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How to Best Support Your Kids in Their Quest to Reach Their College Goals

When it’s time to start thinking about college for our kids, the entire process can seem rather overwhelming, right? Though you may feel that you are all alone to figure everything out, rest assured there is help available. On episode 5 of “One Day You’ll Thank Me”, we have a great discussion with Michelle McAnaney. Michelle is an Educational Consultant and the owner of the The College Spy, college admission consultation services designed to help students prepare, apply, and choose their "best-fit" college.

Often when parents and students start thinking about preparing for college it is in junior and sometimes senior years. What Michelle has found is that she can offer so much more guidance and assistance if she starts preparing the students in the middle school years, 8th, 9th, and 10th graders. You may be thinking, “that sounds way too early”, however it is the perfect time to get them involved in activities and networking, etc.

So what should 8th, 9th, and 10th graders be focusing on at this point in their academic career?

What is important to focus on is what the colleges are looking for. There are two key parts to the college application that the colleges are really looking at:

  1. Grades - the grades the student is producing

  2. Rigor - the types of courses the student is taking

Michelle’s advice to kids in 9th and up is to take the hardest classes available to them, without getting over stressed. The colleges want to see that the student is focused and driven and not just taking easy classes. For example, to the colleges... getting a B in an honors course is much more impressive than getting an A in a basic college preparatory class.

What role does extracurricular activities and test scores play in the college application process?

Michelle has found that most colleges take a holistic approach. While they are most interested in grades and rigor, other factors also matter such as extra curricular activities, letters of recommendation, and test scores. Michelle recommends that students review the "Common Data Set", a resource that provides information about what factors each college stresses when evaluating a college application.

What I am finding with the parents that I work with, is that they are encouraging their kids to be involved in extracurricular activities,and travel, get PT jobs, not just focusing on grades because that will be the way to get an edge over the competition, being “well-rounded”.

Michelle recommends that students participate in activities that are meaningful to them. That is what the colleges will be looking at."Well-rounded" isn't necessarily desired now---it's about becoming a "pointy" student--activities are centered around a theme, or a primary interest. Quality over quantity, she says. For example, if the student is a soccer player, then their extra curricular activities would be focused around that, volunteering teaching soccer to disadvantaged kids, writing a blog focused on soccer, keeping inline with that theme. That is what ivy league colleges are looking at to use as a predictor that a student will be successful.

Anna shared her experience at school, what she says is being told to her fellow students is to try various different things (sports, clubs, activities) and do well on standardized tests. Michelle says that overall is good advice, but she recommends that if a student is looking to get into an elite school or one that is more difficult to get into, they should focus more on a theme.

Michelle feels that it is more about the quality, not quantity of what the student is doing in their free time.

With that said, every family is different and sometimes students aren't able to participate in traditional school-based activities, but instead have responsibilities related to caring for siblings, religious obligations, or after-school jobs. There is an optional section on the application called "additional information," and this may be an appropriate place to share information about these life circumstances.

Are colleges looking at students' social media content?

Yes, over 35% of colleges look at social media accounts, and this information can help students present themselves in a favorable light. Social media helps more students than hurts them. The colleges are looking to learn more about who the student is, see if they are a good fit. They should be putting information on the accounts that they want colleges to look at. Michelle recommends LinkedIn as a helpful tool to network.

What is the most meaningful way to network?

The best way is to network with those kinds of people, that when they have opportunities, they think of the student. Michelle shared that when she was a school counselor, she would have opportunities come across her desk every week for babysitting, students needed to volunteer for specific organizations, awards that were being given, etc. Other great people for students to network with are teachers, family friends, people that think of you when something comes up as an opportunity.

How should students best determine what they should study in college?

Michelle recommends that students should stay open-minded and learn about all fields. New jobs and fields of study are being created all the time, so studying a liberal arts curriculum may prepare you well for any field later on. Heading into college without a clear understanding of a career path is fine---a comprehensive education will help you find the right fit.

How can parents support their kids (but not do it for them)?

Every student is different with regard to brain development and maturity. Some struggle more with executive functioning skills than others and need to be guided, some have parents that are guiding them, that do not need to be guided. But parents have to recognize that they will have a minimal role in their child's education once they begin college, so pulling back is essential.

Overall, it is a great time to sit down with your kids in the 8th grade and beyond and share with them some steps they can take now. To learn more and/or share this podcast with your kids click here: Ep 05: Preparing for College, an Interview with Michelle McAnaney, Educational Consultant

To get more information about Michelle and her services you can visit,

To learn more about Dr. Egan's online mini-course called "Managing Your Family's Technology and Social Media", created to help parents eliminate power struggles, keep your family safe from internet misuse, and reconnect with your family, please click RIGHT HERE.

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