It’s time to start that college list! Especially if you are interested in the more highly selective schools, you need to use winter and spring of your junior year to get started, because your early action and early decision applications will be due in October or November.
Luckily, the Common Application has changed their policies so you can begin filling in your app now, and the data will carry over for the new school year. Visit Common App.com to get started. They even have an app!
Wondering how to find colleges? The first thing to do is to make some decisions about what you want: big or small, urban, suburban or rural, close to home or far away, liberal arts or something more research or pre-professional? Grabs some friends and take a weekend tour of a college near you just to get a feel for what to expect. What do they focus on? What kind of student do they want? All of this will give you some ways to narrow down your list.
Then go to a college search engine. My favorite is Big Future. Put out by the College Board, Big Future lists all the schools in the country and allows you to sort them all sorts of ways: size, location, major, ACT/SAT score, whether or not they have a marching band, etc. If you have a Raise.Me account, you can use that to search for some schools. Links to other great search engines can be found on the resources page of this website or in the “Launchpad” column of your Custom College Plan, under the Resources tab above, or by Googling "college search." Using these college search engines, you can build a preliminary list and start making some decisions about where you’d like to go. One good way to find colleges that fit you is to find strong programs in the majors you are interested in. Another is to check out the Colleges That Change Lives, the Peterson Guide or Cool Colleges… The one place you should not look is one of the rankings magazines.
But what if you’re undecided? Some scientifically developed assessments--personality type, multiple intelligences and learning style inventory--are available to you through Custom College Plan. These quick quizzes can give you some clues about what majors and careers might interest you and suite your personality. They will not tell you definitively who you should be when you grow up, but rather they’re meant to give you some ideas to learn more about. If you don’t already have a Custom College Plan account, you will receive a one-month free trial as part of the assessment package. Or you can Google "personality quiz", "multiple intelligences," or "learning style quiz" for additional information.
So how many schools should you have on your college list? Somewhere between 4 and 10. According to the College Board, applying to four schools gives you an 86% chance of being accepted to at least one (unless you’re only applying to hyper-competitive Ivies, in which case you have a less than 10% chance of being admitted no matter how many you apply to). Eight schools, in a mix of good fit and reach schools, is about average.
If you want personalized help building your college list, drop me an email through the Contact Me page. Building the college list is one of the most exciting parts of the admissions process and I’d love to help!
These are dark days. Not only because we just passed the shortest day of the year, but also for our seniors applying to college. Finals are approaching, or just finished. The holidays are over, but it inexplicably continues to snow. Many early and rolling admissions decisions have come in. The kids may have received the results they wanted, or may not have. If not, we could have some struggling seniors on our hands.
Rejection is a college application process fact of life and yet it’s hard not to take a denial of admission personally. After all, they’ve put their whole self into the application. They’ve talked about their passions, shown the schools what a great asset they will be in class discussions, what a great roommate they will be. And the school says, “Thanks, but no thanks.” Or the school says yes and the major, program or Honors College says no. That’s hard to hear as students, and as a parent it’s hard to hear that your child will not get something they’ve worked so long and hard to achieve.
There are lots of reasons one student may be offered admission over another. Given that all students who apply are capable of doing the work, the decision has to come down to other factors. We have no control over how our students fit into the institutional goals of the colleges to which they are applying. So we wait on pins and needles, while they wait on beds of nails, to find out if that school “likes me likes me” or just wants to be friends.
Seniors need to know it’s not personal, and that they are not the only ones feeling this way. Every 12th grader in the country is in agony right now. It’s normal. Tell your student how you felt when you were applying to college. Admit that you spent your entire senior year feeling like you wanted to go out into the backyard and scream, how scared you were that you’d never find a place, how your mother had to lock you in your room until you wrote your application essay. (That can’t have been just me, right? Right?)
They should know they’ll stress plenty in college, so there’s no need to get a head start ~Sam, Winona State, Class of 2018
Tell them that application decisions are mysterious things, because it ultimately comes down to “fit,” and no one can define what “fit” is. This is especially true at those highly-selective colleges, where there’s often no way to know, even in hindsight, why a decision came down the way it did. Remind them that if they are accepted to more than one college--and most will be—they will be in the same position the admissions committees are in now. They’ll have to decide which invitation they’ll accept and it will probably be a number of factors that help them make the decision, not the least of which was “It just felt right.”
So while you may feel it’s unfair that your student didn’t get their first choice school, trust the process. Surveys have shown repeatedly that most college freshman are happy where they end up, even at their third, fourth or fifth choice school. Show your child that you’re disappointed with them and for them, but not in them, because it’s not the end of the world. As Frank Bruni puts it in his column "How to Survive the College Admissions Madness," “Rejection is fleeting, … and survivable.”
That’s our job as parents now: teach them how to survive. Teach them how to take the punch, get up and pivot. How to make a backup plan even though you hope you won’t need it. How to believe in yourself because this, too, shall pass. This is where their intelligence turns into wisdom.
Five years from now, on graduation day, the child sobbing on your shoulder will be unrecognizable: an adult who has faced darkness and prevailed, who has blossomed in ways neither of you can predict. And that is true no matter which college they choose.
Lessa Scherrer is an college admissions consultant who has worked with college-bound students for many years. She is a member of NACAC and WACAC and also teaches ACT Prep, speed-reading, college study skills and college-level writing.
Follow Us on Social Media!