Welcome to the College Ahead blog!

I'm Julia, a certified college counselor specializing in college planning, preparation, search and admissions. Welcome to my blog. For more than 12 years, I wrote a newspaper column titled College Corner. This blog continues that tradition. I’ve been an independent college counselor for more than 20 years. That means I’ve worked with dozens of students and I’ve seen the successful resolution of dozens of different challenges. Read more about my background here.

 

First and foremost, this blog is about you! If you want to see a topic addressed here, or if you have a question about college selection or application, feel free to email me. I’ll do my best to answer it, or if necessary, find someone who can.

 

My professional motto is “Navigating the college search and admissions process with confidence and optimism.” I want you to approach this transition enthusiastically and I’m here to help you do that.

Externally Published Articles

  • Destination Maturation
    Julia Surtshin, The Journal of College Admission, Summer 2015
  • Where to Start Your Summer Search for Colleges and Financial Aid
    Brent Huntsburger, The Oregonian, June 2013
  • Reassuring Words About Financial Aid
    Higher Education Consultants Association Newsletter, January 2009.
  • College Consultant Tries to Allay Jitters
    (Interview) The Oregonian, November 2007.
  • Liberal Arts & Professional Education
    Under 25, Spring 2002.
  • How to Write That College Essay
    Under 25, Winter 1991.

Recent Posts

Turning the College Admissions Process on Its Head

If you’re like most parents, you want your student to navigate the college admission process with curiosity, confidence, and optimism. That’s a tall order in the best of times, and as we all know, these are not necessarily the best (or easiest) of times. So what’s a parent to do?

One thing you can do from the comfort of your own, physically distanced space, is read The College Labyrinth: A Mindful Admissions Approach, by Dr. Erin Avery, CEP. A deceivingly slim volume, this read packs a decidedly big punch.

Avery demonstrates her understanding of teenage angst and the unspoken, frequently unrelenting, pressure felt by college-bound teens. Avery’s goal is to define the college search process “in terms of what is best for the student by keeping students centered, rooted in perceptions of self- worth and self-identity in order to emerge from this process a more fully formed adult prepared to embrace the often circuitous pathway of life…” (p. 13). She wants students to view the college search and admission process as a “pilgrimage, a quasi-sacred journey… within which [they] can reflect and explore rather than merely engaging in a win/lose task…” (p. 43).

Turn the College Admission Process on Its Head

In other words, Avery is advocating turning the entire college admission process on it’s head! How’s that for a radical thought?! Rather than students focusing on what credentials they need in order to be admitted to the colleges of their choice, she’d prefer that students start with who they are and what they want, along with thoughts of where they might like to go in life, and only then research colleges to determine how effectively they will support those goals and dreams.

Want to join the revolution? Become and stay student-centered. Steer clear of the US News and World Report college rankings that will hit newsstands on September 9. Step away from the focus on “name brand” that’s perpetuated by the media. Where your teen attends college is not a referendum on either their worth as a student or on your success as a parent. So forget about the car decal cachet competition.

Encourage your teen to start with what they know. Suggest that they begin by identifying their strengths, challenges, preferences, and goals. Have them reflect on their learning styles, social preferences, and extracurricular interests, as well as their goals and expectations for college. Using these as the starting point will help them determine the types of environments in which they’ll thrive and will aid them in maintaining a sense of personal efficacy and control.

Why It’s So Hard

There are umpteen factors at play that make the college search process fraught with uncertainty. Perhaps one of the most salient is Avery’s concept of liminality – of being in between and without the security of structure. Adolescence is liminal, in that it’s a period between childhood and adult-hood with more chaos than structure or order. Avery says, “Applicants to college are journeyers through liminal territory, standing in the doorway of their current life stage and looking outward into the wider world and as such they constitute a nomadic tribe searching and eagerly awaiting their arrival on firm ground…” (p. 26). Our teen nomads are engaged in a journey or quest (think Don Quixote) in which they feel they have little control.

What Parents Can Do

Provide grounding ballast for your teen. Teens, by their very nature, lack the perspective that you, as an adult, have. You know your teen’s strengths and their challenges. Reiterate their strengths, especially when they seem to feel that they don’t measure up. Help them brainstorm for ways to cope with and overcome their challenges. Helping them stay balanced is perhaps the most significant thing you can do for your teen.

