Most teens start thinking about college in junior and senior year of high school. For many students this is too late! It is important for parents to understand that college admissions requirements have taken a major shift since they went to college. Schools are still looking for students with good grades and high standardized test scores – that hasn’t changed. However, ten to twenty years ago, colleges were looking for a “well-rounded” student. This meant the perfect candidate had a little bit of everything on his application – a couple years of sports, a bit of the arts, and some community service. In stark contrast, the majority of admissions boards today are looking to build a well-rounded student body made up of individuals who have shown a commitment to his or her passion. That’s a big shift!
This change in college admissions attitudes brings with it a new challenge for today’s high school students. Namely, they need to have a passion and demonstrate a commitment to a specific interest. When college admissions officers speak of a commitment, they are talking about three to four years of participation in an interest, and ultimately a high level of skill at the chosen activity. The high school years used to be the years to experiment with different clubs, interests, and activities to help determine what a student enjoys most. Today, the high school years have become the years to develop an area of expertise.
So how do we help students determine their current passion so early in life? No one is promoting that we take our already frazzled and over-scheduled generation of children and throw more activities at them. It is really quite the opposite. This new challenge encourages students to do a bit of work to better understand themselves, and add some focus to their activities. Let’s be clear that college admissions offices are not asking the student to know what she wants to be when she grows up, only to demonstrate a commitment to something (anything!) prior to college. Examples of passions could include sports, music, community service, computers, art, even video games!
What if your teen doesn’t have a passion? Here are a few suggestions to help young students develop an area of interest:
• Based on what your teen enjoys, talk about colleges and possible careers. Ask questions about his interests rather than assuming you know. Sometimes the answers will surprise you!
• Encourage your teenager to talk to neighbors, friends, family and co-workers to discuss careers and activities that interest her. If she finds a career of interest, encourage her to job shadow a professional. Most professionals welcome an opportunity to discuss their careers with young people that are considering their career.
• Talk to your teen’s school counselor or an independent college counselor to determine what resources or events are available at school and in the community that can potentially help focus and develop your teen’s interests.
• Many adults live their lives without a passion or commitment to a single activity. Be a role model for your teen by developing and committing to your passion and talking to your children about it.
Once your teenager has chosen an interest, encourage him to make it “dimensional.” For example, if your child is a musician—encourage him to participate not only in the band at school, but also to offer his services to the community via a church band or fundraiser. In addition, teens can demonstrate responsibility and leadership by earning money through teaching younger students. By exploring their interests at a deeper level, students will be creating a ‘strength-based profile,’ and colleges will look at this kind of depth and dimension as a sure sign of passion and commitment!
The author, Lynette Mathews is a freelance writer and member of the National Educators Writers Association. She is the director of Th e College Planning Center, a resource for students and parents. © 2015