Speaking of graduation, let’s talk about college! Adam Nguyen is a former admissions applications reader and interviewer at Columbia’s office of undergraduate admissions and has also been an academic and graduate school advisor at Harvard University. Ten years ago, Nguyen took his knowledge of college admissions and started Ivy Link, a platform that connects students and parents around the world to advisors and tutors, in addition to other resources. I asked him some questions that will be helpful for parents in all stages of college planning. Here’s what he had to share:

Can you give some tips per grade level for students to prepare for college? 

The most important tip is to start planning and strategizing early for your student.  We often have families come to Ivy Link in the student’s junior or senior year, and we advise that it’s most beneficial to start planning in ninth grade or even earlier.

Grades six to eight: Choose your student’s courses strategically to develop key skills, particularly in math and reading/writing. What your student takes in middle school will impact what they takes in high school, which will impact how colleges assess the rigor of their academics. Just as courses build on each other, the interests and talents that your student develops during this time will form the foundation for what they will accomplish in high school and beyond. Selective colleges assess your student’s accomplishments both in the classroom, as well as outside of the classroom. That’s why we work with students and families to chart a path early in middle school and to cultivate both academics and extracurriculars.

Grades nine to 10: Colleges consider a student’s record from the beginning of grade nine. The transition from middle school to high school is very important and often challenging for many students. Build on your student’s middle school accomplishments by selecting the most rigorous courses possible and taking into account their aptitudes. Aim to get the best grades possible, and if necessary, work with tutors. Remember that tutoring is not just for remedial students; the majority of our students get tutored to maintain straight As or get from Bs to As. With respect to extracurriculars, explore the many offerings both in and out of schools, but also aim to cultivate your student’s interests and talents. Make sure to pursue fruitful and compelling activities during the summers after grades nine and 10. At the end of grade 10, begin SAT or ACT preparation.

Grade 11: This is typically the most challenging year for your student on all fronts. In addition to continuing to build upon academic and extracurricular accomplishments from grades nine to 10, your student will be preparing for and taking the SAT or ACT. (Even with test optional colleges, we still recommend this route for competitive students who should start preparation at the end of grade 10 or the summer before grade 11.) Research colleges, plan visits and prepare a well-researched, balanced college list. We emphasize using this year to showcase not only your student’s academics (e.g., by acing the hardest classes at your school), but also to demonstrate extracurricular achievements in areas that your student is talented in or passionate about. Grade 11, including the summer before grade 12, is your student’s last chance to make a difference to their record before the early college deadlines, which are typically in early November of grade 12. Make grade 11 count.

Grade 12: Get your student started early on their college applications! Students tend to procrastinate, and waiting until a few weeks before the deadlines to begin will result in mediocre applications with greatly diminished admission chances. We typically work with our students on their applications at the end of June or early July before grade 12 with the aim to finish by early September. Students should expect the process to involve many moving pieces and to be stressful, but by starting and planning early, students — and their parents — could greatly minimize stress and maximize the student’s chances of getting admitted to their dream colleges.

Any tips on what courses, clubs or programs that colleges like to see on a student’s transcript? 

Top colleges, including the Ivy League schools, will consider a wide range of pursuits, while taking into account the context of a student’s environment and access to resources. We recommend that students take the most rigorous courses offered at their school, and once they have exhausted their school’s offerings, consider taking more advanced courses outside of school if those courses make sense in the context of the student’s overall profile. In terms of extracurriculars, discover your student’s interests and cultivate your student’s passions. Then find ways to demonstrate tangible achievements in your student’s areas of interest and showcase your student’s passions. Students’ circumstances, backgrounds and environments vary greatly. Bear in mind that top colleges will take into account context when reviewing a student’s courses and extracurricular pursuits. Make the best of what your student’s environment has to offer.

For those who are waitlisted, what does this mean and what can they do? Tell us more about the Statement of Persuasion. 

There are several reasons why students get waitlisted, which we discussed here on the Ivy Link blog. Regardless of the reasons, your student still has a fighting chance if they’re on the waitlist. Your student should act quickly. Review their options, determine their top choice among their waitlisted colleges and persuade that college to let them in. First, your child should prepare a Statement of Persuasion, which, as the name suggests, aims to persuade in a compelling manner why your child is a great fit for the waitlisted college and deserves a spot. We provided these tips, which are still relevant today. The statement should be written by your student, should clearly indicate your student’s decision to matriculate if admitted off the waitlist and should include specific facts and other compelling information pertinent to your student and the target college. In addition, your child should work with their guidance counselor at school on a strategy to persuade the waitlisted college that it is your student’s top choice college, as well as address any shortcomings/concerns that the college might have about your student. Waitlisted students have a small window to directly persuade a college to let them off the waitlist. Act quickly and strategically.

Can students transfer from other colleges to an Ivy League school? Any tips on this? 

Over the years, we have written about and worked with a number of transfer students, including those transferring to the Ivy League or equivalent colleges. First, students should consider a number of factors when transferring. Top colleges like those in the Ivy League want transfer applicants to prove their reasons for transferring and demonstrate their aptitudes through excellent grades and extracurricular accomplishments — from mostly after high school. Some reasons for transferring are compelling, others are not. For example, a mere desire to be closer to home is probably not high on the list of compelling reasons, but a desire for a better academic fit or specific academic offerings might be. As with applying from high school to college, crafting a compelling narrative and supporting such narrative with strong evidence of achievements are essential to successful college transfers. If a student is thinking of transferring, start the process as early as the summer after high school. Of course, it’s not too late to start once your student gets to college, but the longer your student waits, the less time they will have to come up with a strategy and take actions to implement that strategy.

And of course, tell us about Ivy Link!

Ivy Link provides expert strategic admissions advising to help students get admitted to selective and super-selective schools and colleges. Founded in 2008, we excel in helping students of all backgrounds and abilities achieve their educational goals through one-on-one strategies, mentoring, research, test preparation, and academic tutoring. Not all students who work with us aim for the Ivy League, but all of our students benefit from the connection, or “link”, to expert mentors and tutors who all graduated from the Ivy League or similarly competitive colleges — hence, our name, “Ivy Link.”

In addition to admissions to colleges and private/boarding schools, we support students applying to business, law, medical and graduate schools. We also prepare students for various standardized tests, including SAT, ACT, AP Exams, ISEE, SSAT, SHSAT, ECAA, LSAT, GMAT, GRE and MCAT, and tutor students in elementary through college in all academic subjects. We also advise recruited athletes, gifted/talented students and other special situations. Learn more here.

Nicole Perrino is the founder of Bronxmama.com, a hyperlocal website for Bronx families where she use her influence to celebrate the beauty that the Bronx has to offer. In addition to her role at Bronxmama,...

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