Kristin’s Top 5 Tips for a Successful College Process

    Top 5 Tips for College Planning

    #1 Search and Visit Broadly

    With over 2,800 four-year colleges in the United States, students and parents usually come to the college search process with limited familiarity of the vastness of college options.  Now is a time to be open-minded and curious about opportunities! At the start of your search process, search and visit broadly so that your family is exposed to a wide range of colleges and universities.  Check out campuses that fall into the categories of big, small, urban, rural, public, private, etc.!  The only authentic way for students to discern their preferences is by visiting colleges of different sizes, in different locations, offering different opportunities.  Set your student up for success by including colleges with varying levels of selectivity in your search and visit plans.

    #2 Empower Students to Drive the Process

    The college search and application process is about more than the final college choice; it’s about students developing the self-advocacy and communication skills to be resourceful and independent adults during their college years and beyond.  Student ownership of the college search and application process will lead to a great sense of satisfaction and accomplishment when they make their final college choice and increased confidence to tackle life’s next big endeavor.  It is important that students lead the charge with everything from college research to setting up college visits and completing all of their application materials. Each student will benefit from a different level of support and encouragement through the process; consider inviting a student-centered, college counseling consultant to your family’s team if your student would benefit from personalized coaching and feedback. 

    #3 Acknowledge the Role of Financial Aid

    For the majority of families embarking on the college search and application process, the availability of financial aid and/or scholarships is a top priority. Resources are available for you to make informed decisions about applying to colleges that are financial Reach, Target and Likely options. All colleges now have Net Price Calculators available on their websites where you can input your family’s financial information to generate an estimated financial aid package.  Some colleges that offer merit-based scholarships will also have a similar program to calculate scholarships.  If your family is not likely to qualify for much need-based aid, pay close attention to total costs and scholarship opportunities. Engaging in honest and open conversations about college costs, financial aid, and loans earlier in the search process helps to set the foundation for the college choice conversation in advance of the Candidates Reply Date of May 1st.

    #4 Expect Ups and Downs

    Understandably the college planning and application process can be full of emotions. It’s full of demanding tasks (i.e. standardized testing, interviewing and applications) that are likely not all going to go perfectly for students. The reality of the landscape of highly competitive college admission, where the media focuses most of their attention, is that even students who do it all right are not guaranteed admission. This does not mean that students somehow “missed the bar” or “fell short” if they are not offered admission to their first-choice college; it means that there are only so many seats in the classrooms and beds in the residence halls to accommodate an ever growing, high-achieving and compelling applicant pool.  Helping students work through disappointment is an important life skill to strengthen.  Parents play a crucial role in modeling resilience through the college planning process.  

    #5 Focus on Making a Strong Match

    Strong college matches lead to happy, engaged college students who graduate on time!  Through the college search, you can research academic programs, extracurricular and community activities, availability and success of career guidance, and maybe even rankings, but no glossy brochures, lists or data will be able to help you discern what college will fit each student best.  A student’s college choice will be their home for 4+ years, and their success will be directly correlated to their happiness with their environment. There are clearly things you can research in advance of campus visits – such as academic programs, size and location, etc. – however, sometimes the campus just doesn’t “feel right” to a student, and that’s okay. When it comes time to making the enrollment deposit by May 1st, refer to tip #2 and allow your student’s voice to be heard.