Until a student and his or her parents start looking closely at the college application process, it’s pretty easy to assume that it’s going to be a cake walk Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Read more »
The admissions decisions are in, now you need to make the most important decision of all – which college will you choose?
I’m sad to say that far too many students stumble into the pitfall of choosing a college solely because of the school’s name; giving little thought or attention to whether or not that is the best place for them. Others arbitrarily choose a school because of how it looks or how well a certain team does. While these are things that are worth considering to some degree, it’s important to remember that these are not the things that students generally point to as the key to their ultimate satisfaction with a school – the reason why they stay at a particular school.
No, I believe most college students are more likely to point to things such as: good relationships with their classmates, positive interaction with faculty members, quality of academics, availability of programs and opportunities in their field of study, and ability to graduate without being too deeply in debt. Not once in all my years doing this have I had students in their last year of college say to me. “I loved being at my college because it had ivy covered buildings.”
So before you make that decision, here are some things I hope you will consider when you make your visit (I can’t stress enough how VERY important it is that you visit.) and before your parents write that check confirming your enrollment:
- Did I like the students I met? Did I feel comfortable around them? Did they seem like people I would have things in common with?
- When I sat in on a class, were the students engaged and participating?
- How did the faculty members treat their students?
- When I toured the campus, was there evidence of student artwork and research?
- When I read the school newspaper, did I find interesting things being discussed and events that sounded like something I would enjoy?
- How strong is the program in the field I am considering?
- How easy is it to change majors?
- Did I feel safe?
- Could I picture myself there 4 years from now?
- How much debt will I have when I graduate?
There are other things you may need to consider as well, such as the quality of the student support services that are available, so be sure you make a list of things you need to find out about while you’re there. The important thing is to make an informed decision based on the things that are most likely to help you be succcssful and content at that school.
In the end, you may end up choosing a school that has a famous name, fabulous team, and ivy covered buildings, but you will have the assurance that you chose that school because it truly is the best fit for you.
All the high schools I have worked in have been college prep high schools. Consequently, the students who attended there tended to get quite a bit of information and help when it came to applying to college. Perhaps I was naive when I entered the profession, but I actually believed that all schools pretty much provided the same info to their students when it came to applying to college. That belief was shattered when I volunteered to work at the counselors’ table at local college fairs. It was there that I witnessed the gap – sometimes chasm – between the assistance students in college prep schools were receiving as opposed to those who were not enrolled in those types of schools.
The reason for the gap is simple: the counselors in those schools are asked to do the impossible. Their caseload is too large to do much more than put out fires. While I believe most would love to do more college counseling, there simply is no time to do so when you are doing scheduling, watching out for at-risk kids, and a host of other duties. I admire their dedication and commitment in spite of being in a fairly consistent state of being overworked.
Here’s what worries me sometimes. I think parents are often like I was in those early years, assuming that all students get pretty much the same help with college stuff no matter where they go to school. They have no idea what their students aren’t getting and how much more help they may actually need.
As an independent college counselor, my only job is to give kids the help they need to find the right college and get through the application process. I am right there when they have a question or need a different perspective. I go to conferences and stay as current as possible with the changes and trends that are going on in higher education. I know how to find schools that have good support for students with learning differences, as well as those with good dance programs. I even know a lot of the admissions representatives that work in my area, so I feel comfortable calling them and asking questions. That’s what it takes to do my job well.
The thing is, not everyone can afford to hire an independent college counselor – nor does everyone need to. Sometimes all a student needs is a little help and a bit of direction. For those students, I am offering a very affordable workshop on how to conduct your own college search. (This is one of the most essential, and difficult, parts of the college application process.)
If this sounds like something that might be just what you need, there’s still room this Saturday, March 20. The workshop is being held in Tacoma – which is a really easy drive from Seattle on the weekend. For more information and to reserve your spot, go to: www.collegenavigation.net/workshops.
There was a time when seniors rushed home from school to check their mailboxes for admissions decisions from colleges. They carefully sorted through the junk mail looking for that hoped for “fat envelope” (acceptance) and dreaded finding a “thin envelope” (denial). With so many schools posting decisions online or sending them by email, now the news may arrive without that moment of preparation signaled by the girth – or lack thereof – of the envelope.
Electronic media is more stark and sometimes more cruel. You see, back in the day when you got one of those dreaded thin envelopes, you were home. You could run to your room and cry or grab a basketball and work out your frustration that way. Now it’s possible for that denial to be witnessed initially by both you and a cadre of your closest friends who surround you as you check for admissions decisions on your iPhone. Before you even have a chance to digest the information yourself, you are bombarded by the opinions of everyone in the vicinity. This once private moment of joy or sorrow has become a very public, and often uncomfortable, one for many students.
