This past week I, along with five colleagues from colleges and universities across the country, had the pleasure to meet with high school juniors and their parents during an annual “College Kick-Off” program hosted by the high school’s College Counseling Office. Over the course of a day and a half, we discussed topics like “How do I find a match in a college?” or “What do colleges look for in applicants?” As invited guests, we were privy to what is really going on in the mind of an average 16 year old, and we observed just how much pressure students feel during the college selection process. It is eye-opening and very real.
With a group of about 12 students, I dove into the topic of finding a match. How does any high school junior begin to develop a list of what they are looking for in a college? Who influences them along the way? The students’ individual personalities also shined through during the discussion, giving additional insights into their selection process. Abby wants a highly selective school in the northeast with an ice hockey program. Janine is really into musical theatre. Chris is open to many things but knows math is not where his interests lie. Raymond is engaging and smiles as the discussion gets going. Kirsten will tell you that she is the only one who read the instruction manual to her iPod, so she has a different way of approaching her college search. Morgan is really interested in leading her classmates in the discussion. Jordan does not want to go to the university her father suggests because she visited (twice) and didn’t feel comfortable.
In the end, perhaps Patrick sums it up best by saying that he wants to select the best college that “sets him up” for all that he wants to achieve.
Today, much like 20 years ago, high school juniors are influenced by their peers, parents, other family members, teachers, coaches, and college counselors, just to name a few. Now is the best time to start thinking about the process and get organized. Students might find the easiest way to begin their search revolves around identifying what they ARE NOT looking for in the experience. There are many tools that help juniors “find the right match,” but College Board does do a nice job helping to identify the characteristics of a college or university that students may want to consider. There is also a list of articles focused on finding majors, campus visits, and simply information about where to start.
If there is interest in a particular university, students should seek out on-campus events targeted toward juniors this coming spring and fall, or simply set up an individual campus visit. At Loyola, we aim to assist students by providing information sessions and a chance to take a student-led campus tour. We’ll also try to meet many students this spring via numerous college fairs and high school visits.
The final day of the “College Kick-Off” was spent with the students’ parents. Many are going through the college selection process with a child for the first time, and some have students who will be the first in the family to go to college. Asked about my best advice for parents at this stage in the college admission process, I offer the following:
Encourage your son or daughter to work closely with the College Counseling Office. When in doubt, start with the College Counseling Office. College counselors want to ensure that juniors understand the timeline of events that will occur over the next year. They have important information about when to sit for standardized tests, which tests to take and where they are offered, when and how to write your college essay, suggestions for who might be a good teacher to ask for a recommendation, etc. College counselors are often familiar with the schools your son or daughter may be considering. Chances are they also have relationships with the Admission Office representatives at those colleges.
Encourage your son or daughter to think openly about the characteristics he or she thinks are important. Public or private? Big or small? Rural or city? Regional or national appeal? Division I athletics? Legacy ties? Close to home or away? In state or out of state? One of the best ways for a student to determine this is by simply visiting one or two different colleges or universities nearby. You don’t have to go far away or invest a lot of time and money for students to figure out that they prefer a smaller school over a large one, or for them to understand what a liberal arts college has to offer. By the time you get back to the parking garage after taking a college tour, students can usually tell you if the school is still a consideration just by its “feel.”
Try your best not to push your choice(s) on your son or daughter. Let me acknowledge that no one knows your child better than you. Feel free to offer suggestions, but keep in mind that much like Jordan, your son or daughter may not really like the school that you do. Students in general are very open about this fact when talking with college reps, but often it is the most difficult thing for them to share with you as a parent.
Looking back, I realize that one of the best gifts my parents gave me during my own college search was the support I needed to make the best choice for me, and for us as a family to discuss how that choice could be realized. There are many college choices and many great fits. As one of my colleagues shared this weekend, we hope students spend the time identifying what type of college experience suits them best, and likewise, seek out schools that meet those expectations.