Many people are in the process of selecting colleges over the summer; some are going to do more research online than by travel. It is okay to do a lot of research of schools before deciding on a visit. I have previously advised that summer time college visits are ideal for variety of reasons. However, if you are working on your college list yourself, you need to start your search with some information on how to make this worth your time and effort.
So here are top 10 tips for your college search process:
#1 — DO NOT, I repeat believe the list generated in the spring of Junior year by a portal, such as Naviance™ These are good starting places and your school‘s counselor, if using Naviance,™ will add or amend the list to what they know. However, by no means is this list: The Bible! Understand your college choice, is yours, not your school’s choice!
#2 — Many parents today did NOT use online college search portals to keep information, so many parents are using good old pen and paper for your list, this is fine! No worries. You can get your school counselor or you can do it yourself, to add the schools your parents and you have discussed to Naviance. Parent input is very important. Please also know that some parents did not do this process and for many others, it was years and years ago. Sometimes how a parent recalls a particular college and formed an opinion is based on what they remember or know, not the reality of what the college is today. Try to gently persuade your parents to be a little more willing to look, as things have changed dramatically in the past 20 to 30 years.
#3 — Independent Educational Counselors do exist! And we are often sanctioned by colleges to assist in helping students put together their entire package for submission. Most independent counselors are also familiar with many schools that perhaps your own school counselor is not. You can always pose a question to me or book a single session to ask about your list and gather some good information, advice, and next steps.
You do not have to feel this process is unwieldy or complicated because you are relying on everyone else’s advice. It is easy to get caught up in the rumor mill by fellow students and mistakenly believe you have no shot at a school because someone knew someone’s brother who had better grades, etc. and did not get accepted. This is your own presentation not someone else’s application. We never know if that someone is an exaggeration or simply a figment. So do not be afraid to get outside expertise and guidance.
Independent college consulting has long been a resource in major urban areas and reserved for only the wealthiest of clients. But today, we exist on the internet with affordable options for most. So please do not feel alone during this process, and that goes for parents as well. I often am contacted in the midst of pressure during the fall by parents who think they are having nervous breakdowns over the amount of details that need to be attended to….please reach out!
#4 — Find good resources to keep track of your research, here are few portals that counselors often have students use to keep track of information and research. A popular one that is fairly easy to navigate is from The College Board: The Big Future. Another one many college consultants use is called Guided Path. A third option is Khan Academy’s planning resources. There are numerous links and apps that seem like a good deal but end up being so much more time consuming for everyone. So learning to pare down to some resources that most find easy to use is an ongoing process; the college applications and statuses of schools are quite dynamic and constant vigilance of the changes and expected changes is necessary. It is best to find resources and tools to help, early on in the process. Please do not wait until October.
One special note: Most of these tools are not so great for Home Schoolers. There are different requirements for home schooled students, and these vary dramatically from school to school. For Home Schoolers, I often ask them to do some specific searches to find out about things such as testing. Often a College will ask for additional SAT Subject tests or something else to attest to the student’s qualifications.
#5 — Statistic checking! Many of the published guides report statistics from the most recent incoming freshman class. Usually these scores and grades are actually two years old upon most current edition publication! Yes, recall most incoming freshman took SAT/ACT as juniors. So what your particular pool is showing might be seriously different. Schools have ebbs and flows of popularity so the volume of applications can change dramatically in just one year.
How to get the most updated information? Check your prospective schools individual websites under: Prospective Students, Freshmen, Admissions, Requirements. Look at the most recent information. Put down the 75th percentile data and the 50th percentile data. This can help you determine if the school a target or a reach…or in Naviance™ terms, a likely or a possibility. I often counsel parents that even though the Naviance™ statistics are for your secondary school, those statistics can be dramatically skewed by recruited athletes and development fund students. Often what it determines as a possible is completely a reach.
Also, one other set of stats that is important to note is the percent of applicants accepted in the early process, if it is offered. This information can tell you what your odds are for admission early or not, based on your own stats. Also, please look to see if you are not accepted early, are you automatically rejected or put back into the pool for the next round’s review. This is a very important piece of information to know if you are trying to ascertain your potential of getting in early or not.
#6 — Make notes of all the application deadlines and the types of admission offered. You need to know if there is Early Action, Early Decision, Early Decision II, Regular Admission, or Rolling Admission. You need to also investigate when the school will be able to receive your information. This is critical. If you cannot find it on the school’s site, then call the Admissions Office at the school.
Why is this important? Many people get super anxious about getting their applications in…but if you submit your application before the school is ready to accept the information, your application could actually be gone and never make it. Although most will submit many through the Common App, if you hit submit and the college’s portal isn’t open to accept, the page will read submitted, but the college will never actually get it!
