PrepWell Podcast


Ep. 181 | Top 6 Parenting Mistakes

Are you making any of these 6 parenting mistakes when it comes to the college admissions process?

Show Notes:

In this episode, I highlight the Top 6 mistakes parents are making as they navigate the college admissions process. 

If you have a 6th - 11th grader, give this episode a listen to make sure you are steering clear of these common pitfalls.

Show Transcript:

[00:00:25] Hello, friends, and welcome back to the PrepWell Podcast. In today's episode, I will address what I consider the six most common mistakes that I see parents making when it comes to college admissions. These mistakes. Some might call them myths or blindspots, are things that, in my opinion, parents are getting wrong. And believe me, given how dramatically the world has changed in the last even three years, four years. The list of mistakes was long. It took me a lot of time and effort to cull the list down from 20 mistakes to the top six. And of course I will do my best to offer advice on how to avoid making these mistakes. Mistake number one, starting too late. Most parents and by default, their children get to the college admissions party way too late. And by late I mean junior or senior year instead of a ninth or 10th grade. There are several reasons why this happens. Reason number one, schools don't want parents getting involved in this process too early because the schools have too much on their plate already. They're worried about funding and hardening the school's security posture, dealing with mental health issues and other issues that I'm sure you're well aware of. They don't appreciate parents clamoring for college admission support or advice in ninth or 10th grade because most high schools barely have the expertise and resources to support even 11th and 12th graders.

[00:02:03] So the schools don't bring it up. If parents inquire about these resources or advice, most school administrators will say, Oh yeah, don't worry about that stuff right now. That college stuff doesn't really kick in until spring of junior year after your son or daughter takes the SAT. That's when things really start to pick up. I don't think so. At least not for students who are serious about their future. Yes, there are some private schools that have more resources that cover these issues in a more timely fashion. But even that can be tough to find, and the advice is often pretty superficial. Of course, Reason number two. Is that your teenager is never going to bring this up on their own. Why would they in a million years want to start on their own thinking about this intimidating subject? They're more than happy to stay in the dark for as long as possible. Less for them to worry about. More time for Tik Tok and video games. And that's why we as parents have to guide them. In eighth grade, ninth grade and at the latest, 10th grade. These are the years that lay the foundation for a successful college admissions experience. This also happens to be why Prep Academy is and has been one of the only programs of its kind to shine a light on these early years of high school. We do our best to give parents and their children the most timely information possible in relevant and digestible bites so that they can be well prepared for the road ahead. So if you want to avoid mistake number one, the least you can do is enroll your child in prep academy in ninth grade or 10th grade at the latest so that they and you are in the loop.

[00:03:53] Even if you don't act on half of the things I recommend. At least you're going to be well informed. Mistake number two, not confirming that your child can read and write before high school. I know this sounds a bit snarky and you may be thinking, of course my child can read and write, but I'm actually serious. I've had experience helping juniors in high school with their college essays who don't know how to write a coherent sentence, let alone a paragraph or an essay. They write as if they're having a text conversation with a friend. The grammar is poor, the spelling is spotty. The subject verb agreement is all over the place. Punctuation is appalling. And mind you, this is from a student who's gotten all A's in all of his English classes, including AP, English language and composition. I don't know how this happens. I don't know how a student like this slips through the cracks. But it's happening all over the place. There is rampant copying and pasting from Wikipedia, plagiarism. And now, obviously with tragic beat, all bets are off. Students are getting caught using chat cheap and failing final exams all over the place. And when it comes to reading. Very few students have made reading a priority by the time they get to high school. And you might be thinking, Well, that's nothing new. That's been the case for decades. How many middle schoolers are avid readers when they get to high school? In fact, I don't think I was much of a reader myself when I started high school in 1984, and I turned out just fine. Well, my response to that is, did you have an iPhone surgically attached to your hand in 1984 with unlimited and unfettered access to porn, video games, texting, sexting, sports highlights and the rest of the World Wide Web? And once kids hit high school and they can confer with their friends, word about all of the quote unquote reading work arounds travels like wildfire.