Empathize with your teen. If you’re frustrated by your teen’s procrastination, consider this: people always procrastinate for a reason. Why is your teen putting off prepping for the SAT/ACT? Why do they sidestep writing their college application essays? Think about the uncertainty of Avery’s liminality. Contemplate the feeling of futility your teen may be experiencing that no matter how much test prep they do, there’s no guarantee that they’ll get the score that will open doors or that no essay they write will be exceptionally noteworthy. Imagine the anxiety of believing that their future rests in the hands of college admission officers who don’t know them from Adam or Eve?

Be your teen’s cheerleader. We all need them now and then. The process of presenting their academic career for review likely has your teen feeling judged. When your teen’s confidence lags, bring out the pom poms – no, not literally, of course. Be the carrier of your teen’s confidence until they’re ready for it back again. And rest assured, they will be. Just wait until those college acceptance letters come rolling in.

The College Labyrinth contains considerable wisdom. The messages are deep, complex, and far beyond the scope of this post. You may find this seemingly accessible book a challenging read, as it is packed with numerous references to authors, developmental psychologists, philosophers, and theologians. The repeated references to religious symbols, figures and concepts can be off-putting for those with a secular mindset. However, approach this book with an open mind and you’ll discover quite a few precious nuggets that will help you and your teen navigate the college search and admission process with your sanity intact.

Hidden Treasure: The Best College Research Tool You’ve Never Heard Of

In a previous blog post I wrote that researching colleges is like peeling onions. There are many layers to examine. You start by using readily available resources and then, step-by-step, move to an increasingly more intimate understanding of a school’s core nature by visiting and talking with people. Unfortunately, options for visiting colleges are slim to nonexistent during this Summer of COVID 19, which leaves many students and their parents wondering how to get “up close and personal” with the colleges on their lists.

Since writing that post, I’ve discovered a wonderful new resource that can help you make an end run around this nasty virus. Enter the “virtual college tour”. Design your own virtual college road trip with the help of StriveScan, a company that provides scanning services for college fairs. StriveScan has helped fill a need by hosting a huge library of video recordings on its website, enabling to you “visit” multiple colleges from the comfort of your own home. At www.strivescan.com/virtual/recordings/ you can learn about a wide range of colleges from Augustana College in Illinois to York College of Pennsylvania. Colleges you may be more familiar with include include Whittier College, the University of Puget Sound, the University of Redlands, and Washington University in St. Louis.

Think of these approximately 45 minute recordings as private Info Sessions, minus the Q&A. Although not quite like being on campus in person, these recordings can give you both valuable information and a sense of college culture. They have the added advantage in that you can watch them at your leisure, rather than by traveling to two or three colleges in a single day, leaving you exhausted, dazed, and often confused about what you saw where.

StriveScan’s recordings go far beyond college-specific videos. For those of you just beginning your college search, the site has numerous videos with titles such as: Finding Your College Fit, Being Undecided at a Large Public Research University, How to Utilize your College Admissions Counselor, College Without the Sticker Shock, and the Best Questions to Ask Admission Counselors. To take full advantage of what StriveScan provides on this site, browse the recordings. This site is truly one of the best kept secrets in the college research toolbox.

Getting to know colleges and their individual cultures during the time of COVID 19 requires that you be creative, innovative, and persistent. These are qualities that colleges want to see in applicants. So, think carefully about what YOU want to know about colleges, get off the beaten path, demonstrate your ingenuity, and enjoy the treasure hunt.

How To Research Colleges While Campuses Are Closed

As a recent guest on The College Financial Lady’s Facebook Live series, Ask The Experts, I was called upon to address this topic. This is drawn from my remarks.

Obviously this is of huge concern because finding good college “matches” is key to college success and “match” is based on the coming together of student priorities and institutional offering.

The current stay at home orders, while inconvenient, and by this time probably unpleasant, offer a unique opportunity for you to engage in a very important first step to your college search: thoughtful and focused self-reflection. If you aren’t clear about what you want and need in your college experience, it is impossible to find a great match.

Establish your own list of desired characteristics for the college you attend. These will become the criteria for researching and evaluating colleges. The most effective lists are comprehensive and include:

Academic Factors: intellectual environment, degree requirements, major offerings, learning/teaching style, academic advising services, class size, quality markers.

Personal Factors: institutional size, type of location, residential life, student diversity, extracurricular interests, campus culture, Greek Life, and socio-political environment, among others.

Family Parameters: distance from home, travel logistics, access to public transportation, and affordability.

These are the things that are important to you and should be the factors to focus on while researching college options.

Researching colleges is like peeling onions. There are many layers. The deeper you go the closer you get to understanding the core of an institution.

COVID-19 can’t stop you from peeling the outside & middle of the onion.

