"Everyone who wants to go to college can," Austin said, yet emphasizing, "don't get into a sweatshirt (Harvard vs. Stanford) battle with your buddies."
The parent's role is to help the child find out more about who they are and help them find the right fit. Selectivity is not the same as educational quality. Going to a top-tier school is not a prerequisite for success or happiness.
Nancy Giangeruso, parent of two launched boys, exemplified a healthy parental attitude. Her sons represented "both ends of the spectrum," one being a C-student who went through community college and is now at a state school.
The other knew he wanted to go to an Ivy League school "since second grade," and is now doing well at Princeton.
Parent Kathy Springer and daughter Tara shared their story. Kathy had a good experience at community college but wanted her daughter to have more of the college away-from-home experience so they compromised by sending her to Santa Barbara City College with a plan of transferring to UC Santa Barbara. Now she is living back home to complete some math requirements. She wants to pursue speech pathology yet is on a 40-name wait-list at Cal State Fullerton.
The ultimate goal should be the fit between the school and the child. Colleges review a student's GPA, the rigor of the academic program that GPA reflects, standardized test scores (SAT, ACT), extra-curricular activities and evidence of an authentic passion. The challenge is for the student to stretch to the fullest without burning out.
"Take the most rigorous courses within reason [which is] different for every kid," Austin said.
Standardized test scores matter because GPAs aren't comparable from school to school. Test prep "makes sense." Laguna Beach High School is in the process of aligning its training toward the ACT, although both SAT and ACT scores are acceptable.