1. Five top tips for college bound students

- Seek out colleges that are the "best" fit for the student, rather than what is "best" for Forbes, U.S. News, or The Princeton Review. Rankings make for fun reading and can offer valuable insight, but students need to do their homework to find colleges that are right for them, and not merely popular or trendy to others.

- Apply early. If a college offers Early Action (non-binding), and the student is motivated to have a complete, accurate, and read-worthy application, submit as early in the process as possible. Colleges that offer Early Action often fill upwards of 30% of the incoming freshman class through early admission programs. 

- Search and apply, apply, APPLY for scholarships. Free money and financial freedom beat out student loans and a lifetime of debt every day of the week! And ALWAYS submit FAFSA!

- Demonstrate interest. Visit campus (virtually and in-person). Ask questions of Admissions (yes, you can email). Request info from colleges you are interested in (they do keep track). Follow colleges on social media such as Facebook and Twitter (everyone likes to be Liked).

- RELAX! Don't sweat the small stuff. And remember, when it comes to the college admissions process, it is almost all small stuff. With over 4000 accredited colleges and universities in the United States, you will get in to a college that's right for you. Going to college is fun. Getting in to college should be at least half as much fun! 

[One more for good measure: Always carry, and occasionally rub, that magic rabbit's foot. Never discount sheer luck in the college admissions process!] 

2. The best question/most frequent question you’re asked by parents of college bound students

"The college application and admissions process is confusing and overwhelming. Where do I begin?" The best place to start is always at the beginning! While college admissions is often perceived as (and, in reality, truly is) a mind-boggling game without any rules, one can find method to the madness if each aspect of the process (the college search, the essay, the application, financial aid) is approached methodically and sensibly. Remember when applying to college was so easy, even a 17 year old could do it? Well, broken down into its component parts, given the appropriate insight, being prepared in both planning and execution, it still is!

3. When and how parents should approach the discussion about college with their student; how to encourage students to begin the college search

Certainly, saving for college should begin early (think, right out of the womb 1/2 LOL). Open a 529 plan, and contribute to it regularly.

As for discussing college, this varies depending on the student and the circumstances. Parents who encourage learning and value education will, almost innately, promote interest in college from the time their kids are in pre-school. Some students look forward to planning for college and actually getting into the fray, anticipating their every move (in selecting rigorous course work in high school, engaging in meaningful extracurriculars, etc.) from the moment they step into high school. Others, already high school seniors, need to be motivated by more pressing means, as in, "The application deadline is at 11:59. Don't you think you should get started on your college application?"

Find a happy medium with your child -- or go for that contented extra large. When the college discussion is just that, a conversation, hopefully leading to something that is perceived to be enjoyable and worth doing (rather than an interrogation akin to water-boarding), students will be more inclined to pick up the ball and run with it.

4. Factors to consider when choosing a college

-Fit (academic, social, cultural) 
-Costs (always consider affordability)
-Interests (sports, clubs, fraternities)
-Location (Close enough to come home for the occasional weekend for Mom's cooking and clean underwear, yet far enough away so that your parents don't show up unannounced at your dorm room door on any given Sunday).
-Return On Investment (ROI) Which, to me, is summed up not in earnings or career enhancement, but rather, by the one true measure of success, whether in college, on the job, or in life -- HAPPINESS!

5. How would you define the parent’s role in the process of applying to/choosing college? And what mistakes should parents avoid?

The role of the parent in the process of applying to and choosing a college is quite simple -- it is that of a parent. Mentor. Advisor. Advocate. There to offer sage wisdom on the one hand, to keep mouth tightly shut, on the other -- and knowing when to speak and when to remain stoically silent. 

We live in the age of helicopter parents, on one side of the street, doing almost everything for their children, hovering over every assignment, each meal, and even the innocent play date, and free range parents, running loose in the streets, who basically allow their children to "go play in traffic" until dinner is ready. [Remember, the free range chicken is often healthier and happier. That is, until the free range fox catches up with him...]

Try to find what works with your student, much as you would with the way you've managed his/her day-to-day through the first sixteen years. Family dynamics, be that what they are, are unlikely to change over the course of the college application and admissions process. That said, they can, much like a college essay or one of those crazed supplements, be tweaked, reigned in, and refined so as to reduce the angst and increase productivity. 

Do keep in mind -- this is the student's college application, not the parents'. The student should be doing the legwork in researching colleges, choosing colleges to apply do, writing essays and answers to supplemental questions, searching and applying for scholarships, and, ultimately (within parameters as may be set by parents as to cost, location, etc.), deciding which college to actually attend.

Throughout the process, it remains the parents' role to advise, suggest, encourage, support, and, yes, to review applications and essays (even Pulitzer Prize winners have editors), and, when the going gets tough (as it may when faced with deadlines, awaiting decisions, or handed a deferral or rejection), to provide comfort and relief (which, to me, often comes in the form of a pint of Forbidden Chocolate ice cream).

6. Where do you suggest parents go for additional resources?

- High School Guidance Office (the first line of defense).
-The Internet. Always to be taken with a huge grain of salt. There is a wealth of information out there in cyberspace, including that which can be found on social media. WARNING: It is easy to be led astray by erroneous or misleading information. Consider the source. Do your own homework.
- Independent College Counselors. Back in the day, when students had only a college course guide, completed college applications by hand, stuck them in an envelope with proper postage, sent them off to two or three schools, and then waited patiently and calmly for that acceptance letter, having a college coach (if you could find one) was a luxury. Today, given the competitive nature of the process, the selectivity of colleges, and the altogether absurd TMI (Too Much Information) coming at both students and parents from every direction, the cool-headed, focused, determined, and, unlike that of parents, un-clammy hand and impartial thoughts of an expert, has become a necessity. [The old, "If everyone else has lawyered up, you'd better too!"] 

For better or for worse, the entire college application and admission process (or, as I call it, the collegiate industrial complex) has taken on the life (if you can call that life) of a Frankenstein monster. It is, in the words of college admissions folks themselves, "complex and nuanced" (it really isn't, but, as we all know, perception counts for more than reality). 

Never be afraid to ask for help!
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