Learn everything you can about colleges from a distance. Colleges want students who are resourceful and participate in their own learning. Now’s the time to breakout your research skills. Consult guidebooks, websites, and articles. Don’t limit yourself to institutional websites, Wikipedia, and the obvious suspects: Big Future, College Express and the like. Dig deeper.

Let your criteria direct your search. If you’re looking for engineering programs, visit the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology website and see where that takes you. Budding journalist? Visit the Associated Collegiate Press website to learn about college newspapers. If you’re a young woman, check out the Women’s College Coalition. Data geeks, College Navigator may be the answer to your dreams, but if you’re wanting to really understand which colleges offer quality student engagement, you’ll want to visit the National Survey of Student Engagement website.

By expanding your research beyond the obvious, you enhance your understanding by including a diversity of perspectives. Not only do you get a fuller understanding of the institution you’re researching, but you also demonstrate you’ve done your homework when you do connect with college admission officers on a personal level.

Connect in spite of COVID-19.

Colleges and universities are as concerned about this distancing as you are. They’re working hard to offer robust virtual offerings. Most college websites prominently feature virtual info sessions and campus tours either from their homepages or from their admission websites. That’s not all. Type the name of any college into the YouTube search box and you’ll see a plentitude of options from students sharing their activities and experiences, to professors discussing topics of current interest, admission officers offering suggestions about applying, and sports teams highlighting their exploits. Make thoughtful use of these and you’re on your way to great college matches.

Check out college newspapers and pay attention to how institutions are responding and communicating with students regarding the current COVID-19 situation. These are key to understanding institutional priorities.

Contact the admissions officer who handles your region/high school. This person is not only a valuable resource who can connect you to a wealth of information and campus personnel, but also typically has a significant impact on furthering your application for admission. To put your best foot forward, make sure you’ve done your homework and, have a significant reason for reaching out.

And now for an end run around COVID-19.

Current restrictions are keeping you from campus tours, visits with coaches and sports teams, and overnights in residence halls, but they won’t last forever. Until large gatherings are allowed and travel is easy, you’re going to need to be creative.

Think about your ideal campus visit. If you were ruler of the world, what would you see, what would you do, who would you meet? Use your brainstorming to direct your subsequent connections. Reach out to faculty members, coaches, financial aid officers, career development specialists – any college staff member who might further your understanding of the institution. If you can’t find these people online using campus directories, ask your admission officer to connect you. The same goes connecting with students from your hometown, athletes, orchestra members, club officers, Greek Life ambassadors, or students from any group that interests you. Lastly, request introductions to college alumni who are additional sources of information and perspective.

No two students’ college research will look the same. Your research should be directed by your priorities. COVID-19 may be turning your college search on its head, but it just might make for more thoughtful and effective “matches”.

The World is Insane: So What About College? Important Questions You’re Too Distracted To Ask

Recently I had the opportunity to participate in a webinar featuring several college admission professionals: Adam Ingersoll, founder of Compass Prep, a leader in the testing industry; Jonathan Burdick, Vice Provost for Enrollment at Cornell University, and college counselors from several selective private schools nationwide. They were all discussing, “Where Do We Go From Here?”

Many of you are wondering…

Will colleges and universities will be operating in Fall 2020? It is unclear as to whether schools will resume normal on-campus operations or continue to offer online/distance learning in the fall term. Faculty and administrators are working hard to develop contingency plans so that students can begin and continue their higher educations. Not only are they planning for online instruction, but many are working to roll out virtual orientations, academic advisement, and student services. It’s likely that no decisions will be made until after May 1 at the earliest. (My guess is that it’s apt to be later, perhaps quite a bit later.) It also may be likely that some schools will open their doors on schedule, others will schedule a delayed opening, and still others may begin the school year online and open their doors second term. At this point, I don’t expect uniformity.

Some colleges have been transparent about their planning for the fall, while others have been less so. Although there is nothing you can do to hurry these decisions along, you CAN think about your own needs, preferences, and priorities. Ask yourself some questions.

  • How has online learning worked for you this spring?
  • How comfortable are you with returning to a college hundreds or thousands of miles away?
  • Would you benefit from taking a term off from school? (More about this later.)
  • How has the pandemic impacted your finances and college affordability?

How will this pandemic affect juniors’ plans to apply to college? Juniors, continue on the path you set for yourself, albeit with some significant changes. Finding “right fit” colleges is still your task at hand.

