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College Prep From the Pros

If you have a high school student ready to embark on a college search, it's fair to say that you will, at some point, wish you had started the process sooner rather than later.

 As a parent, you’ve probably realized things are a bit different than they were when you were choosing a college or university. If you’re wondering how to make sense of the process nowadays, Michael Trivette of College Transitions is that guy who can tell you what to do, in case you didn't.

 Trivette has a Ph.D. in Higher Education, but much of what he learned about finding the right school was not just from his studies, but his work in college admissions offices. Now, with College Transitions, a college planning consulting service, he makes it his business to share his knowledge of college admissions with students and families.

 "It's really about getting families prepared as soon as possible about making that transition, but also to make them aware of the opportunities that lie ahead," says Trivette of the students who seek his expertise. "We tell them what's most important to focus on in high school."

 Trivette says some students come to him when they're just freshmen in high school. While that is earlier than most, it allows Trivette to guide the student through coursework needed to gain admission to their preferred schools. By a student's junior or senior year -- and especially late in their senior year -- that might not be possible.         

 "You have to dial back expectations at that point, significantly," says Trivette. "The kinds of colleges those students have access to at that point, are not even close to what they likely would have access to if they'd had somebody in their corner that knew what was going on."

 Finding a good college "fit" is important, too, says Trivette. Students may have one "ideal" school in mind, but in reality, it may not be the right one. Admissions requirements, cost, and course offerings in a desired major could point them in an entirely different direction. 

 Trivette advises families to come up with a list of preferred schools between a student's sophomore and junior year. The list should include a good balance of 7 to 10 colleges. Two or three should be schools that are easy to get into; three or four should be "target" schools that offer the student's major and a reasonable likelihood of getting in. The last two or three on the list should be "reach" schools that a student is a long shot to get into -- but there's still a chance. 

 School choices can include a healthy mix of private and public schools, and there are many to choose from. In North Carolina, state-funded schools need to take 82% of their freshman class from inside the state. The overall goal is to have options, and make sure students have the requirements they need to apply to schools of their choice.

 After coursework, students need to think about the test scores they'll need to get into desired schools. Some schools have dropped the ACT or SAT score requirement, but most have not. Advanced Placement classes offer a double bonus of looking good on transcripts because of rigor, while earning college credit for a passing score. 

 "Colleges want to see that students are taking challenging courses available to them, especially in select colleges," says Trivette. "Relative to your peers, how are you performing?" Colleges are aware that some high schools offer more rigorous courses than others, and they consider that in their decisions.

Finally, a good college application should have more than just great grades and test scores. Colleges look for students with outside activities and interests that will make them successful graduates who are prepared for their careers. And it may surprise you, says Trivette, that more is not better for extracurriculars. 

 "Focus on two or three important activities, whatever it is. But dive deeply inside of those things," says Trivette. If a student holds an internship in a future career field, is actively involved in club leadership, or has a job in their chosen field, that will carry more weight than a long list of club participation, says Trivette. 

 "That offers the chance for you to earn distinctions, awards, and leadership responsibilities. Those are the things that are going to move the needle on the application." They also make more interesting experiences for college essays. Then, he says, round out the application with one or two activities the student loves and has participated in with deeper commitment, like music or sports.

 Seem like a lot of work? Students shouldn't go it alone, says Trivette, but they should take the lead and show ownership of the process. Parents can provide guidance to avoid choices made for the "wrong reasons" and for financial realities of a favorite school. And admissions officers won't be fooled by essays that were obviously written by someone with much more life experience than a student would have. Parents are an invaluable part of the college selection process, says Trivette, but they shouldn't do all of the work.

All in all, say Trivette, there is a college fit for every student who is applying themselves to the process. He advises parents to negotiate financial aid packages if there's a chance to get more money for school, or be prepared to go elsewhere. Above all, do your homework but don't be afraid to ask for questions or for help.

You can find College Transitions at, and on most major social media channels.  Listen to more from Trivette on this episode of the Charlotte Real Estate Talk podcast with Pridemore Properties

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