Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Decision - How to Make the Proper College Choice

My office is receiving daily emails from colleges reminding me to inform students that by May 1st, high school seniors must notify the college of their choice of their decision. Not only should students inform the schools of their selection, they must also send their housing deposit. If a student fails to inform a school by this date, this could lead to the college no longer guaranteeing their admission. Here are a few tips for a high school senior to make a proper decision on which college to attend.

Social Fit

As an 18 year old senior in high school, it is hard to imagine making a decision that will impact the next four years of their life. The first step to make sure the school is the proper social fit. The family should have already visited the campus (see our previous blog post to learn how to properly visit a school). This on campus experience hopefully provided the student enough knowledge to make an informed decision. But can the family envision the student on campus, participating in the activities in the quad, eating in the dining halls or sleeping in the dorms rooms? If they can, this is a good sign. If they cannot, then perhaps a last minute follow-up visit to the campus might be in order.

Financial Fit

Hopefully the student has letters of admission from a plethora of schools to choose from. Reexamine each of the acceptance letters and financial aid rewards and ask yourself, “can I afford to send my son/daughter to this school?” If the answer is a clear cut yes, then compare each of the school’s finances together. Think about the programs they offer and your likes/dislikes about each school to make a proper decision. Select the school that you feel is the best fit for your child.

If there is some hesitation in affordability, here are some things to consider regarding the college:
  • How many loans will the student have to take out?
  • What are the interest rates on the loan?
    • When will your son/daughter have to begin paying these loans back?
  • What will the final amount of loans be when the student graduates in four years?
  • Can my son/daughter receive the same quality education at a school that is not their first choice, but offering more in terms of financial aid?
  • Is the scholarship they are receiving a one year scholarship or renewable for four years?
    • Will it be automatically renewed?
Eliminate Friends From Decision
Many high school seniors are afraid to leave their comfort zone. Many adults are like this too; it is only natural. Many seniors will make their college decision based upon where their friends will be attending. This is not the proper way to make a decision because with technology, students will easily be able to keep in touch. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pintrest and email (snail mail to teenagers) are just a few such ways. Do not forget that by using the free services of Skype or Facetime, students can easily keep in touch. Students can even call each other if they are lonely, but most likely they will use those cell phones to send text messages. 
With many forms of communication, students need to think for themselves, be an individual and make an adult decision. They should choose the college that best fits themselves academically, socially and financially; not those of their friends. Young adults are resilient, they will be able to find their routine by keeping in touch with their high school friends while also making a campus full of new ones. 
Common Application
While I was writing my blog post, the Common Application posted this on their Facebook page. I felt it was only fitting to add this to my post:

Choosing which college to attend is an intensely personal decision, and you probably don't want anyone second-guessing your choice once you've made it. Just remember it's a two-way street. It's far more important for you to celebrate and support your friends' decisions than it is for you to understand them.

Well said Common Application!

Monday, April 8, 2013

How to Get the Most Out of College Visits

With the arrival of spring and warmer weather, many families are making summer travel plans. College visits allow families to walk around and picture one's son or daughter at that school. Can you envision them participating in activities in the quad or involved in dining hall discussions? You must think, will this be the ideal social fit for your child?
It is important to visit schools that your student might potentially apply to, but it is equally important to maximize your campus visit.  

Contact the Admissions Office
When planning to visit a college, one should contact the admissions office a few weeks prior to your arrival. This is a small, yet important step in the college application. First off, this confirms the office is open that day, along with a time, location and understanding of the programs available that day. Schools might also be able to provide a personal tour guide. Perhaps this student is in a major or participates in an extracurricular activity of interest to your student. Often, admission's offices prepare personal packages of information for potential students who visit their campus.

Contacting the admissions office while on campus is extremely important, especially when applying to  competitive schools. Participating in a campus visit shows 'demonstrated interest.' This will help enhance your application and express your interest in the school is genuine. Colleges maintain a log of  families that have contacted the school. They want to ensure that if accepted, the student will most likely attend. This is especially important for marginal candidates and can be the difference between acceptance, waitlisted or denial. But of course, do not burden the office. Admission office's understands the difference between genuine interest and pestering!
Another reason to contact the admissions office ahead of time is to make an appointment with the regional admission's representative. This is the first person that will read your application. It would behoove a potential candidate to provide the opportunity for the school to learn about you and your background, placing a face with the application.

Lastly, every attempt should be made to visit a school if they are within a few hours of your home. Schools will expect you take that extra effort to come to their campus. Many times, a school will have a dining or lodging recommendation. Perhaps the school will even provide a complimentary meal in the cafeteria and/or help to defray some of the travel expenses if they know you are coming.
See The Negatives!

This may be the most difficult aspect of the college search, especially if there is infatuation with a particular school. When on campus, it is important to seek out the negatives regarding a potential school. Colleges will always have the friendly tour guide to highlight the positive aspects of their campuses. But will they show you the negatives? Of course not. They are selling you on the school. It is better to find the things you may not enjoy about the campus while on a tour, than once your son or daughter is enrolled.
Ask Good Questions

Make sure to ask thought provoking, honest questions when on campus. Most people will speak freely about the school, campus and students. Admission's representatives understand that not everyone is the proper fit for their campus.
Two questions I always ask:

To the student tour guide: In additional to this school, to what other colleges did you apply?  The student tour guide will provide valuable information regarding similar schools that might be a better fit for your student. This answer usually includes why they choose that particular college and provide a feel for the type of student on campus.
To the student tour guide or admissions representative: If you could change one thing about this campus/school, what would it be? This is a good question because you are asking to hear about a negative aspect of the campus, but phrasing it in a positive way. The person answering will be more inclined to answer the question, while highlighting potential shortcomings at the school.

Write Down Information
Bring a notebook to write down all the information that you learned about the school during your visit. After you have visited multiple campuses, inevitably each campus will blend together. Your notes will help differentiate campuses at a later date.

What to write down? Besides the negative aspects of each campus, it is suggested you make a list of interests that are important to your family. Do these items include special programs, particular professors, or theatre facilities? Perhaps there is more interested in dorm rooms, recreation centers, libraries or study areas? Make a list and keep a log of those aspects at each campus. Do not forget to snap photos on your cell phone or tablet!
All these tips are vital to making an informed decision about one's future college. A little extra research goes a long way.


Tom Jaworski will be taking his own advice when he participates in the HOOT (Heart Of Ohio Tour) College Tour April 14-18. He will return with great information on 7 Ohio schools, look for these colleges in upcoming blogs!