Consider this COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity. If nothing else, it’s given you time. Without the tyranny of your normal schedule, you have time for self-reflection. Now is your chance to take a time out to reexamine your priorities, your goals and your values. As lame as it might sound, doing so will make your college search more satisfying and effective. Seriously consider keeping a journal – not only about how you spend your days, but also your thoughts, feelings, and dreams. This is the stuff of history. Believe it or not, you’ll be telling your grandkids about this someday.

Many significant changes are being implemented and others are on the horizon. Let’s count the ways:

1. Standardized Testing: This is perhaps the most immediate disruption being felt. Spring 2020 test dates for both the SAT and ACT have been cancelled and the College Board has just cancelled its June test date. It is highly likely that the ACT will cancel its June test as well. While it is not clear when this testing will again become widely available, (panelists suggested that it might not be until schools are reopened), what is clear is that when that happens, both the ACT and the College Board will be inundated with test- takers.

More and more schools are going test-optional and the list is growing daily. Some institutions have gone test-optional on a permanent basis, while others for trial periods, and still others, only for the incoming class of Fall 2021, current juniors.

Decisions about testing should be made strategically. The best person to help you with making this important decision is an experienced counselor who understands both the nuances of the college landscape and your own individual situation.

2. Summer 2020 Plans: Colleges want to know how you spend your time and now is no different. How you spend your time says a lot about who you are and what you value. This summer many of the traditional avenues for pursuing interests, developing skills, earning money, and exploring new pastimes may not be open to you. But all is not lost. Think creatively about what you’d like to accomplish this summer. It doesn’t have to be monumental. It just needs to reflect who you are and what you care about. For some suggestions about putting this into practice, contact me at www.collegeahead.us.

3. Extracurriculars: look different now. You have no track records to boast about, you won’t be able to captain your softball team as you planned, the spring fundraiser for your club isn’t happening, and your lead in the spring musical is kaput. Yes, you got cheated. It totally sucks, but you do have a choice of how your respond. You could throw up your hands and think about how you lost out or you can re-imagine your previous activities and commitments. How can you demonstrate leadership, creativity, perseverance, and teamwork in this vacuum? Take your club online. Develop a service to help others: sew masks, do chores or errands for people at risk, or offer to teach a senior to Zoom. Paint up a storm. Bake for your neighbors. There are a million ways to transform your extracurricular activities. All you need is a fresh perspective. If you can’t muster this on your own, talk with a friend.

4. Demonstrated Interest: is likely to still be of interest to schools that considered it in the past, but it’s apt to look different. There are, at least for the time being, no high school visitations, campus visits, or preview days. One of the webinar panelists astutely suggested thinking of demonstrated interest as “demonstrated understanding”. Use all the tools at your disposal to really understand the institutions you’re considering. Don’t just look at the numbers. Think about what the numbers say about the institution.

5. Early Action and Early Decision Deadlines: Some schools may make minor changes in their EA/ED deadlines to accommodate students’ need to take standardized tests in the fall of their senior year. However, expect most deadlines especially those at the most selective institutions, to remain fairly consistent. Colleges most likely won’t make decisions regarding deadlines until May 1 or later.

6. Admit Rates & Waiting Lists: Media hype would have you believing that admit rates at “good colleges” are downwards of 10%. While this is true at the Ivies and similar schools, this is by no means representative of higher education as a whole. Furthermore, the uncertainty generated by the COVID-19 outbreak means that the models that colleges use to predict yield may be less accurate for this year and the near future. Which leads me to think that there will be more wait list activity since so many people’s plans are in flux. Does this mean that you should hold out for a wait list admit? Heavens no.

Which leads to…

How will colleges handle Gap Year and Deferral requests? All this uncertainty may have more of you considering gap years and other deferrals. Most students thinking about deferrals as a possibility move through the search and application process as if they’d be enrolling right away. You should as well. Once you receive your acceptances and have made a decision about where you’d like to enroll, then contact the school to request the deferral.

Individual institutions will handle deferrals in ways that best meet their own needs and goals. At Boise State University, the process is a straightforward as submitting a couple of forms. Other schools ask students to submit letters outlining their reasons for wanting a deferral and such requests may or may not be granted.

Depending on how many deferral requests an institution has, it might limit the number it grants. Some schools, when granting deferrals, essentially guarantee you a spot in the following year’s class. Others may not. SO, make sure you understand the terms and conditions before your formally request a deferral.

These are complicated times. Things change constantly. If you have questions or concerns about looking at and applying to college, College Ahead is operating and happy to support you during this time. We are using phone, email, and videoconferencing to support our students and their parents during this time of uncertainty. Feel free to reach out to us.