[00:06:01] They access the online book summaries. They access cheat sheets. And of course, they can always ask. On their way to school to give them a one page summary of any chapter, any book, any research paper that they were supposed to have read the day before or the week before. And if you're lucky, they'll read that summary. In many cases, every waking minute a student is not giving the bare minimum effort to a school assignment. They're scrolling. And I'm talking about the good kids, the kids who care, the kids who know better, the kids who have supportive parents at home. It's a contagion. In my experience, it's very difficult to stop the train once it's gotten a head of steam to try to get your 15 or 16 year old to become an avid reader in high school. If they have a smartphone is next to impossible. To try to get your 15 or 16 year old to sit down, research a topic and write an essay from scratch. Using their own words, their own thoughts is probably a bridge too far. They're too far gone. They don't have the attention span. They don't have the practice. They don't have the skill. They haven't been held accountable to do these things. I did a podcast a few months ago where I asked you, the parent. When was the last time you read a writing sample from your child? Crickets. Crickets, crickets. A book report, an essay, a science project summary. Anything. And if it has been a few years. Yes, years. Then I challenged you to find a current piece of writing and read it. And many people wrote back to me and said, number one, it was nearly impossible to have their child produce something that they had written.

[00:07:54] They came up with a thousand excuses as to why they couldn't find one or number two. You were horrified with what you saw. If you haven't done this experiment yet, I encourage you to do so. So what are we to do? Well, step number one, if you still have very young children. You have to help your child build a practice or a habit of reading and writing in their daily lives as early as humanly possible in middle school at the latest before they get their grubby little hands on a smartphone, because that will be the beginning of the end. If they are already in middle school and you can't confirm with your own eyes and ears that your child can write in full sentences and read a grade level book before they go to high school. It's probably too late. And you cannot take the school's word for it. I'm as guilty as any other parent of assuming that because I see all A's on a report card that my child is good to go. And by the way, since COVID, our school no longer offers parent teacher conferences unless your child is failing. If they aren't failing, you're to assume they're good to go and don't ask any more questions. No more face to face meetings with teachers. There's not enough time. And so I've been guilty of taking their word for it. But that no longer happens. I give my kids my own reading and writing test and I watch them as they do it. And the results have been interesting, to say the least. I have resorted to, as I've talked about in many other episodes, co reading for the last few years with my eighth grade son to make sure that he is reading and comprehending the English words on the page of an actual book that he holds in his hands.

[00:09:46] He wouldn't do it on his own. And why would he? None of his friends do. The teachers aren't promoting it. He doesn't see any role models reading actual books. So right now we are co reading a book of his choice called the Brother Band. We each read a few chapters a night and I have him summarize the chapters in his own words on the way to school the next morning. And since I've read the chapters too, I can provide a check on his understanding. This is the only way that I found to really know whether your child can read, understand, and articulate what is happening in a piece of written work. And don't get me started on writing and math. That's for a whole different podcast. So the solution here is to insist on understanding where your child is when it comes to reading and writing. Right now. And then depending on how far gone, they are putting a plan together to bring them back from the brink. And again, I'm not just talking about the kids who are unengaged in school where this lack of reading and writing skills is expected given their track record. I'm talking about kids who are at the top of their class who get all A's. Many of them can't read at grade level or well, and their writing is abysmal. Mistake number three, dropping the ball when it comes to sports. This mistake comes in three flavors. Flavor number one, overestimating how good your child is in their sport and assuming that sports will be their ticket to college. Or flavor. Number two, underestimating how good your child is and failing to help them put in the work necessary to get them good enough to become a recruited athlete.

[00:11:39] And or flavor number three, believing unjustifiably that some sort of lucrative full ride scholarship is awaiting them at the end of the rainbow. How do you avoid these three mistakes? Well, you have to play a very active role in their development. You have to educate yourself on the recruiting landscape. You have to make an objective assessment of whether your child projects to be a college level athlete and at what level or not. You can't just assume that because they play on an elite travel club team and they made the All-Star team for a few years and that their club coach says he or she is well connected with the college coaches, that this translates into becoming a recruited athlete. This will rarely happen. You have to get plugged in. You have to get to know the other players, The quality of the leagues and the tournaments, the types of colleges that recruit for that sport. You have to do your homework. You have to talk to their coaches and other coaches. You have to get your hands dirty and guide your child. Now they may be a prodigy who just needs a little nudge because they're a physical specimen with natural raw talent. Or they may be a grinder who needs a lot of extra coaching and private lessons in film work. Both athletes may have the potential to get to the next level, but they will take different paths. Becoming a recruited athlete rarely happens by accident. This engagement needs to happen in eighth and ninth grade at the latest. You have to get involved enough to know the odds of your child getting to where they want to go. And if things aren't stacked in their favor, you may have to break them the news before it's too late so that they have a chance to pivot.

