Getting into college is as competitive as ever, and will most likely be one of the most challenging tasks your teen has faced thus far. There is research to be done, applications to fill out, recommendations to get, plus the stress of waiting for acceptance letters. Here are some tactics and tips your teen can use to make all this work go a little farther towards getting into college.

Be aware that not all of these guidelines will be right for your child, and all of them together would be overkill. When you sit down with your child to come up with a plan of action for getting into college, try on some of these ideas and see which ones stick.

  1. Plan your four year high school curriculum as a freshman. The courses your teen takes are the most important components of her record. They also affect how her SAT and ACT scores are viewed. If a student's courses are less impressive than her scores, colleges read that as a sign that a student isn't willing to challenge herself. The process of beefing out your transcript begins in the seventh or eighth grade, when middle school track students into tiered math groups. Encourage your child to stay in the highest math track she can handle. Even more important than how that looks on the transcript, the fast track will help your child on the SATs and ACTs, and also give her better access to courses in the sciences.
  2. It's better to take Advanced Placement courses and get B’s than get A’s in standard courses. This may sound counterintuitive, but the fact is students learn more in honors courses, and that’s the first thing a college admissions officer looks at. They don’t care much about weighted G.P.A.’s. They look at the courses themselves and make their own determination on how well you did.
  3. Know what academic subjects interest you the most The colleges, as well as your teen's teachers, care most about his level of genuine academic interest. Your teen doesn’t have to like everything; find at least one subject that turns him on. That said, the subjects most valued by the colleges are: English, History, Philosophy, Math, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, and foreign languages. These are the courses they look for on your transcript. They want those good writing courses, a good follow through in Math, and a strong finish in either the sciences or foreign languages. Above all, be as interested as possible.
  4. If you are a student with learning issues, take the extended timed SAT’s or ACT’s. Those scores are valued on a par with regular test scores. If you have good grades and un-timed scores, you will be in good shape. Then it will depend on how advanced your classes are in each subject to determine how competitive you can be. For the colleges that have special programs for students with learning disadvantages, you usually have to get into the college through the regular admissions process.
  5. Don’t grade grub. Show the teacher that you are genuinely interest in learning about, or improving your skills in, a subject, and not just about getting high marks. Ask the teacher what you can read on your own. Don't make every one-on-one conversation with your teacher about grades.
  6. Plan ahead for your classes. Your teen should be ready to add to every class discussion. Encourage him to think not so much what he can get out of a class, but about how much he can contribute.
  7. Get solid teacher recommendations. College admissions people need to satisfy their professors by putting people in their classrooms they are going to like to teach. That’s one reason teacher recommendations are so important. If the colleges ask for two letters, but your child has more, that’s fine. Admissions officers value teacher letters more than any others, and will usually read them all.