In the previous blog series, the focus has been on optimizing student success; leading toward less stress; better grades; deeper learning; and ultimately better preparedness for best fitting college programs. The following blog series will focus on specific things to know, what colleges are seeking and what you can do to make the most of it. Here are 8 things to know to start college planning:
- GPA and Test Scores: The main filter for determining college readiness as a starting point for an admission officer is the GPA, standardized test scores, and in many cases, AP. Why? College admission officers want the admitted class to be academically successful. These elements help predict the likelihood of you doing well in college. They do not define all of who you are, but they do tell a story. So, write a good one!
- Course sequence and rigor: How challenging were the courses you took? Which courses did you take? The combination of rigor, or difficulty, and the combination of courses tells a story about what you might be good at (in terms of talent and skill), and what you are ready to study.
- College major selection: Have you thought about what you imagine doing as a vocation or career? That focus will drive which colleges you consider based on programs they offer as well as the relevant major you select. Most students have not experienced a day in the life of what they imagine for their career, and may not understand fully how certain classes or a certain college may prepare them for that career. By not exploring your career, or vocation, and by not speaking to people in the field, you are missing an opportunity to, in the end, learn about yourself. Remember, picking a major is simply a focal point, it’s not a final destination. Plus, college major often defines how select the applicant pool is, which is something to consider along with overall college selectivity.
- College list: Developing a college list requires thinking about three things. One, develop a filter: based on tools like Naviance at your high school and based on tools like US News, does your GPA and test score combination indicate a probability of admission? Most lists are a bit too ambitious. Number 2 is value: the high cost of college should prompt you to consider whether you are imagining a career that will require graduate work, so the cost of college is just the start of educational expenses. Think about your potential starting salary, and whether you or your parents will have to carry any loans. Most public universities for in-state offer such tremendous value that they should be considered strongly. If the college or university is private or out of state, it should offer something your state school does not such as selectivity, internship access, or geographic proximity to future jobs. Start with a list of 20, and narrow down to about 10 schools.
- When to visit? Many parents are eager to start college visits. It’s exciting! Unless the visit is used exclusively to inspire the goal of doing well in school, start your visits after PSAT 10 scores come out so you have a realistic sense of where to invest your time and resources.
- How to visit? Information sessions and tours are a great start. Sitting in classes can help, but often provides too narrow of an experience and may not reflect the real course you will take. But, sometimes, the program or college within the university associated with your potential major may offers tours. These are very helpful since the program or college within the university will define more of your experience in terms of which students, how many per class, and the nature of those classes. Plus, if that college tracks the visit, they will see that you really did carefully invest some time.
- How to network? Anytime you have a meaningful conversation with someone who works for or represents a college during your college planning process, take notes in a spreadsheet, and send thank you notes. Visiting a second time? Email that person to tell him or her. You never know when you may find a champion for you to advocate for your admission. Remember: admission officers are inspired by you, that next potential cohort of students at that college, and the admission process is about people, not pages in an application alone.
- Milestones. Work backwards from deadlines and admission requirements to determine what you need to do, and when. It’s not odd to set a Google calendar reminder for something 6 months from now. Remember, that act allows you to focus on today, and not worry about the future. Figure out which tests, which deadlines, when to visit, and try to space things out as much as you can.