[00:13:31] That's why I created the Prep Academy Athlete Plan. It's designed to give you the tips, the tools, the advice and the milestones to think about as they make their way through high school. And with respect to this notion that your child is destined to get some magical, mystical, full ride scholarship to the college of their choice, it's usually a delusion. For one, there are only two sports known as head count sports that offer official full ride scholarships for boys. Those sports are basketball and football. Every other sport known as equivalency sports may be able to offer a little money here or there to contribute toward a partial scholarship. But I wouldn't hold my breath. Now with girls, there are more sports that offer full ride scholarships. These head count sports, there are basketball, volleyball, gymnastics and tennis. Every other sport is an equivalency sport and it's a crapshoot. So be careful listening to every parent out there who claims that their child or somewhat that they know got a full ride here or a full ride there. In many cases, they're just using the wrong terminology or they're being disingenuous and trying to make it seem like their child is getting a full ride scholarship, even though they're only getting $3,000 a year plus books, because otherwise they'd have to admit that they wasted the last ten years of their lives on a sport that had no payoff. The solution here get involved or find someone who knows what they're doing and can help you make these decisions at the right time. Enroll in Prep Academies Athlete Plan which coaches you through. How to think about these decision points, How to reach out to coaches, how to send highlight videos. Let's move on to mistake number for overestimating how great your kid is.

[00:15:28] I can't think of a student who I've worked with closely over the last 8 to 10 years that didn't have a 4.0 plus GPA. And for some reason, parents seem to be especially proud of this fact. I've had to listen to many a discussion between parent and child about whether there is a 4.2, 341 or a 4.2569. As if that matters. But to parents and students who oftentimes don't see the forest through the trees, this becomes a big deal. Yes, getting A's and good grades is a good sign, but it's hardly unique, especially these days with rampant grade inflation, disappearing, objective standards and immense pressure from schools to keep their students grades high. The 4.0 plus GPA is basically a given these days if you want to be even remotely competitive at selective colleges. And yes, lots of students take AP classes and honors classes and college level classes. Lots of students join clubs and do internships and rack up community service hours and take leadership positions in student government and start environmental justice clubs and play varsity sports. Many students do it all, quote unquote. Unfortunately, I found that parents tend to overvalue these things because they just don't know what other students around the country and the world are capable of doing. They see their child toiling away day and night. They see straight A's on their report card. They drive them to and from this activity and that activity. They get great feedback from their teachers. And boom, they think they're Harvard bound. Unfortunately, the reality is far different. With 2 million high school students graduating every year. You can imagine just by the law of big numbers that there will be thousands of motivated high schoolers who are just over the top.

[00:17:36] They start their own businesses. They write books. They author research papers. They build their own cars from scratch. They have patents issued in their names. They hack into the Department of Defense database during a 24 hour hackathon. They do unbelievable things. Most parents and I don't blame them, they don't see these students. They see their child compared to their child's peers at their school. And they extrapolate that out to the rest of the country and world. And they assume that their child is in a class by themselves. The bottom line is, unless your child is doing something especially unique and off the charts, like singing on Broadway, or maybe they're an Olympic athlete or they're curing cancer during their summer breaks, something like that. It's likely that they're going to be part of a relatively large and growing cohort of super achieving kids who seem to be doing all the right things, but that look very similar to one another. This is especially the case with girls who are absolutely crushing in high school compared to their slovenly boy counterparts. And all of this achievement makes the admissions process more difficult because how is an admissions officer supposed to piece through all of these highly qualified candidates? Obviously these days they're using HDI diversity, equity and inclusion filter to make their lives a bit easier. They're tapping into the LGBTQIA+ populations to make their lives a bit easier. They, of course, will skim the recruited athletes off the top of the pile. And so on and so on. If your child doesn't fit into one of these boxes, they fall lower and lower and lower on the totem pole. Despite how great of an achiever they are. So the bottom line is be careful about how you assess how competitive your child might be in the admissions process.

