Jennifer ann aquino Us college admissions tips for parents and teachers

College Admissions Tips and How To’s for Parents and Teachers

Every student is different. Finding the “perfect” college is different for every student. Don’t fall into the common traps of college admissions. Jennifer Ann Aquino talks about helping every college-bound student find their personal fit.

PowerSchool is my SIS and LMS and is the sponsor of today’s show. On January 31, they have a free webinarPreparing Students for Success: Measuring What Matters. Jake Cotton, a superintendent from Virginia, will be sharing.

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College Admissions Tips and How To's for Parents and Teachers

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Date: January 25, 2018

Vicki: Today we’re talking with Jennifer Aquino, the author of The International Family Guide to US University Admissions.

Jennifer, where do we start? There’s all kinds of books that say, “OK, have a good SAT. Have this. Have that.”

But is that the right place to start when we’re talking about college admissions with our kids?

Jennifer: Vicki, this is THE question right now. This is why I also wrote the book, because every family and every student would come to me and say, “Where do we start?”

Where do we start with College Admissions?

And so… there’s really not one word answer for that. But there is a place to start, and that’s really with the child — him or her — self.

Helping him or helping her discover and embrace who she really is… building up her confidences, helping her take risks, understanding who this person is… Then championing that, and bringing that through to the applications.

Vicki: But you know, it’s so tough.

I have three… One’s graduated from college, one’s in college, and I have one in high school.

You know, there are certain things. You know, students don’t have a certain GPA, if they don’t have a certain SAT… some of those choices are kind of eliminated, aren’t they?

Jennifer: Well, here’s the way that I look at it, and this also goes along with how admissions works in the U.S.

How many universities do we have in the U.S., right? There’s over 3500 4-year degree-granting institutions in the U.S.

There is a “fit” for every student.

There is a “fit” for every student.

The problem that we face is that we don’t start at the right starting block. We’re always starting, putting pressure on the students with the grades, and these crazy standardized tests. Right?

Instead of starting with, “Who are you? What do you love to do? What are you afraid of? What are challenges for you? What do you want to try in life? What are you proud of yourself for?”

[We need to] really help the student understand who she is, so that she can build up her own self confidence, start to embrace her own self, and realize where her strengths are. (And obviously, her weaknesses, where they lie as well, because we all have them…)

Help the student understand who she is

And then looking for the universities and colleges that state (that they want) that very specific student.

Vicki: You make me think about a student who I have who just started an excellent school, Savannah School of Art and Design. We actually had some of these conversations in 8th and 9th grade. She struggled in math, and you know, she was just beating herself up, “I want to go to a great college.”

And I remember the conversation we had.

I said, “OK. What if you end up in art school? How important is math?”

And she had a good math math grade, but honestly, admissions and her math scores weren’t as important as her portfolio, for that college.

Jennifer: Right. Absolutely right.

AND… going back to what you just said, Vicki, of, “She wants to go to a great college.” But we have to sort of… We’ve got to dig down deep of what does that mean? What does a great college mean, for each student?

What does a “great college” mean?

For every single individual or child who exists on this planet? There is a great college for that individual person, because that means it’s just a “fit” for them. Right?

So a great college is not one that comes out in the rankings, or one that we see everybody wearing the sweatshirts of. That’s a great college for … several students… but not for every student.

A great university, a fabulous university, is one that fits — like you’re talking about your student — that fits her. It’s going to embrace her, her talents, her strengths — and it will also support her and her future, and help her become a success, whatever “success” means in her mind and in her life.

Vicki: Yeah. I actually went to Georgia Tech, which two of my children now attend.

But I went there in the 1980’s, when there weren’t many women there.

Jennifer: Ahhh!

Vicki: I can’t tell you how many people tried to convince me NOT to go there.

Jennifer: Interesting…

Vicki: And I’m like, “Are you trying to tell me not to go there because I’m a woman?”

Jennifer: Hmmm.

Vicki: “Or, you just can’t picture women in technology?”

Jennifer: Hmmm.

Vicki: So Jennifer, let’s talk about… What are some common mistakes that parents and teachers make when trying to help kids with the college admissions process?

What are some common mistakes that adults make when trying to help?

Jennifer: It’s very different when we talk about the mistakes parents make [versus] the mistakes that teachers make. (laughs)

So, from my experience, one of the mistakes that parents make — and I say this with 100% of respect — is this idea or this notion that a recognized university (again, walking down the street, where I am right now in New York, and seeing that university on someone’s sweatshirt, and recognizing that). That’s means it’s a good university for my son or my daughter.

That’s not the case. Right?

We’re talking about fit. Universities select the students to attend their university based on fit. Sure, it’s based on grades and in some cases based on standardized tests. But it’s based on fit!

As you know, Vicki, every university has its own character, has its own personality. And they’re looking for students who are going to fit into that personality, right?

And you mentioned mistakes that teachers make. I think that mistakes that teachers perhaps might make ar falling into to the standard that we consider what is needed for U.S. university admissions. “Ok so how are your grades? How are your test scores? Have you filled out your applications?”

