News & Media

My Daughter is a High School Senior

My daughter is a high school senior. We have visited colleges since last spring break—eleven in all.  She likes six of them and has added about three others that we haven’t visited but I think she’d love. Still, I’m in no way prepared for her imminent departure. The little girl smiling at me in photos throughout my office makes me nostalgic for the days when she would hold my hand on her walk to elementary school.

She’s a senior at Lincoln High, excited about attending a smaller, Division 3 college where she will be challenged daily in small seminars and can play college golf. Small classes typically make students accountable each day. I tell her that she has to choose a college that will teach her to be a strong writer and speaker, the prerequisites for future influence.

She has contacted golf coaches to see if there is reciprocated interest. Finding the right college is like finding the right person to date—the interest in the other should be mutual.

I couldn’t have been more proud of her as I sat and watched her in interviews with these coaches. I kept quiet and just admired, wondering when my daughter had transitioned into such a self-sufficient, strong advocate for herself.

Because she’s interested in selective colleges, she needs to fill out the common application and its 650-word essay. There are five keys to writing a good one—passion, brevity, details, levity, and show rather than tell.  She’s writing about her experience in show choir, which has had its share of character-revealing adversity.

She has asked two terrific teachers to write college recommendations for her. She’ll get them her resume. Like her personal essay, their recommendations need details that illustrate her strengths and how they differentiate her. Colleges want to know why they should invest in a particular student. Letters of recommendation should include opinions and stories that help reveal the reasons. Choose wisely when deciding whom to ask to write these recommendations (and later thank each with a hand-written note).

Her list has narrowed to about ten schools. I recommend that seniors apply to at least seven and no more than fourteen schools. Why so many? Competition can help the shopper’s negotiating position and persuade colleges to improve their financial aid offers. Community college applicants also should explore and apply to multiple schools.

She’ll apply Early Action to a few colleges, which will help her chances, require no binding agreement that she’ll attend, and force her to get her application and essays done before November 1. Early deadlines focus the mind.

She has taken the ACT three times and will prepare for and take it in October and perhaps December.  I encourage activities that can save our family thousands of dollars. Increasing that ACT score is the best paying job a high school student could ever have.

All this has added stress to her already busy life. I want to shield her from some of this effort so that she can just enjoy these last months of being a kid. I want to grab her hand and walk to elementary school.

John Baylor is a father, husband, author, Stanford grad, broadcaster, and owner of OnToCollege with John Baylor. The mission of OTC is to help families and schools create two- and four-year college graduates with minimal debt. You can listen to the OnToCollege Show by subscribing on iTunes or by going to The show also runs on Nebraska stations KHUB (1340 AM) in Fremont, KNCY (1600 AM) in Nebraska City, KLIN (1400 AM)in Lincoln. Check listing for days and times.


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