[00:19:37] A once in a generation student in your high school may be run of the mill when compared to what the whole country and abroad will crank out in any given year. Is there a solution here? Not really. I guess the solution would be to become more aware of how competitive the landscape is, how much pressure there is to recruit certain types of students from certain demographics so that you don't have an overinflated view of your own hotshot child. Because that may affect how you and they approach the college admissions process. What colleges, they target their expectations. And if you want me to give you an objective assessment on how competitive your child may be, let's set up a call. Mistake number five. Ignoring college affordability. I work with parents all the time whose jaws hit the ground when they realized how much college is going to cost, especially if it's their first child. I try my best to give parents a heads up on what's coming down the road when it comes to the costs of college in general these days. If your child aspires to go to a quote unquote good college, and by that I mean a college that you and I would recognize that has some brand recognition in the marketplace. You should assume that within the next 2 to 3 years, it will cost 50 or $60,000 a year at your local state college. Or 90 to $100000 a year at a private liberal arts college. And yes, this assumes you're paying full freight and not getting any need based financial aid either because your family makes too much money that is probably over $200,000 or because the school doesn't offer a generous need based financial aid, which not all colleges do.

[00:21:30] And yes, that assumes that you're going to a top tier college that doesn't offer, quote, merit scholarships like some second tier colleges do to recruit you away from the top tier colleges. And by the way, news flash, starting very soon, there will be no benefit to having multiple kids in college at the same time. That benefit has been revoked. The mistake is not knowing about any of this and getting caught off guard. When your child starts to put a list of colleges together that has these price tags. You have to start thinking about whether or not you are okay and whether your child is okay paying this type of money for college. First off, where do you get the money from? Second, even if you do have the money, is it worth it? Third. If you don't have the money, is it worth going $100,000 into debt to make this happen or more? If not, you need to start framing different options as early as you can so that it's not a big shock to your child when he or she gets to terminal velocity on the admissions front. That's the solution. Start to make some value judgments about one the value of a college degree. Two, how much debt, if any, you and your child want to take on. These are macro level decisions that you should start thinking about when your child is in fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth grade. So that if you decide that you and your child do not want to take on $100,000 in debt, that you can start shaping the college conversation that you have with your child. Maybe you shouldn't take a campus tour of Bowdoin College or Oberlin College or Reed College that each costs $100,000 a year.

[00:23:22] Maybe you should start planting the seed of going to a state school or a junior college or a trade school or joining the workforce. Which leads us to our final mistake. Mistake number six. Ignoring non traditional paths. Given the cost of college these days and the debatable value of a bachelor's degree for some, dare I say most students, I think we have to take a step back and ask ourselves, is it worth it to put our children on this traditional college conveyor belt? I know this sounds like blasphemy for many of you listening right now. It's an absolutely crazy notion. Because we've been so conditioned to think that a four year college degree is just a given. It's a must have to get ahead. But is it really necessary anymore? And for what type of student is it necessary for and at what cost? Some people and a growing number of employers say, no, it's not necessary. This is true at some of the country's most coveted employers, like Google and Tesla and SpaceX X. With the new workplace rules and remote work and I. Does your child really need to bend over backwards to get a four year degree? In fact, with the elimination of merit based admissions criteria, for example, removing the S.A.T. or A.C.T. requirement. And with DCI credentials becoming the most important factor in admissions. People no longer believe that the most prestigious schools produce the most qualified candidates. The gig is up for people in the know, and over the next few years, this fact will become more and more exposed. These types of schools may produce the most diverse graduates, but they are not the most qualified. Many employers no longer recruit at Ivy League schools because they can't trust the end product anymore.

[00:25:25] They've been burned too many times by hiring students who can't read. They can't write and they can't communicate at the level that was once a given from those schools. If this is even half true, then we really need to wonder whether this is all worth it. Even at the most prestigious schools around. Well. Here are three cases where, despite all of these headwinds, it very well might be worth it to go to one of these prestigious and expensive colleges. Case number one. You can get into and go to a highly prestigious name brand college for free or close to free. Now, I will admit that would be hard to pass up, even if it is true that a four year degree isn't as critical as it once was, and that employers are doubtful of the quality of the graduates. I'd probably still take my chances. If you didn't have to go into debilitating debt and it's a high reputation school, it's probably not a bad idea to go grab that degree. All other things being equal. Case number two, you can get into and go to a highly prestigious name brand college and pay for it outright without it affecting you or your family all that much. In other words, your parents are wealthy or you have a trust fund or a college fund, and a $100,000 a year is not a big deal. In this case, knock yourself out. And then finally, case number three, you can get into and go to a highly prestigious name brand college and pay a good chunk of change. But you will get a degree that has an aura y a return on investment. Meaning a professional degree that will translate into an actual job like an engineering degree, computer programing, accountant, pre-med.

