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5 must-read books for parents starting to think about college admissions

If you're a parent starting to think about the college application process for your child, whether at home or abroad, here are a few suggestions to add to your reading list when you find yourself with a spare moment.

Although all of the following books are focused on the U.S. admissions scene, there are some definite themes that can be applied to the college abroad application process -- or if nothing else, they may cause you to encourage your child to only apply abroad.

And when it comes to U.S. college admissions, I think it's extremely important for parents to see just exactly the kind of chaos they'd be skipping out on by applying overseas.

Lots of books to read about college admissions

The Price of Admission by Daniel Golden

This book scares me; it highlights just how totally unpredictable (and many times unfair) college admissions in the U.S. can be.

U.S. colleges are looking for reasons not to admit a student (too many extracurriculars or not enough?), and the criteria changes every year.

For example, some colleges want well-rounded students one year and more focused students the next.

"At elite schools, minorities make up 10-15 percent of students, recruited athletes 10-25 percent, legacies 10-25 percent, children of people likely to become generous donors 2-5 percent, children of celebrities and politicians 1-2 percent and children of faculty 1-3 percent. If you take the middle figure in each of those ranges, you’re looking at as many as 55 percent of students who were probably given special consideration at admissions. (Of course someone could be in multiple categories, but some say this is a conservative estimate.)"

However, U.S. universities still encourage everyone to apply though in order to increase rejections and thus, increasing their own selectivity.

Who Gets In and Why by Jeff Selingo

This book came out this year and offers a further insight into how U.S. admissions officers base their decisions.

Do they actually compare two students side by side? Apparently, they try not to (but it seems to be inevitable).

"A key metric Davidson uses to judge the quality of a high school is the proportion of students who go to college... the more students who go to college from that high school, the more willing they are to take a chance in accepting students ranked lower in the class. The best hope for applicants is that the admissions officer reading their file knows something about their high school from yearly visits."

So now families have to this extra metric to worry about -- which is totally out of their control -- as their child may be directly affected if the school historically doesn't send as many kids to college.

That means you have to really do your homework even before selecting a high school, and most families in the public school system just don't have that luxury.

To me, this is just mind boggling!

Where You Go is Not Who You'll Be by Frank Bruni

I love this book for highlighting the fact that your worth is not determined by your college, which is easy to forget when all around you, there is peer pressure, school pressure and parental pressure to get admitted to the highest ranked and most famous school you can.

"Does a prestigious college make you successful in life? Or do you do that for yourself?"

It's a good reminder for both parent and child to keep things in perspective.

Fail U. by Charles Sykes

Similarly to the book by Bruni, this book reinforces that what you do, the nature of your experience, who you meet, your skills and the work you put in is what matters more than the brand name of the school itself.

In fact, where you go is often the last factor considered in the job recruitment process upon graduation -- less important than your knowledge of a field, your applied skills and your experiences.

And the older you get, the less valuable the name of your university becomes in your career.

Also, perfectionism is not a good thing! It's destructive. Let's not forget that.

The Stressed Years of Their Lives

This book takes a closer look at extremely important mental health issues and how parents can best support students in these difficult years of applying for college as well as once they're on campus.

After all, getting into university is not the end all, be all.

“It’s vital to recall how varied the pathways are to a happy and successful life.”

And one statistic I found especially alarming is that in a treatment program for depressed college students with 165 participants, the number one reason for not seeking help was that they thought their problems weren't serious enough to warrant assistance (66 percent!).

One key way parents can help their kids?

"When parents can separate their own anxieties from their children’s personal choices, they promote autonomy and well-being.”

We have to encourage them to go to the school where they feel most comfortable -- even if it's not your personal first choice -- because if they're not happy, they're not going to succeed and will be much more likely to dropout.

Bonus College Admissions Recommendation: Atomic Habits by James Clear

This is not a college admissions book, but I found it extremely useful in learning how to deal with stress and procrastination, two of the key recurring issues I see in students applying for college (especially now with Covid-19).

If your child acknowledges a weakness for getting things done, this book is crucial, offering very practical steps and actions to take to get you over the line.

"The problem with goal setting is that we set a goal -- but not a schedule."

And in a world of fake news and disinformation, there's no better time to keep yourself informed, and there's no better reads on college admissions than these.


Interested in applying for college or grad school abroad?

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G'day! My name is Sara, and I'm the founder of College Apps Abroad and a Certified Educational Planner (CEP), one of only 40 CEP's in California and 300 worldwide. I have more than 10 years of experience working in international recruitment and admissions, and I've studied and lived overseas myself in the UK, Ireland, Australia and Brazil for almost a decade. I've also worked for some of the world's top institutions, including The University of Edinburgh, the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and The University of Western Australia (UWA)!

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