I think you can understand the difficulty of discovering you’ve been denied admission while all your friends look on. But consider the discomfort of being accepted to a school where your best friend has been denied or having an acceptance to a school you really like be met with a lukewarm response by your friends. Awkward much?
For all those reasons, I like to recommend that students resist the temptation of checking electronically generated admissions decisions at school or work or anywhere they will not have the time to take in the information by themselves for a little while. It’s very important to honor your feelings about the news you receive, be it good or bad, so you can move forward authentically rather than putting on an act to satisfy your audience.
Receiving an admissions decision is something you need time to put into perspective. Whether you’re feeling euphoria or disappointment, you need the chance to begin thinking through what it all means to you before you share the information with others and they start sharing it with others. You also deserve the chance to tell people in the order you want them to know. Maybe the first person you’d tell would be that best friend who’s looking over your shoulder, but maybe you’d rather tell someone else first or even need to tell someone personally. That choice should be yours.
Whatever the news, remember it’s your news.
The NCEE (National Center on Education and the Economy) announced on Wednesday that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has given a generous $1.5 million planning grant to a program in eight states that could grant 10th graders a high school diploma if they are able to pass a board examination. Additionally it said that the 8 states involved intend to apply for some of the $350 million in federal stimulus money designated for improving public school testing to make up the difference in the cost for instituting this plan. The motivation behind this plan is to reduce the number of students who arrive at college so unprepared for college level math and English classes that they have to take remedial classes.
I may be way off base here, but when students are unable to pass a test, shouldn’t you try to find a better way to teach the material rather than giving them a new and improved test? Perhaps the money would be better spent on training elementary school teachers and on programs that support students who are struggling academically in 3rd, 4th or 5th grade. Because, you see, if you struggle too long you start to give up. By the time you’re in high school, no high stakes test or diploma-shaped carrot is going to restore your motivation or self-confidence. You’ve already failed too many times to care.
I cringe when I think of $350 million dollars in stimulus money being used to improve testing. There are plenty of good tests out there such as the EXPLORE or PLAN which provide schools and students with very detailed information about where the academic deficits are. And, hold onto your hats, those same results can tell schools which areas in their curriculum are in most need of improvement. Yep, those clever folks over at ACT actually figured out which educational benchmarks a student needs to meet, as well as when they should have met them, in order to be successful in college. I guess that’s one of the reasons why a state like Colorado requires, and pays for, all students to take the ACT – which measures what a student has learned – so they can see where the trouble spots are in their curriculum. So there, I just saved those 8 states at least a million dollars by telling them about these tests.
Now they can take the rest of the money and invest it where it needs to be invested in order to actually make a difference – in the classroom. Reward the teachers who engage students and teach them how to be mentors to new teachers. Train teachers in new methodologies, as well as how to recognize learning disabilities in their earliest stages. Consistently provide the personnel and programs necessary to support the students who are struggling so they can be successful.
There will always be kids who are academically ready for college work in 10th grade, but let’s not forget that they’re still kids who have some growing up to do. If you take them out of the high school in favor of them getting an early start in college, everyone suffers – including them. Why not keep them where they are and provide challenging extracurricular programs in math and science, writing and literature, as well as in the visual and performing arts?
I guarantee that once you invest in programs that address the real student needs, there will be fewer students who need remediation in college – and perhaps even more students who will consider going to college.
Maybe you’re saying to yourself, “That’s not realistic.” You may be right, but how is adding yet another high stakes test to the mix going to address the real reasons why students aren’t prepared for college? If a student is not being taught and/or understanding the concepts they need, no test in the world can change the outcome.
Nothing sets me off like hearing that a student has been told they have no options other than the community college, technical school, joining the army, etc. It’s not that these are bad options. In fact, for some students these are the wisest choices they can make in order to attain the career they are interested in. No, what bothers me is when this pronouncement is delivered to a student, more as a statement of fact than as an opinion, and is based solely on the grades on a high school transcript.
Yes, maybe a student has not done well in high school. Many of them don’t, you know. But a student is more than just grades in a class that may have had little meaning to them. My experience has been that there is often a back story – and sometimes those back stories are compelling.
I have known plenty of kids who would have likely received the dreaded, “Your only option is…” because of their grades – except they had someone in their corner to somehow support them. These were kids whose back stories included being homeless, living with a mentally ill or alcoholic parent, working evenings to support themselves, having a sibling with cancer or developmental disabilities, dealing with an undiagnosed learning disability, struggling with their own sexual identity, and the list goes on.