Seeing Is Believing: “Visiting” Colleges in the Time of COVID19

Seeing is believing – we all know that. Whether you’re a senior trying to decide between your offers of acceptance or a sophomore or junior looking to add context to your college search, visiting colleges is often the Spring Break activity of choice. So what to do when colleges are closing campuses, cancelling visitation events and curtailing admission activities?

Although you might be tempted to throw up your hands (washed, of course), actually there is a lot you can do to further your understanding of what colleges would be the best fit for you. As the CDC continues to recommend social distancing, a number of my colleagues have come together to offer thoughtful suggestions.

Dana Rolander, an IEC in the Midwest, points out that virtual tours can help fill the void created by the current situation. Many colleges offer virtual tours on their websites. Youtube videos can provide additional and varied glimpses into life on campus, providing rich perspective. A recent search for one school yielded multiple “day in the life” videos, tours of residence halls, pros and cons, and a peek at Greek life. Campus Reel https://www.campusreel.org. offers virtual tours of more than 300 colleges.

But of course, there’s more to a campus visit that just touring buildings. Visits offer opportunities to gather additional data and ask important questions.

If you want to know more about colleges’ outcomes (what students do and how they fare after graduation), Denise Eliot, and IEC hailing from Southern California recommends that you look at institutions’ Linkedin pages. By clicking on the Alumni tab you can see where alums live, what kind of work they do and also conduct a variety of searches. Further, many students have Linkedin profiles and you might be able to message them with questions.

Although many colleges and universities are closing, that doesn’t mean that nobody’s working. Take this opportunity to email university administrators and staff with your questions. For example, contact the career planning office to inquire about job fairs, on-campus recruitment and other services. Most colleges have campus directories on their websites, so take advantage and reach out to the people you were hoping to connect with during your now-kaput campus visit. The only caveat here is make sure that you’ve done your research by carefully reading the office’s webpage before posing questions.

Admission representatives are likely working as well, although perhaps remotely. Reach out to them for suggestions about furthering your investigation sans a campus visit. Reps can often connect you with campus resources and student ambassadors with whom you can connect through Skype, FaceTime or Zoom. Be respectful of reps’ time by being clear about what you want or need from them. They are working under difficult circumstances as well, so don’t waste their time with vague pleas.

The obvious is often easily overlooked, as New Jersey IEC, Lisa Bleich, reminds us. College students are fabulous resources and they’re coming home! Connect with students from your high school who attend colleges on your list. Ask them anything and everything you can think of. They can give you perspective that isn’t available anywhere else!

Massachusetts IEC, Eric Endlich, suggests that although you may not be a Facebook regular, most colleges and universities have Facebook pages. Furthermore, they frequently have groups for admitted students. Connecting with others, can add to your understanding, especially about campus culture.

Juniors, while Spring Break visits may be out of the question, you’ll have other opportunities to visit colleges of your liking. In the interim, use this time to really work the process provided by College Ahead. Use a wide range of resources to investigate the colleges on your list – both those suggested here, as well as those provided with your CollegePlannerPro account.

Seniors, yes, making a decision about where to attend college, especially when you can’t “test drive” it, can be a daunting prospect. However, if you’ve worked with College Ahead you’ve engaged in a thoughtful process with built-in help.

  • Review your Shopping List. This is your foundation. Think about your current priorities and how they might be different from when you started your research.
  • Review your completed College Information & Assessment Sheets and take time to think about what kind of picture the information paints of each college.
  • Reread your “why this college” essays and consider how what they say resonates with you now.
  • If you have unanswered questions, conduct some final research. Consult the website list you received in your initial consultation packet for such useful resources as www.collegedata.com and https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/.
  • Make a list of pluses and minuses for each school where you’ve been admitted. (Remember, there are no perfect schools and everything is a trade off.)
  • Compare financial aid awards when affordability is a factor.

Most importantly, keep in mind that the single most significant factor in making an wise college choice is YOU! Your attitude and your willingness to engage have the biggest impact on the success of your college decision, your college career, and your life trajectory. Although where you attend college is likely to have a lasting impact on your life, even more critical is the extent to which you take advantage of the resources and opportunities offered by your college or university.

You do not need to make this decision in isolation. In addition to talking with your parents, remember, I’m here and available to help you sort through the options. Often this last step in process is the most difficult. Zoom meetings are a convenient and safe option in this challenging time. Feel free to reach out with your questions and concerns.

Be Well-
Julia

Welcome to the College Ahead blog!

