Description: Higher ED 2.0

It seems like I turned around one day and suddenly my son Cole, 15, was taller than my husband—and casually asking for the car keys. But height and driver's permit notwithstanding, he was still boyishly content to spend every spare second of his life playing video games and rarely (if ever) thought about his future. Luckily, a handful of letters from colleges hailing him as a "potential student" brought about a major breakthrough – meaning he realized on his own that sooner rather than later, adults other than Mom and Dad would care about his grades.

Choosing a school - especially for a kid who has trouble with even a simple decision like what to have for lunch - seems utterly overwhelming. There are a bazillion colleges and as many majors. And even if by some miracle he manages to sort all that out, there's still the matter of covering the sky-high costs.

On the plus side, even though my son doesn't especially stand out as a scholar or athlete, he is an ace social networker. And these days, admissions reps rely on sites like Facebook to get a sense of an applicant beyond essays, transcripts and test scores, to seek out kids they envision as being good potential additions to the overall student body. Meaning Cole now has a way to depict himself as the person he aspires to be on an actual campus somewhere, rather than a teenager who spends entire Saturdays playing Xbox until his mother literally shuts the power off.

So as he was basking in the glow of his latest letter from a tiny, absurdly expensive university I'd never heard of, I saw my opportunity. "Podunk College?" I said, pointing to the letter "Only obscure schools still use snail mail. I hear the big ones use social networks to recruit."

In typical teen style, he tried to act all bored and disinterested, but I also caught a glimmer of curiosity. So I opened my laptop and helped him set up a few profiles (see above). After answering questions about subjects that interested him, states he'd like to live in and his CPA, he discovered he could also connect with college students at schools he liked to find out about the social life. "Cool," he said (talkative as ever). He could even take a virtual tour from a laptop or mobile phone. As for me, chief payer of the bills, I was pleased to discover tons of information on scholarships.

Within days he was receiving recruitment info from schools that sounded promising and e-mailing back and forth with admissions officers. And just like that, he started to take himself more seriously. I even spotted a touch of - get this - determination. And to my amazement, when I recently suggested he hit Grockit.com to study for his upcoming SATs, he actually did. Which was an eye-opening experience for us both.

Description: Christina

“Straight talk about technology from a plugged-in mom.”
By Christina Tynan-Wood


A few smart sites to help your teen make college connections:

UVisit.com Virtual campus tours 24/7 from the comfort of your own home. Use the mobile app for guidance during in-person drop-bys.

Cappex.com Create a personal profile that showcases any noteworthy accomplishments, then alert schools. The "What Are My Chances?" tool calculates how likely an acceptance letter is based on the info provided.

Parchment.com School transcripts stored online can easily be accessed and shared with colleges. Play with the "What If" calculator to see how much a higher SAT score or an A in English would improve admissions chances.

Facebook Tracking a school's page over time can convey a sense of the place—its culture, vibe and student priorities— and provide useful links to recruiters. (Remind kids to clean up their own Facebook page before proceeding.)

For the latest tech tips, trends and products (including great giveaways!) check out Christina's new blog at familycircle.com/tech.

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