[00:27:23] Maybe you major in artificial intelligence. If you go into college with this as your mission, then it will probably be worth the expense because it will launch you into a career that actually allows you to make money to wipe out these school loans. These are the three scenarios where it might make sense to set your sights on one of these expensive liberal arts colleges. Unfortunately, not many students fall into one of these three buckets. Very few do. In fact, most students and parents will go tens of thousands of dollars into debt, only to see that student go to college party for four years. Sleep in miss class. Waste time at endless tailgates. Paint their faces for the football game and not take their time seriously. They assume that they'll, quote unquote, get serious about life once they graduate and get into the real world. Well, $300,000 later, that might not have been the best plan. So this begs the question, shouldn't parents of students like this, the party animal students, consider alternatives to the traditional path? How about a service academy or an ROTC scholarship or enlisting in the military, or starting at a junior college and living at home, or taking a gap year and working to put money away for college or working part time and going to college at night. We're going to trade school to become a plumber, an electrician, a carpenter, or spending a year or two in a real job before going back to college or joining the workforce straight away to start earning money and learning real skills. Most of these options should sound better than seeing your child go to college for $75,000 a year, only to piss it away. Going to fraternity parties getting wasted three or four times a week, smoking weed, missing class, majoring in justice studies.

[00:29:30] And risking their overall health and well-being. What's the solution here? Take an honest look at your child project, how they might behave in college. Think about what they might major in at college, what their career prospects may be, what their track record has been like so far in high school. And think about whether nontraditional options might be something to investigate. And again, if you want my take on your child and where they may be headed and whether it's worth it to ram them into a four year vacation for $300,000 without a viable return on investment. Let's set up a Zoom call and we'll hash it out. Well, those are the top six mistakes that I see parents making as they begin to think about and help their child navigate this ever changing college admissions process. I'm here to help. Prep Academy is here to help, and I hope this episode has brought to light a few issues that I hope you will think a little bit more deeply about. That's all I've got for you today, folks. Thank you for tuning in. Thank you for your continued support. Case you didn't know this podcast supports prep academies online mentoring program where high schoolers and their parents receive weekly videos from me, where I break down important topics and give timely advice about college admissions, particularly for top tier colleges, service academies, and for ROTC and athletic scholarships. Many parents who are listening to this podcast already have their high schoolers enrolled in Prep Academy, which is great. If you don't yet, please consider enrolling them. Registration is only open during freshman or sophomore year. After that, we no longer accept new students. So if you have a freshman or a sophomore in high school right now and you like what you're hearing in these podcasts, if you'd like more content like this tailored specifically for your child, for their specific grade and with their specific goals in mind, go to Prep Academy and enroll today.

[00:31:26] The deadline will be May 30th for sophomores. Otherwise, the doors will close. If you know a parent with a middle schooler or high schooler that might find this helpful, please share the episode with them and give us a rating if you get a chance. Word of mouth and positive ratings help our podcast reach a much wider audience. If you have questions, comments or an idea for an upcoming episode, please reach out to me about email to on Instagram. Check out our blog Facebook page. Connect with me on LinkedIn. I would love to hear from you. Till next week. Goodbye. Good luck and never stop preparing. This podcast is brought to you by Prep. Well, Academy Prep Academy is my one of a kind online mentoring program that delivers to your ninth or 10th grader a short, highly relevant video from me every week. Every Sunday, in fact, where I give them a heads up about what they should be thinking about, to stay ahead of the game to get these valuable lessons into your child's hands. Please head over to and enroll your child today.

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Podcast Host:

PrepWell Academy's Founder, Phil Black, has spent a lifetime cracking the code on the world's most competitive programs: Yale University, Harvard Business School, Navy SEALs, Goldman Sachs, Entrepreneurship, Shark Tank (2X), etc.

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Inside PrepWell Academy, Black teaches students everything they need to know about the college admissions process in a series of expertly-timed, 3-5-minute, weekly training videos starting in 9th grade and continuing through 12th grade [Note: this program can only be joined in 9th or 10th grade]. My specialties include military service academies, ROTC scholarships, Ivy League, and student-athletes.

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