Julia Surtshin

I'm Julia, a certified college counselor specializing in college planning, preparation, search and admissions. Welcome to my blog. For more than 12 years, I wrote a newspaper column titled College Corner. This blog continues that tradition. I’ve been an independent college counselor for more than 20 years. That means I’ve worked with dozens of students and I’ve seen the successful resolution of dozens of different challenges. Read more about my background here.

 

First and foremost, this blog is about you! If you want to see a topic addressed here, or if you have a question about college selection or application, feel free to email me. I’ll do my best to answer it, or if necessary, find someone who can.

 

My professional motto is “Navigating the college search and admissions process with confidence and optimism.” I want you to approach this transition enthusiastically and I’m here to help you do that.

Articles

Recent Posts

“Visit” Multiple Colleges in a Single Afternoon!!

No, I’m not talking about supersonic travel, but rather fall college fairs sponsored by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (www.nacacnet.org) where you can speak directly with admission professionals from dozens of colleges nationwide.       

Attending a college fair should be helpful, and leave you feeling energized, optimistic and confident about your future. However, with so many people and so much going on, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and exhausted before you accomplish much. Whether you’re a sophomore or junior just beginning your college search, or a senior who is putting the final touches on your college list, pre-fair preparation is key.

Before the Fair

1. Pre-register at www.gotomyncf.com. Print your barcoded ID and bring it to the event.
2. Decide what you want to accomplish by attending the fair.

Seniors

1. Use the fair to connect with colleges to which you’re planning to apply.
2. Determine a few things you don’t know about those schools and come to the fair prepared    with thoughtful questions.

Junior & Sophomores

Ask yourself some questions to help you identify 5-10 colleges that you’ll want to visit at the fair.

1. What do you want to get from your college experience.
2. What factors describe the best learning environment for you?
3. How much academic pressure helps you achieve you best?
4. What academic programs & extracurricular activities would you like to participate in at college?

Time at the fair is limited, so decide on a few questions that are pertinent to you.

At the Fair

1. Use the college locator handout to determine which college booths you’ll visit.
2. Determine which information sessions you’ll attend and what times they’re offered.
3. Take notes–waiting until you get home is a mistake.
4. Get the names and contact information of people you meet.
5. Consider how representatives interact with you. Are they friendly? What do they communicate about their colleges?

Parents

1. If at all possible, let your teens take the lead about how to spend your time.
2. Refrain from speaking for your teens.
3. If you have questions for college representatives, go ahead and ask them.
4. Consider splitting off from your teens for at least part of the time. This will allow you to attend a financial aid presentation and your high schoolers to explore on their own.

Questions to Ask College Fair Representatives as You Start Your College Search

Ask open-ended questions which require more than a yes or no response.

 Tell me about ____ College.
 I’m interested in ___. What can you tell me about this program at your school?
 What makes your college unique?
 What is your college best-known for?
 What do you like best about your college?
 If you could change anything at your college, what would it be? Why?

 

Many college fairs have counselors as well as financial aid and testing professionals whose sole reason for being there is to support you. If you have questions or are unsure about how to make the best use of your time, be sure to meet with them.

 

 

 

The Major Myth

The Myth

If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times, “I don’t know what I want to study in college and so how can I figure out where to go to college?

The belief that you need to know what you’re going to major in during college in order to thoughtfully select schools to apply to is perhaps one of the most prevalent and damaging myths surrounding the college application process. Although it’s true that some students need to decide on a major prior to applying to college, particularly those interested in specialized subjects such as architecture, engineering, or nursing, the vast majority of college applicants don’t need to have chosen a major in order to engage in a thoughtful college search.

So, What’s the Reality?

When college applicants are asked to identify their desired major or course of study, they list “Undeclared” or “Undecided” more commonly than anything else. And even when students do enter college with a major in mind, an estimated 75 percent change their major at least once before graduation. Finally, while students may agonize over their choice of major, many sources including The Washington Post, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and the Census Bureau report that the vast majority of college graduates work in jobs unrelated to their major.

What to Do?