Their grades only told part of the story – the part that fits neatly on one sheet of paper. What those grades missed was the story of resilience and perseverance, of what it takes to get your homework done when it takes you 10 times longer to read an assignment because you’re dyslexic. They leave out the responsibility that comes with being the one in the house who is solely responsible for preparing meals and getting your younger siblings off to school. A grading scale can never measure the dedication it takes to sit in a class when you’re constantly wondering if your little sister is still in remission or knowing you will likely be beaten up in the locker room because people think you’re a fag. No, transcripts miss that chapter of the story.
While you may never completely get away from the grades, one of the things I love about colleges is that many of them are willing to listen to that back story as context for the grades on a transcript; to see the potential for leadership and to honor the experiences that may lead these students to become amazing teachers or social workers, artists or doctors. That is why I firmly believe that, if a student has the drive, determination, and ability, there is a college waiting for them – even if their grades don’t happen to be as stellar as their classmates’.
Everyone has their own ideas on what it takes to get to college. Some say it’s taking AP courses or getting an IB diploma. Others say it’s all about GPA and acing the SAT. Still, there’s community service and leadership to be considered. Oh, and don’t forget the essay! People spend lots of money on special programs and schools in an effort to improve these things, trying to get an edge on college admissions.
I’m going to tell you a secret – the best college prep is free and it starts long before a student ever sets foot in high school. It’s called reading. In my many years in education, it is the one thing I have seen that consistently sets kids apart from their peers.
Yep, it’s that simple. Encourage a child to read and you have handed them the best college prep available. (Even the people at CollegeBoard will tell you that the absolutely best way to prepare for the SAT is to read.) A kid who reads is exposed to new words and ideas. They also have a broader experience of how words can be used, which often translates into improving their writing ability. As a teacher, I could tell which students were avid readers the first time they turned in a written assignment. The same was true in discussions. The readers in the class seemed to take the lead by bringing in new ideas and perspectives. Even now, when a student shows me their standardized test scores, one of the first questions I ask is, “Do you like to read?” I am rarely surprised by their answer.
The truth is students who like to read tend to do better in AP classes and school in general. Perhaps that is because their familiarity with the written word gives them an edge when it comes to gleaning information from reading assignments or putting their own ideas into words. Words on a page are like old, familiar friends to them. Even though they may not love the piece of literature they’ve been assigned to read, they are not intimidated by it.
The great thing about this best of all college prep tools is that it is free! In a world where socioeconomic status can make a huge difference in the opportunities available to a student, reading is the great equalizer. Children who read know they have options; once they know that, all things become possible.
So, if you want to know what to do to make sure your child is prepared for college, take them to the library and teach them that the books there can take them anywhere they want to go – including college.
When I work with students in the Fall as they complete applications and revise essays, they get this look in their eyes like, “Is this EVER going to be over?!?” That’s my cue to reassure them that they are, indeed, going to be able to hit “submit” very soon.
There’s no doubt that the Fall application sprint is grueling. Organized students seem to fare a bit better. Having made a personal “To Do” list, they are able to see clear progress as they check things off as done. The experience for students who find organization to be just one more chore to be avoided, can be quite different. Progress for them isn’t always quite as easily seen, resulting in what may seem like a never ending slog to the finish line.
Either way, they usually manage to get things done only to find themselves in what I call “admissions limbo” – a place where all you can do is wait. There’s no essay to write, no recommendation to get, not even a parent hovering in the hopes of providing a subliminal prod toward the goal.
While this can be a tough place for a student to be, in many ways I think it’s one of the most important parts of the process to do well. This is a great opportunity to take a good look at what you’ve just accomplished. You have managed to more or less balance schoolwork, friends, family, and a highly challenging experience called apply to college. That’s an accomplishment you should be proud of – and one you should always try to remember. Take some time to really appreciate what you’ve done. While you’re at it, take some time to appreciate everyone who helped you do it.
While you wait for the mail to arrive announcing your acceptances, there is something else that deserves your attention – your last months of high school. It goes without saying that you must keep your grades up, but there is another task to be done as well – preparing to say good-bye.
Whether you have loved or hated high school, it is about to come to an end. Many people you have seen every day will slip out of your life. Your relationships with friends will change because you will change. It’s not something to dread, it’s just something to be aware of as you finish out the year; because the most important thing you need to do right now is to savor the time you have with your friends. Enjoy them, be kind to them. While you’re at it, try to be kind to everyone. Use this time of waiting to leave a legacy you can be proud of.
Not long ago I attended a networking meeting where the speaker referred to blogging for someone else as “planting your tree in someone else’s yard”. It occurred to me that I have been doing that for almost a year now. I’ve decided that it is time to tend to my own landscape. And so it begins…