Today Is A Great Day To Get The Process Rolling

Lee Bierer

Lee Bierer of College Admissions Strategies

Today's blog post comes from Lee Bierer, independent counselor and principal of College Admissions Strategies in Charlotte, North Carolina. Additionally, Lee has been writing the weekly “Countdown to College” column for The Charlotte Observer, that is syndicated nationally by McClatchy Newspapers, for over four years. Lee specializes in three areas of college admissions counseling: college identification and selection, application strategy and scholarship search. You can learn more about her and her services at www.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com.

Now is the right time for high school juniors and their parents to be thinking about colleges and the admissions process. It's not too early, and, thankfully, not too late.

Many families find the most important first step is to discuss options and expectations.

You don't want your child poring over catalogs from colleges in the Northeast if you really want him within driving distance. With private schools costing $20,000 to $50,000 per year, you owe it to yourself and your child to have a frank discussion regarding finances. He needs to know how much has been saved and your expectations for his financial commitment toward college, typically student loans.

Parents and students should independently make a list of a dozen or so colleges that would be a good fit for the student.

Before you begin, have your son or daughter compile PSAT or SAT scores, high school grades, and rank in class or estimated grade point average. These stats will guide you, but understand that only half of students fall within SAT ranges listed in the guidebooks. While grades, rigor of curriculum and SATs are typically the most important criteria, factors such as extracurricular activities, college essays and letters of recommendation  make a difference.

Borrow or buy a current guidebook, and spend some time reading about a range of colleges and universities. Try to reduce your biases and think about what kind of college or university will best serve your child.

Basic areas to consider: size, location, academic offerings, retention rate (how many freshmen return for their sophomore year), cost and availability of financial aid. Depending on your student's interests, you may want to include sports teams and Greek life. (How important are fraternities and sororities to the college?) Some guidebooks offer a quality-of-life rating that provides a peek into campus culture and the surrounding community.

Listen to your student - Once you've done your homework, compare notes and listen to your student's wants and needs. Take a look at the schools that you have in common and discuss why each of you listed them. Encourage everyone to participate in brainstorming and try to minimize judgments. Then hone both of your lists into one with 15 to 25 colleges to explore in more detail. As you narrow the list, keep two things in mind:

  • Academic factors: Where will your student be challenged, but not shoved or overshadowed? Where is the learning environment that matches your student's personal learning style?
  • Social factors: Where will your student be comfortable? Where will he fit in?

Make sure your child "owns" his role in the admissions process. This first exercise often sets the tone for what can be a wonderful collaboration.

3 Tips for Picking a College

  • Don't focus too much on prestige or rankings.
  • Don't assume that schools that cost more are of higher quality.
  • Don't believe there is only one perfect college.
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