So, if choice of major isn’t the best way to go or only way to select colleges to apply to, what academic factors should guide your choices? Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Are you a visual, aural or tactile learner? Is your favorite class lecture style, discussion based or hands on? Each of these have implications for the types of schools and classes that would best meet your needs.
  • Do you prefer to work independently or in groups of students?
  • How much does your relationship with your teachers impact your performance? Many students report that they do much better in classes where they like the teacher and the teacher knows them. If this is you, keep it in mind. If your introductory biology class has 600 students, it will be next to impossible to develop a relationship with the instructor.
  • How assertive are you? How comfortable are you with seeking support? Academic advising and support systems vary widely by institution. Know your own style and seek colleges that will foster your success.
  • How well do you manage time? Are you a “quick” study? How you answer these questions might suggest whether you’d be happier at colleges with quarter system calendars versus those with semester systems. Keep in mind that a few colleges offer alternative calendars such as a block calendar.
  • How do you prefer to demonstrate what you know? Objective tests and term papers are very different ways of demonstrating knowledge. Class size impacts how you will be evaluated.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but one to help you begin thinking about yourself and what kind of student you are. Understanding yourself, your strengths and your challenges are key to choosing colleges that will help you not only succeed, but also thrive.

Calling All Seniors: How You Can Boost Your Chances of Admission!

With just a few short weeks before college applications are due, using your time wisely to make the biggest impact on your applications is critical. By fall of your senior year, much of what goes into an application portfolio is largely “in the bag.” Your GPA is, for the most part, set, as is your record of extracurricular activities. Your teachers know you and you can’t, at this point, significantly influence what they might write in their letters of recommendation. But you do still have opportunities to boost the likelihood of being admitted to the colleges that interest you.

Everyone likes to be liked, right? Yep, it’s a no-brainer. But, what’s that go to do with applying to college?

Well, colleges want to be liked, just as you do. Yes, it makes them “feel” good (okay, I know colleges can’t actually feel), but this is not just about vanity. The more a student engages with a college, the more confident admissions officers can be about that student’s likelihood of enrolling. If you follow college rankings or are a statistics geek, you’ve heard the term “yield”. Yield is the percentage of students accepted by a college who in turn, “accept” the college by enrolling. Yield is one factor that goes into college rankings. Yield information is used to inform a wide range of decisions including how many students to admit, how many to wait list, how to use the wait list, and how to allocate and use resources. Consequently, yield is critical to college admissions officers. So, it should go as no surprise that students who “show the love” may increase their chance of acceptance.

It’s important to stress that, more than anything else, you must be genuine. This is NOT about “kissing up” to colleges, but rather, authentically engaging with them. Admissions officers are experts at sniffing out insincerity.

And this is not just about the colleges either. From your perspective, the more you sincerely engage a college, the more you’ll know about how closely it matches what you’re seeking in the college you attend.

Demonstrated Interest

My colleagues and I call this engagement “Demonstrated Interest”. Approximately 50% of the colleges responding to the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s Admission Trends Survey www.nacacnet.org/news–publications/publications/state-of-college-admission/ report that Demonstrated Interested is of Considerable or Moderate importance in making their decisions.

So, how do you demonstrate interest?

Ways to Demonstrate Interest

1. Request additional information after looking at the website.
2. Engage your admissions counselor in a meaningful “conversation”. Identify the admissions officer      who handles your geographic area or high school and ask him/her a couple of significant                    questions. Genuinely endeavor to learn more about the institution than is available through online      resources.

3. Open emails from the college and, if appropriate, forward to your parents.
4. Attend a regional information session.
6. Visit the booth at a college fair.
5. Visit the campus.
7. Request an interview.
8. Write a genuine “Why College X” statement.
9. Ask to be put in touch with a current student to get more of his/her perspective.
10. Supply all requested and recommended information and materials.
11. Write thank you note.
12. Apply early.

Some Words of Caution

DO NOT…

1. Keep up a constant dialogue with an admissions officer. He/she is extremely busy and you don’t        want to become thought of as a nuisance.
2. Ask questions whose answers are available online or in print.
3. Ignore directions, most typically by sending materials that are not requested or recommended.
4. Behave inappropriately. Be friendly and put your best foot forward. Applying to college is                    important business.

You’re in the home stretch. Keep positive, focused, and submit your applications before the last minute.

 

TIP: The PSAT is coming up. Doing a little prep beforehand will help you do as well as possible.

 

Gathering The Team: Students, Parents, School-Based Counselors & Independent College Consultants Working Together


As the new academic year gets underway, now is the time to refocus on how best to meet our goals and aspirations. College-bound high school students, their parents, school- based counselors, and independent college consultants all have at least one goal in common: to have students gain admission to several colleges that meet their academic, personal, and financial needs and preferences. Most of us would agree that having all parties on the same page and cooperating is likely to be the most successful approach.

So, how do we accomplish this?

Here are some thoughts about “Best Practices”.

