Weekly College Column

3 P’s of College Admissions

What do you learn during the first class of Marketing 101? The 4 P’s of Marketing: Product, Price, Promotion, and Place. Identifying what you’re selling, how much it costs, how to get the word out and where you ideally sell it.

In college admissions, there are three obvious P’s: Preparation, Place, and Perseverance.


Preparation for college is straightforward – you need to take the appropriate courses to meet and then exceed the minimum requirements. If your high school offers AP courses and you choose not to take any, but instead receive all A’s in college prep classes; that will not serve you as well at the most elite schools in the country. Colleges, especially the most selective ones, want to see that a student has challenged themselves, and is not afraid to work hard. The most common question I receive is “Is it better to receive an “A” in an honors or college prep class or a “B” in an AP course?” The snarking response is “Get the “A” in the AP course”; but the real answer is to challenge yourself with the most academically rigorous schedule that also allows you to participate in extracurricular activities, have a job, and have some fun.

Students also need to prepare for standardized testing, at least for now. My advice is to take an SAT/ACT Diagnostic test to see which test suits your knowledge base and your testing strategies better. Then, only prep for either the SAT or the ACT.

Beyond the academic preparation, students need to be prepared socially and economically. They need to be comfortable being in a new environment, not surrounded by friends and family. For some students starting college with a “clean-slate” is one of the most appealing aspects of going away to college.  Students need to manage their physical and mental health as well. No one will be telling them “lights out” or forcing them to eat their vegetable. It’s okay, most students stumble during their first semester or freshman year and they learn how to self-correct. Prospective college students also need to be financially literate. They need to understand how to budget their money as well as their time. Time management is among the most challenging puzzle pieces for many freshmen. Striking that balance between studying and being social can be very tricky.


Deciding which colleges to apply to and then later on, which one to attend requires a lot of work, to do it well. Students don’t need to “know” what they will major in, but it can be very helpful to have some indicators as to their interest in STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) or Humanities (Psychology, Political Science, English, History, etc.). Taking a career assessment or a college major assessment often validates what they thought their interests might be. Once students have a general idea of the types of majors that interest them, it is much easier to look at a college catalog that lists the courses offered in each major. This is a great time to assess the depth and breadth of different majors at different schools. It’s a great way to eliminate schools from your list. Researching specific colleges, BEFORE, visiting them is key. High school juniors should be watching videos, taking virtual tours, reading student reviews, and researching the college website.

Of course, another way to shrink your college list is to take your campus visits very seriously. Do your research before visiting and identify what you’re specifically looking to see or do at each college. Students frequently say they “love” or “hate” a school based on their campus visit. Don’t be surprised if your child has a surprisingly strong reaction to the layout of the campus, the dorms, or the vibe they got from the current students.


College applications are not designed to be done at the last minute. There are supplementary questions (essays), information needed about the parents’ education, putting your resume in the required application format, and identifying teachers for letters of recommendation. It’s not for the faint of heart, but procrastinating only makes it much more stressful. I encourage my students to start filling out their Common Application over the summer while we brainstorm essays.

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to: lee@bierercollegeconsulting.comwww.bierercollegeconsulting.com




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