Getting the best possible college education is a fairly complex process and requires a serious planning and continuous review of the plan. The scope of this topic is limited to what your college going child needs to go through in order to get the desired college education. This includes the student selection criteria that is most commonly used by colleges, application process, and determining the compatibility of student and college. It does not cover financing for college which is covered separately.

Different colleges have different criteria to select students for admission. Their goal is to attract a diversified talent pool. In general most colleges base their decisions on:

  • SAT scores
  • Some colleges also require the scores of ACT exam which is subject specific SAT exam e.g. Physics
  • Grades in high school, and progress in grades during the last 4 years of high school
  • # of Advanced Placement courses taken and grades scored
  • Extracurricular activities and leadership abilities
  • Social service or volunteer work
  • Any special interest or uncommon ability or noteworthy work
  • Essay (justifying why you are interested in the college you are applying for)
  • Recommendation letters

What college is good for your child? It is difficult to find a perfect college match for your child. But with careful planning you can make an informed decision. With so many state and private colleges in the country, it requires a lot of work in determining a few appropriate colleges for a student. Apart from cost, this requires looking at what subject area different colleges focus on, what kind of facilities (laboratory, sports) they have, where are they located, how are they ranked (check ), what kind of internship/Co-ops program they have, any undergraduate research facility, typical class size etc. There are a number of online tools available to help you make decision. Naviance ( ) maintains a database of all acceptances. They also have tie ups with many high schools in the country. They may actually have your child's high school GPA, SAT, PSAT scores and have a customized chart showing where does your high school child fall relative to the students who applied/accepted at different schools in the country. Your child's college guidance counselor at high school is a good resource to help with this process.

To apply for a college you need to provide all the things listed in college admission criteria and an application processing fee of $75 - $100. The student must be very clear on the reasons for applying to a particular college. It is advisable not to apply at too many places because it makes the process more competitive for all students, not to mention the effort of applying at multiple places and the cost.
To improve the chance at a particular college, some students use either an 'early decision' option or 'early action' option. Many colleges offer these options. Both require a student to apply early (usually in November), the decision by colleges is also early (December/January).

In case of early decision, a student can apply to one college as part of early application and must join this college if the college accepts the student and offers adequate financial package. A student who has applied for early decision can also apply to other college as part of regular admission process but must withdraw all other applications if accepted at early decision choice. Generally early decision colleges require you to pay a non refundable deposit before May.

  • Motivate your child to do well in school to get good grades
  • Arrange SAT and ACT preparation classes for your child and help him/her take multiple practice test to improve SAT and ACT scores
  • Encourage the child to take a few advanced placement (AP) courses to increase the weighted GPA
  • Do a thorough analysis of schools of your child's choice using some of the online tools and other resources.
  • Have a few discussions with the college guidance counselor of your child at high school. He/She may be a great resource to navigate through this process.
  • Consider early decision and early action to improve the acceptance chances of your child at the best choice schools of your child.