Students With Both School Counselors and Independent College Counselors

If you’re a student who has both a school counselor and an independent guiding you through the college search and admission process, please…

* Understand that one does not replace the other. These two professionals have different perspectives, different pressures, and different roles. There is a great deal of variation as to how each will assist you. Be sure that you understand how each can support you, respect their different roles, and interact with each accordingly.

School Based Counselors

Are experts on school curriculum.
Understand you in context of your peers.
May/may not suggest colleges they believe will be good fits.
Write recommendations.
Likely will not have time to support individual applications.

Independent College Counselors

Will suggest colleges with probability of good fit.
May facilitate college research.
Won’t recommend you to colleges.
Guide applications.
Assist with final decision making.


* Be both tactful and respectful when letting your school counselor know that you’re working with an independent counselor.

* Assume responsibility for your own college search and pay close attention to the information, expectations, resources, and deadlines that each counselor has made available.

 

Parents

If you’ve hired an independent college consultant to help you and your teen navigate the college search process, please…

* Like your teen, understand and respect the different roles, perspectives, and responsibilities of each counselor and interact with each accordingly.

* When relaying information or suggestions from one counselor to the other, be mindful that counselors want to collaborate, not be adversarial.

* Support your teen in taking charge of his/her own college search.

 

School-based Counselors

Whether you’re in a large public or small private school, if you know (or think) that one of your students is (may be) using an independent college counselor, please:

* Clarify any uncertainty.

* Understand that independents recognize the pressures you face and know that you’re working hard to meet the needs of students.

* Know that reputable independent consultants respect your perspective and want to collaborate with you, not replace you.

* Recognize that what a student has relayed from an independent likely has been “filtered” either intentionally or unintentionally and may not be what the independent actually said.

* When in question about an independent, reach out and contact him/her. We welcome partnering with you and, as long as we have permission from our students and their parents, we’re happy to discuss them with you.

* Get to know the independent college counselors in your area, either by participating with them in local professional development activities, or by inviting them to meet with your department.

 

Independent College Consultants

Most of our students have school-based counselors and it is their best interests that we work constructively together. Please:

* Understand that school-based counselors frequently have a wide range of responsibilities and depending on their school size, hundreds of students in their caseload. College counseling may be only one small part of their job.

* Explain to your client families the different roles of school counselors and independents and emphasize that one does not replace the other.

* Ask your client families to sign information release consents and reach out to their school-based counselors in a respectful and meaningful way.

* If given permission to do so, contact school counselors. Ask how you can work with them most effectively and what, if anything, they would like from you.

* Support the policies and procedures that school counseling departments have in place to regarding curricula, recommendations, and transcript requests.

 

For further thoughts about counselors as team players, see https://www.nacacnet.org/news–publications/publications/journal-of-college-admission/how-iecs-fit-into-the-counseling-puzzle/

 

Here’s to a new school year! Cheers everyone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Home Education to Higher Education

From Home Education to Higher Education by Lori Dunlap
Book Review

 

Education continues to evolve and the number of students who are homeschooled continues to grow. Here are my thoughts on one “just off the press” resource that recently caught my attention.

 

From Home Education to Higher Education is a short, very accessible and substantially researched book. Dunlap has two goals: 1) to introduce and explain homeschooling to admissions personnel and counselors and 2) to provide homeschooling parents with guidance about how to demonstrate their children’s academic achievements.

 

Dunlap, a homeschooling mother and former Director of MBA Career Development at the University of Arizona, devotes most of her book to her first goal, and herein lies the strength of this slim volume. Dunlap has made considerable effort to debunking common myths about homeschoolers, documenting home schooled students’ preparation for college and their college successes. For educators and others wanting to understand the wide range of homeschooling experiences, examine the myths surrounding homeschooling, and become familiar with some of the research regarding homeschoolers’ academic outcomes, this book is a great place to begin.

 

Chapter Six addresses how post-secondary institutions view homeschoolers and how they’ve adapted their application review processes to accommodate homeschooled applicants. The book’s last chapter provides recommendations about what colleges and universities can do to increase their homeschooled populations.

 

Dunlap has done a marvelous job of shedding light on the world of homeschooling and how post-secondary institutions might adapt to this growing population. She devotes less attention to detailing and supporting the legitimate needs of colleges and universities to homeschooling families, and as such, does not accomplish her second goal quite as thoroughly as she has her first.

 

From Home Education to Higher Education opened my eyes. It taught me a lot about the world of homeschooling and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to better understand the homeschooling experience.

 

For more information about Lori Dunlap and her views on homeschooling visit https://teachyourown.org.

 

Recent C