Sort of the procedural steps, instead of looking at each student as the individual self and helping her — again — embrace who she is, build up her confidence, and say, “Have you looked at Such-and-Such University?” or “Have you considered somewhere else?”

Students look up to their teachers like no one else. They’re mentors.


I think teachers are probably one of the best resources for students in terms of helping the. Not necessarily through the process of that, because that goes to the guidance counselor and so on. But my students look up to their teachers like no one else. They’re mentors. So when I have a student tell me, “My teacher today suggested a university to me. She knows the university well. She thought it would be a good fit.” They are so much more inclined to research that institution, to try to get to know that institution because they trust the teacher. The teacher knows them so well.

So, obviously, not asking teachers to understand what 3500 universities, their different personalities, criteria, admissions standards are. But to really have a conversation with the student, I think that’s really, really, really helpful… such as “Where are you thinking of going? Why would you go there? Why does that interest you?”

Really start to help them think about, “Why am I thinking that? Is it because it just falls on the list, or I see someone with a sweatshirt, or it falls on the rankings, or my parents told me, or my social network is telling me I should apply there? Because I can really defend my fit, and this is the right university for me.”

When do you start having college conversations with kids?

Vicki: So when do you start having those conversations? What age or grade?

Jennifer: That’s a great question.

I tend to work with students on the building confidence, trying new things, taking new risks, embracing who they are — in 9th and 10th grade. That’s 10th and 11th grade in the British system.

The process begins in the penultimate year, in my view. Starting the process before that I think is far too early. When I say process, I mean developing their list, starting to do standardized tests, starting to fill out applications. I don’t like them to do that prior to the penultimate year in secondary school or high school, because I think it locks them in. It doesn’t allow them to keep their mind open and allow them to be OK to change. And there are going to change, as you know as a teacher.

But I think in 9th and 10th grade, there are things that they should be preparing for, for university admission. But that’s really about the self. That’s that self evaluation and that self embrace.

Creating resumes and CVs

Vicki: You know, I’ve just found, having my 9th and 10th graders create resumes, and having different sections for their experiences, their honors…

Jennifer: Yes.

Vicki: The kids will come up and say, “I don’t have anything in this section.”

And I’ll say, “Ohhhhh. What do you need to do that?”

So they can make educated decisions about what they’re going to do in high school.

Jennifer: It’s great that you’re doing that, Vicki. I mentioned this in my book, too. There are some adults who say, “Well, kids shouldn’t have CVs.” I’m a big proponent of kids having CVs or resumes. I think it helps take a look, like your example, “Huh, maybe I need to try this, or maybe I need to do something new.” or “Maybe I’m not working as hard in my classes as I should be.” But I think it gives them a nice snapshot, and I think that’s a great way to start with them, too.

Vicki: So Jennifer, as we finish up, give us a 30-second pep talk on helping every child find that fit for college.

Jennifer: My 30-second pep talk is this. Let’s help our students build confidence in themselves by trying new things, taking new risks, learning what it is to fail at something, learning what it is to succeed at something, and really encouraging them to embrace who they are — not who we want them to be, or who their parents want them to be, or who their friends want them to be. They need to really embrace who they are, because that is what will come through in a solid and winning application — them being able to express themselves and express how they are fit for the universities that they’re applying to.

Vicki: Jennifer has given us such great advice, teachers. One of the questions I always ask students, when they sit down and say, “What should I write for my college application? Or “What should I write for my Validate Victory Speech?” I always say, “What is it about you that makes you special?”

“What is it about you that makes you special?”

Jennifer: (agrees)

Vicki: “If you had a minute in an elevator to tell somebody something that really makes you different or pretty unique, what would you talk about?”

You don’t want the kids to be turning in something that 10,000 other students could write. There’s always a story. Every child has a story.

Jennifer: Exactly. And that is a wonderful thing. We all have a genuine self. We've got to be able to help our students develop that and express that.

Vicki: OK, teachers, let’s help kids find the right college and a great fit.


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Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford

Jennifer Aquino – Bio as submitted

Jennifer Aquino, the author of “The International Family Guide to US University Admissions“, Wiley & Sons 2017, has 20+ years of experience in international education having started her career as a teacher of AP Biology at The Gunnery School (US) and moved on to administrative roles including Director of Education Abroad and Director of International Advancement (Bentley University, US) and Managing Director, International MBA (IE Business School, Spain). She now works with families and institutions to help guide students to the best educational and career path for the individual student. A member of IECA and IACAC, she holds an MA in Spanish from Middlebury College and a BS from Boston College in Spanish and Biology with a concentration in pre-medical studies. She serves on the Global Committee for IECA. She is based between Singapore and Geneva.


Twitter: @jenannaquino

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” This company has no impact on the editorial content of the show.

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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Vicki Davis writes The Cool Cat Teacher Blog for classroom teachers everywhere