One of the mistakes we see students make in the college admissions process is failing to find out enough about the academic life of a school -- what actually goes on in the classrooms. In a recent Chronicle of Higher Education piece, What We Don't Talk About on the Admissions Tour, James M. Lang, associate professor of English, director of the college honors program at Assumption College and parent to a member of the class of 2017, states the case for finding out as much about the teaching and learning as the food service on a college campus.
Like any parent of a prospective student at a residential college, we are preparing for our child to live on her own for the first time. What shape will that new life take? I want to be able to envision my daughter in her new room, and gain a sense of what her peers will be like, and know that she will have access to food and facilities that will allow her to lead a healthy lifestyle.
We recently asked high school counselor Kelly Dunham what five things juniors should take care of before the school year ends and we thought we'd bring you her great advice here again. BTW, she added a kicker sixth item that is essential for a smooth college admissions process in your senior year!
What are the five most important things for juniors to do before the end of the school year?
Conference with their high school counselor or college counselor
ACT/SAT test prep and take ACT/SAT (hopefully twice)
Ask for teacher letters of recommendation
Have an honest conversation with parents about finances
Online college searches, local college fairs, visit college campuses
And one more:
Be aware of college admission requirements: required high school coursework, GPA, test scores, letters of rec, essays, etc.
For more information about applying to college, see College Admission: From Application to Acceptance, Step by Step, including the recommendations in "Timeline: The Path to College."
When visiting a college, admission officers are the best resources for answers to specific questions about the application process, a college’s mission and future plans, and most aspects of daily life on campus— academics, housing, special programs such as study- abroad opportunities, and athletics. But sometimes you get the most information with broader questions about the who, what, and why of the campus. Here are some questions that you may want to ask during an information session or group interview:
• What impresses you the most in a student’s application?
• What are you looking for when you read students’ essays?
• What are some of the things you hate to see in an application?
• Is demonstrated interest a factor in your admission decision?
• What kind of student does well here? What kind of student doesn’t do well here?
• Did you attend this college? What has changed since you’ve been here?
• What are recent alumni doing?
• What do you think your school is best known for?
• How would you describe the typical student here?
While extremely important, visits are not a possibility for every applicant. If scheduling or cost may prevent you from visiting or if you must be selective about which schools to visit, consider the following strategies:
- Visit online. Many schools offer online tours -- via the web or an app. Check the websites of the colleges on your list to see what they offer. And also check out Collegiate Choice (their videos are unauthorized but give you a good look at campus life); eCampus Tours (360-degree tours of over 1200 campuses); and Campus Tours (their database has thousands of virtual tours, interactive maps, and video). All these resources are at no cost.
- If you have to pick and choose which campuses to visit, see the solid schools on your list where you are most likely to be admitted.
- If you can visit only once, visit after you've enrolled.
Schools understand not all students may be able to visit and it should not have a negative impact on your application. However, if you live within a reasonable driving distance, the college may expect you to visit. Keep that in mind as you make your plans.
Thank you to Mary Dell Harrington and Lisa Endlich Heffernan of Grown and Flown for the shout-out for College Admission. Mary Dell is about to set out with her daughter on that rite of passage – the college road trip – and she’s sharing with readers the lessons she learned when she walked campuses in eight states five years ago with her son. Our favorite message: It is an adventure. We believe that approached in the right way the college road trip can be a peak parenting experience -- it was for us. Check out the rest of Mary Dell’s lessons learned here. And read more about college visits including how to prepare for hitting the road and questions for admission officers, tour guides and financial aid offices in Chapter 9, “College Visits,” in College Admission: From Application to Acceptance, Step by Step.
If you are making a return visit to a college or visiting for the first time after being admitted, make sure you get off the beaten path -- that is, do some exploring past the official information session and tour. Hang out at the student union, visit the study spaces in the library, or browse in the bookstore, grab lunch at a campus cafeteria, arrange to sit in on a class or meet with a professor. And ask questions of everyone. You may be surprised at how willing students are to speak candidly with you. Here are some questions to ask:
Why did you decide to go to school here?
What's a typical student like?
Are professors accessible? How do you spend time with faculty outside the classroom?
What do students do on the weekends here?
Who fits in here and who doesn’t?
How hard is it to get the classes you need?
What was your biggest surprise about going to school here?
What was your freshman year like? How difficult was the transition?
And, once you're in, the question you're asking yourself is no longer prefaced by "If I get in..." Instead, it's "I can go here if I want. Is this the right place for me?"
Seniors, start thinking about return visits to the colleges on your list. You will most likely be accepted at several of those schools. Once you have an acceptance in hand, the view from the middle of campus may look and feel different. You can change a lot in the months between a first visit and an acceptance letter. So if you can afford the cost and time away from your studies, we recommend a second visit before you commit. And if you have been unable to visit the schools on your list before applying, you should make every effort to visit once you have been admitted. Let the admission office know if a school is high on your list, but you have been unable to make a trip. Some colleges are able to subsidize transportation costs for a small number of admitted student visits.
For more information about college visits and return visits, see Chapter 9, “College Visits” and Chapter 17, "Notification and Making the Decision" in College Admission: From Application to Acceptance, Step by Step.
Juniors, we recommend you do at least one interview, if possible, in the spring of junior year in high school. As you visit colleges over spring break, go through the process of interviewing or if there is a college near where you live, schedule an interview there if offered.
You should not interview at your first- choice college at this time. Save the most important interviews— those at schools high on your list— for over the summer or early in senior year. But you can get a sense of what an interview is like only by doing one and it’s better to feel more comfortable with the process before senior year. Check the website of every school on your list to see when the admission office begins interviewing prospective students. Each college has its own policy. Some colleges do not interview students before the senior year while others will interview juniors beginning in spring of junior year.
For more information about interviews, including admission office etiquette and questions to ask, see Chapter 11, “College Interviews” in College Admission: From Application to Acceptance, Step by Step.
Juniors, now is the time when you and your family should sit down and plan when and where college trips are going to occur. This is another element of approaching the application process wisely by being organized enough so that you and your parents are not constantly nagged by doubts and concerns.
With some dates in mind for visits, then check the website of each of the colleges you plan to visit to obtain dates and times for tours, information sessions, interview availability, and other opportunities. Make a reservation if required. Do this as far in advance as possible so you can get a spot on a date that works for your family. Some schools may not require you to reserve a space for info sessions or tours but ask you to let them know in advance that you’re attending. Do this.
If the college requires or strongly suggests an applicant interview, arrange an appointment for when you are on campus. There are usually a limited number of time slots for interviews, available on a first- come, first- served basis. We’ll have more advice about interviewing next week.