Be aware of all deadlines and please do not try to “beat” the system of a college. Any efforts to manipulate its process will not be received well! Colleges have been admitting student for centuries; they all have a process, and any attempts by students or parents or even secondary schools to alter their process for a student’s benefit when it comes to deadlines, will not be greeted warmly. Trust me on this.
#7 —If tracking what you research on a website seems too cumbersome, it is okay to use paper or even a Word Table or Excel spreadsheet. You are not sending this document anywhere; it is your tool to help you complete your process of finding and selecting colleges that seem good for you.
How many colleges will be on your list can be dictated by your secondary school. Most secondary schools have a workshop at the end of junior year on how to fill out the forms and so forth for their own counselors. Others, do these during the late summer or early fall. Pay attention! You might need to request your transcripts by hand or something else. I have seen numerous schools’ processes and believe me there are often such individual rules as to how this information is conveyed to their own guidance counselors and so forth. Many still use paper. Also many recommendations are done in paper, when basically no college accepts that form anymore. These are all done electronically.
Also, as important as selecting the colleges you want, is the communication of that list to your counselor in school. Your counselor has to fill out both a Mid-Year report and a School Report for your applications, as well as a final report with your final transcript when you are graduating. Remember all college acceptances are CONDITIONAL…If you do not complete as planned, the college has the right to rescind its acceptance.
#8 —When you think you have found a few schools, then you must take the research one step further. This is the ideal timing for all of these steps. The list is evolved all through the summer and into the fall. If you are being recruited for anything, then your options are pretty much gone and the process is far easier for you. Some schools will determine acceptance immediately upon receiving scores and grades, should you have a viable bid.
If you are not going that route, then you need to have your list a fluid as possible at least until October 1st. Once you start the application process, it is not so difficult to add or subtract a college. But in the beginning, please think of an average of nine schools and a maximum of 15. Many secondary schools limit the students to ten, as they do not want to be involved with the paper process for more. Learn what you school’s requirements are….some schools could care less. Large public schools usually allow the students the greatest latitude with the number of schools ….know when you apply— to say 26 schools— you will be writing a lot of essays. And please know you cannot just copy and paste the same essay over and over again. Most supplemental essays required by the individual schools need to be tailored to their own questions!
Many independent counselors have essay themes that they ask the student to provide on a variety of topics and our history with applications had led us to know what “common” supplement essay topics are, so we have a general base for several topics which you must write to build off of as you complete your supplements.
#9 —Less is more! When doing your college research, please be circumspect with whom you share your efforts. I am deadly serious as schools no one in your class ever thought of will suddenly become vastly popular. This phenomenon is often instigated by parents who see this process as a competition. It is a competition for sure, but not of the magnitude that many parents escalate it to. All of my students go to college; the stress from the pressure of nosy people can be derailing. Protect your list.
Also do not be sharing too much information about where you are in your process, who you are contacting, etc. This is your moment to outshine others. Do not invite undue commentary or worse criticism that might dissuade you. Please, do not be so naïve as to think someone you know well would not take advantage of an opportunity to better him or herself!
#10— If you are an IEP or a 504 student, you must also research as to what you will need to be granted accommodations by a college. You must also have the most updated evaluative testing before you start college. This is a requirement for the college to grant you anything. It is also a legal requirement.
Colleges have different processes for ADA students. Many have the process where you apply for your disability accommodations upon applying for admission. Others do not require the application into the program until you accept the school. In any event, you must have your evaluations. Some colleges will also take your IEP or 504 Plan as well, but know this, the college will use your testing to determine what accommodations you are allowed under the law. Almost NO college will allow modifications.
An accommodation supported would be extended time testing; a modification given by some high schools that will not be given in college is extending deadlines on papers or assignments.
I strongly urge my 504 students to send in a copy of the 504 or IEP with application, especially if during high school you have been granted such accommodations as: no language requirement, a technological assist, such as typing for testing or use of a Livescribe™ pen, support animal, etc. Colleges need to understand why a transcript looks the way it does, and many high schools do not put the 504 plan in with application submission. I have had students, in the past, rejected because the college did not know the student had a reader and was language exempt. Not to scare you unnecessarily; usually, if the Admissions review reveals something not typical, the college will reach out to you directly to try to understand why you do not have language credits, etc.
So this is a fairly comprehensive list of what you need to be doing this summer with your college planning. Please do not hesitate to get in touch for more personalized assistance. My next blog will be about resumes as this is the time to get those done! Yes, NOW. July, for all rising seniors, is the time for essays and resumes!