Ep 114: What Teens Can Do Now To Prepare For College

Dr. Pamela Ellis, author of What to Know Before They Go, shares key insights on how to best prepare for college. Whether your teen is a senior or seventh grader, Dr. Ellis has tips for how to catch up and how to get ahead.

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Full show notes

For parents and students alike, the road to college can be full of twists, turns and unpredictable roadblocks...it sometimes feels like you’ll never cross the finish line! It might feel as though getting into top schools is practically impossible, especially when trying to get in means endless extracurriculars, community service, SATs, GPA–the list of requirements and considerations goes on and on.

For students, the only thing worse than this insane workload is the possibility of not even getting in! For parents, it’s heartbreaking to know how much stress and pressure your kid is under. It can be excruciating to wait and wonder if they'll get accepted to the school of their dreams or be forced to reevaluate their life in the wake of rejection.

Although it may seem like it’s all too overwhelming to handle, don’t fear! We’re here to help out. There are small steps you and your teen can take to prepare for the college application process, whether they're finishing up seventh grade or heading into their junior year, a struggling student or top of their class. If you can develop a greater understanding of the whole process, you’ll be better equipped to set your student up for success.

Our guest today is Pamela Ellis, a.k.a, “ The Education Doctor”, author of What to Know Before They Go. Dr. Ellis has worked with thousands of teens and families to help students choose the right colleges and gain admission. She’s an expert on helping teens cope with the thousands of stressors of college admissions, with strategies covering everything from scholarship qualifications to everyday time management.

In the interview, Pamela and I discuss how teens can prioritize their responsibilities, why they should challenge themselves in small ways to expand their comfort zones, and what they can do to organize their lives during this stressful and confusing period.

How Prioritizing Leads to Productivity

Being a teen on the road to college means balancing extracurriculars and grades, writing essays, getting letters of recommendation, acing your ACTs and balancing a budget. There’s no shortage of tasks and not nearly enough time...so how can your teen get it all done?

Pamela suggests that teens narrow their focus. She and I discuss how valuable it can be to simply hone in on a few important tasks when you only have a limited amount of time. By sticking to a few specific goals instead of running around trying to solve every problem, Pamela believes teens can manage admissions stress and come out on top.

In the episode, Pamela and I talk about how these goals should differ for kids of ages. Those finishing up sophomore year are going to need very different guidance than those beginning their prepping to become seniors. For example, Pamela explains in our interview how she believes 9th graders aren’t quite ready to whip up a list of prospective colleges yet, and should perhaps extend their focus towards making dependable friends instead!

Getting into college doesn’t just require great planning, however. Teens also have to stand out to tired admissions officers shuffling through thousands of applications. To do so, they’re going to have to challenge themselves to go above and beyond.

Pushing Teens to Reach Their Potential

Trying to stand out on an application can be one of the most stressful things about the entire admissions process. Millions of kids across the world send in applications, vying for a few prized spots at prestigious universities. It’s not always easy to look perfect on paper, especially when competition is so intense.

Pamela’s advice to teens and parents is to take advantage of every opportunity. Kids might shy away from taking harder classes or joining clubs, but by pushing themselves to shoot for the stars, kids can achieve more than they think. Pamela believes that students shouldn’t hold back when it comes to taking that extra leap out of their comfort zone–it could make all the difference when it comes to admissions!

Don’t think your kid is really capable of acing AP Spanish? That’s ok too. Pamela says it’s important to assess where kids are at and encourage them to move at their own pace, remaining true to themselves. If Spanish isn’t their best subject, maybe root for them to perform even better in English this year, especially if they plan to apply to journalism or literature programs.

By pushing themselves, they’ll not only look better on paper, but more confident. By tackling challenges they didn’t think they could handle, they’ll learn that that they’re capable of more than they ever dreamed–a lesson they’ll take with them as they continue into adulthood.

In the episode, Pamela and I discuss how you can guide your teen towards striving for success. When looking to the future to figure out what’s possible for your teen, it can also be helpful to look back to the past–and do some collecting, documenting and organizing.

Tracking your Teen’s Progress

When your teen is trying to gather all their achievements and accolades to make their application pop, they’re going to wish they had kept a catalog. If your teen still has a few years to go before those applications are due, now might be a good time to start keeping track of things that could give your teen that extra edge.

This doesn’t include their certificate for athlete of the year. It can also include their best essays, a log of volunteer hours, a list of extracurricular activities they’ve participated in. Collecting these things in one place allows them to have all their information at their fingertips. It also helps teens develop a mindset of collecting and recording things, something they’ll need later down the line when they’re preparing a resume or applying for a bank loan. The sooner they start flexing that muscle, the better.

Additionally, keeping a record of how much time and effort they spend on different activities can help teens reflect on their own priorities and time management. If a teen looks back at their log from freshman year to see that they spent much more time in the art building than they did in the library, they might have to ask themselves: is art what I want to focus on? By examining their own behaviors and patterns, they can head into future endeavors with a better understanding of their own ambitions as well as their tendencies.

In Pamela’s eyes, the most important thing is that kids are able to perform at their best, and have the college experience of their dreams. By following her advice, we can help ourselves and our kids handle all the throes of applying to college and make it to the other side.

In the Episode…

Pamela and I touch on a wide range of topics, answering all your burning questions about the admissions process. In addition to the topics above, we discuss…
  • Why it’s important for kids to read for pleasure
  • How kids can get the most out of summer vacation
  • Why kids catch a “sophomore slump”
  • What kids can do to make the most of a college fair
If you like listening to Pamela’s advice, check out her website, theeducationdoctor.com. Thanks for listening; don’t forget to share and subscribe! We’ll see you next week.

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Ep 114: What Teens Can Do Now To Prepare For College
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