Reading Is Critical for Your Child to Get into College

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We take it for granted that our children should be active readers. What we don’t realize is the huge role that reading plays in the college admissions process. If your child is in middle or high school, make sure they continue to read for pleasure.

Nancy Griesemer explains in the following article: “The ‘Reading Advantage’ in College Admissions.”

In an increasingly connected world, reading beyond what pops up on a mobile devise is dropping to the bottom of priority lists for many teenagers. And for those of us dedicated to books and the power of reading to educate, inform and entertain, this is REALLY bad news.

It’s hard to think how anyone can build fundamental communication skills without dedicating significant time to reading, whether for pleasure or information gathering. And it’s not just about developing an interesting mind or expanding vocabulary. Students who aren’t readers often don’t write well. They have a hard time imagining as well as organizing thoughts, developing arguments, and articulating ideas.

For college-bound students, this is more than just bad news—it’s a crisis. Colleges not only care that you read, they also care what you are reading as well as what you have learned from the experience.

These concerns play out in many different ways in the admissions process, and the most successful applicants are often those who set aside time in their busy schedules to read. And not just what appears on your daily “feed.”

For high school students, being aware of the reading advantage in college admissions is key. Here are five excellent reasons you would be wise to make time for reading:

Academics: It’s no secret that many of the most academically challenging courses in high school require strong reading skills—the ability to absorb and retain a large volume of material in a relatively short amount of time. Advanced Placement (AP) as well as International Baccalaureate (IB) curricula in social studies, literature, and language are notoriously reading-intensive. And colleges want not only to see you’re taking these courses but also that you’re succeeding with good grades.

Summer is usually a great time to “study forward” by obtaining AP/IB texts and reading beyond what is assigned or expected by the first day of school. Get ahead and stay ahead of the reading. You’re bound to see results in terms of improved reading skills, better grades, and less stress.

Test Scores: You can pay thousands of dollars to the best test prep company in town, but nothing improves test scores like being an active reader.  Both ACT and SAT are designed to challenge reading skills both in comprehension and interpretation. And those students who didn’t stop reading in middle school are bound to be more successful test-takers.

Push your reading level higher by mixing pleasure reading with more academic magazines, journals, or texts. Challenge yourself by not only reading from AP/IB course materials but also taking the time to annotate texts and look up vocabulary words. A little extra time devoted to reading can pay off in a big way in terms of improved test scores—ACT, SAT, and AP.

Applications: Colleges have learned that a good way to get to know a student in the application process is to ask about their reading habits. For example, one of the supplemental essay prompts required by Columbia University during 2018-19 asked, “List the titles of the books you read for pleasure that you enjoyed most in the past year.”  In fact, Columbia asked three questions designed to probe applicants’ reading tastes and interests. Stanford, Wake Forest, Princeton, Emory, Colgate, Davidson and a number of other schools have their own versions of questions designed to probe reading habits.

Knowing these kinds of essay questions may be in your future, why not dive into a wide variety of literature? Don’t limit yourself to a single genre or to reading only fiction or nonfiction. Mix it up. Go a step further and read something that relates to potential career and/or academic interests. And be sure to keep track of what you have read noting best books or interesting magazines as well as favorite authors.

Interviews: If you’re applying to a college that either recommends or requires a personal interview, you had better come prepared with at least one favorite book about which you can knowledgeably speak. The “reading” question appears in many different forms, but the bottom line is that if you stumble here and can’t come up with a title or are forced to reach back to middle school, you could be in a bit of trouble. And you wouldn’t be alone. It’s shocking to interviewers how often students can’t remember the last book they read for pleasure or respond with cheesy middle school novellas. And worse, they might remember the title of something read for class, but they either have the story all wrong or simply can’t remember any element of the plot.

Avoid the embarrassment and read some good books as you have time. Take notes, think about what you read, and even talk over the best books with friends or family. Know why you would recommend a book. And get feedback on your recommendations. Don’t think you have to re-brand yourself as an intellectual by only reading great literature. Interviewers can have fairly ordinary literary tastes. And don’t try to “fake it” by suggesting a book you think will make you seem smart. If you’re honest about what you like, you might be surprised to find that you and your interviewer share tastes in authors to the point that an interesting conversation ensues.

Stress: All kinds of research shows that reading is way more effective at reducing stress than listening to music, drinking a cup of tea or even taking a walk in the woods.  Significant side benefits include an increase in emotional intelligence and empathy—character traits increasingly shown to be wanting in adolescents. And reading also turns out to be a very good way to focus energy and improve concentration.

But if none of the above moves you to pick up a book, then focus on this: readers live longer! ‘Nuff said.

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Nancy Griesemer, a former North Atlanta resident, is an independent educational consultant in northern Virginia. Published on LinkedIn in November, her article is used with permission.