and organizational structure, for what CEO Ray Barreth calls the “School in the Box” initiative–to help meet the swelling demand for English-language education in China, India, Tibet, Thailand, and several African countries.
As a professional speaker, Pamela has shared the stage with congressional candidate Marianne Williamson, and has contributed educational ideas to her campaign. All the while, Pamela has not forgotten the key role schooling played in her own life: “I know how crucial education was for my fulfilling my own potential. I want that for every kid who is in the same boat–especially those whose parents don’t know how to lead them into college,” she says.
For families with kids in high school, her new book 4 Keys to College Admissions Success (November release, Morgan James Publishing) is aimed at “empowering parents across all socio-economic strata to get their kids into a great college–without going broke or crazy!”
Here are five of her best tips for parents who want to get their kid into the best college that’s right for them:
1. Follow the “1-2-3-4 Rule” when laying out a road map for your student’s coursework.
Figure out, and have your student take, the right proportion of Honors, Advanced Placement (AP) and/or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses to make a competitive application in a few short years. If necessary, be a squeaky wheel with school counselors and administration. But do not settle for all regular/standard classes if you want your son or daughter to compete for a great college. These days, schools look at more than just the GPA, so aim for a MINIMUM of:
-One honors course in their freshman year
-Two AP or IB courses in 10th grade
-Three AP or IB courses in 11th grade, and
-Four AP or IB courses in 12th grade
2. If you need to, go outside of your student’s main school of record.
Many students getting into top colleges today submit transcripts from both their regular schools and one or more outside providers, including accredited online schools offering honors and AP courses, and community colleges. If your student knows their likely major, coursework that shows aptitude in 10th or 11th grade in that particular area (for example, in AP Psychology, a terrific one-semester “starter AP” option) can improve the student’s chances of getting into the college they want.
3. Start saving money for college costs sooner than you think you need to.
Start by ninth grade, if possible. Don’t wait to think about college costs until 11th or 12th grade. That’s fine for community colleges, but not colleges or universities. Why? Because the two most important high school years academically and financially for colleges are the sophomore and junior years. Students have to be ready in advance to perform at their highest level, and their parents need to become financially savvy as soon as possible.
4. Know minimum grades and test scores needed to get into the college(s) of your choice.
Check out what’s needed for your target school or schools. You can usually find this information in college newsletters on the college’s website, especially on their admissions page. Keep in mind that that since 2005, the academic bar has been raised at most schools by 18%.
5. Choose the test that’s right for your student: Either the SAT, or the ACT… or, the “Third Option!”
All 4,000+ colleges in America now accept scores for both the SAT and its increasingly popular competitor, the ACT. Students with high ability in the “STEM” subject areas–Science, Technology, Engineering, Math–often excel on the ACT. For students aiming for one of these technical subject areas as a major, the ACT is their best friend. These left-brain students can use the ACT to really show off their linear thinking skills. The SAT allows the more interpretive skills of the right-brain thinker to shine. Students whose best grades tend to be in humanities courses like English and Social Studies often fare better on the SAT, especially since there is no science section and the math section is somewhat less challenging.
The third option is sometimes called the “No-T.” A growing number of top-tier schools, including Bowdoin and Middlebury, have been joining the movement to de-emphasize high-stakes standardized testing, or abolish it as a prerequisite altogether. If your son or daughter experiences test anxiety or simply cannot match their scores on an SAT or ACT to their true potential, visit www.fairtest.org to learn about some really smart options.
Pamela Donnelly is a #1 bestselling author (SWAT Team Tactics for Getting Your Teen Into College), speaker, and educational expert whose work can be viewed at www.pameladonnelly.com. As Time magazine’s go-to college admission expert, she has appeared on regional and national television, and LarryKing has endorsed her recently published book, 4 Keys to College Admissions Success.
Donnelly is a frequent speaker at live events throughout the greater Los Angeles region and a passionate advocate for education reform. She graduatedsumma cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Columbia University with degrees in literature/writing and secondary education, and she has been called “the Suze Orman of education.” A professional educator for more than 20 years and a former on-camera talent under contract to ABC-TV, she is the academic expert trusted by some of the most discerning and notable parents in Los Angeles.
A mother of three, Donnelly leads a team of Ivy League educators, helping parents go the extra mile to ensure their teens’ transition to colleges of their dreams.
Her brick-and-mortar business, Valley Prep Tutoring Services, Inc., is the hub from which all of Donnelly’s brand-related products and services flow. You can visit www.valleypreptutoring.com for more information.