The college search process can be fun and exciting. It can teach you a lot about yourself and what’s important to you. But for many high-school students, the college search process feels scary and intimidating.
I love helping high-school students discover great college options. I love helping a student to discover a school they never knew existed that turns out to be a potentially great fit for them.
Here are 4 keys to making your college search process more productive, less stressful and more fun.
Use your college search process to expand college options and delay making college decisions.
The biggest college search process mistake I see students and families make is waiting too long to start their college search and then rushing to make college decisions. That’s a bad combination, but it happens all the time.
Delay decisions for as long as you can. Most students don’t need to finalize their college choice until late in the spring of their senior year. However, start exploring college options now. When you start your college search process as a freshman, sophomore or early junior year, you build your college knowledge base over time. Students often freeze up and have trouble gaining momentum on their college search process. They think, “I have no idea which college is right for me, and I don’t even know what I want to major in.”
Well, of course not! You haven’t done your homework yet. Take the pressure off. This isn’t about making decisions. It’s about expanding options. Focus less on finding the perfect college and more on finding colleges to which you want to apply. This makes it easier to get started on your college search process and build momentum.
Start your college search process online in just five minutes.
You can start your college search now from wherever you are. Visiting one college website for five minutes is a powerful way to build momentum. Clicking on that first college website takes a dose of courage. Remember, you’re not going to break anything or commit to anything or make a final decision.
Visiting one college website, any college website, is the best place to start because it’s easy and you can do it right now from wherever you are. Type in the name of a college — any college — and spend five minutes looking around. Five minutes is an eternity on the Internet. If you don’t know which college to choose, type in “B-e-m-i-d-j-i-S-t-a-t-e” and check out my alma mater. I’ll give five bucks to the first person who emails or texts me and tells me something about BSU.
By the way, this was the first step to finding college options pre-Covid, and it’s still the first step.
Make sure your college search process includes schools that weren’t already on your short list.
Another common misstep I see in the college search process is that students think they need to come up with a list of schools first and then go research them. This is backwards. It often leads to overlooking college options that could be a great fit for you, simply because you aren’t already familiar with them.
Here’s something I love to hear from the students we work with: “I had no idea that College XYZ even existed, but I’m so glad I found it, because it would be a great college fit for me.”
There are literally thousands of college options in the US alone, which I realize may be daunting. Don’t worry. I’m not asking you to look into ALL of them or even MOST of them. The point is, with so many options and since college is an investment of six figures and ffour years of your life, why wouldn’t you expand your college search process beyond what’s already familiar to you? Imagine the fun you can have imagining different possibilities while making your final college decision more complete and well-informed!
There are many ways to find great college options you’ve never heard of. Here are a few:
Talk to people you know, like older friends, cousins, your parents, aunts, uncles, or their friends. Ask them where they went to school and why, what they liked about it and what they studied. You might find a gold nugget or two that are worth exploring.
Use Google to search things like, “best colleges for nursing” or “colleges near mountains” or “best colleges for business majors”
Visit free college resource websites, like College Data and start poking around
Visit colleges early and often during your college search process.
The campus visit is the most powerful tool in your college search, even as the availability of onsite campus visits has decreased. This is where we need to push harder to not let Covid derail our plans.
One of the biggest hurdles families face right now is the relative lack of in-person campus visits. “I really need to see the campus to know if it’s right.” No, you don’t, at least not initially. You can get 83% of what you think you need from the myriad virtual visit options campuses now offer:
Virtual tours in real-time where you can ask questions.
Info sessions hosted by current students in your potential major.
Live chat features staffed by salaried admissions officers, not bots.
Phone calls and email exchanges with admissions reps, faculty and students.
Engage the help of a professional college planner.
I hope these four keys to your college search process help you get started and gain momentum, but you don’t have to go it alone. Every year, we help hundreds of high-school students and families navigate an easy, low-stress path to the college options that are best for them. To learn more, schedule a free consult online today.
Paying for college and who pays for what and when is among the most challenging topics between teens and parents. In your family, does everyone understand who pays for what and when for college costs? For most families, the answer is no.
Most families aren’t talking early enough or often enough about who pays for college. Not enough families are openly asking enough questions of each other when it comes to who’s paying for what college costs and when. In its most recent survey of college costs, the College Board reports that the average cost of attendance for in-state students at a four-year public institution for the 2020-2021 academic year averaged $26,820. This means that even an in-state, public college education is a six-figure decision. It warrants clear conversation about who’s paying for college costs or how college costs will be shared among parents and the student.
Do yourself a favor when it comes to determining who’s paying for college.
On or before your child’s 12th birthday, please have this conversation: “We think it’s important for you to go to college, or at least consider your college options. Here’s what we’re going to do to help…” If your student is older than 12, then have the conversation as soon as possible once you and your spouse or significant other come to agreement about who pays for college and your family’s college cost arrangement.
Families that fail to address the college cost question suffer from consequences of poor communication and poor planning. Even if it’s uncomfortable, speak openly and in quantifiable terms about all three components of this college planning question: who, what and when. Who pays for college? What college costs are covered by parents, and what college costs are covered by the student? When (and under what conditions) will college costs be covered? None of these variables is optional when it comes to paying for college.
Why it’s tough to talk about paying for college.
When you shop for a car, new or used, you can assume that the price you see on the window sticker or scribbled across the windshield is not the final price you will pay. Factoring in a trade, the actual price may be 5, 10 or even 20% lower than that of the sticker. We all have a ballpark price in mind when we visit an auto dealer, or we can access one in a blue book. Houses are largely the same, but without the possible trade-in value. The people who determine college costs, however, seem to go to great lengths to prevent you from feeling any sort of comfort level or command of what you’ll pay for college. College tuition may be $25,000/year, but you really have no idea what you will pay with everything thrown in. In fairness, great strides have been made by institutions of higher learning (with considerable arm twisting from the federal government) to get you a ballpark figure early on in the college planning process using tools such as net price calculators.
Outline who’s paying for college and which college costs are covered by whom in writing.
How do you talk about who will pay for what for college (and when) if you don’t know how much college will cost? Starting college research early helps you develop solid cost estimates to work with. College websites are now much more helpful in helping you to get a sense of what you’ll pay for college.
Once you’ve done your college research, write it down, and do the math. Make it clear to both parents and to the student who’s paying for which colleges costs and what the totals are per year. Create a college cost template based on what you as a parent can and are willing to contribute. This template spells out the college financing categories (or portions thereof) for which each party will be responsible. Here are four examples:
“Mom and I will pay for all tuition, fees and books at an in-state public university. Everything beyond that is yours.”
“We will contribute $30,000 per year for four years. If you go somewhere more expensive or take more than four years, you’re responsible for the balance. And no, we will not ‘refund the difference’ if you graduate in three and a half years or choose a very inexpensive option.”
“It’s 50-50 all the way.”
“We’ll pay for everything, but we want you to work at least ten hours per week so you learn how to manage your time, just like in the real world. You can keep what you earn, but you have to work.”
As one college planning example, my parents paid for tuition and fees plus a book allowance and required each of their three sons to pick up the tab for room and board, plus spending money. Each of us chose public universities, but the idea was that we would have the option to attend a more expensive private institution without incurring significantly greater debt. For the most part, room and board is the same at Harvard as it is at Des Moines Area Community College.
You’re essentially creating a college financing contract, and it’s perfectly acceptable to include performance clauses. Setting basic benchmarks such as “satisfactory progress in all courses” or “maintain a 3.0 cumulative GPA” works well. Whether or not you put this onto paper is up to you, but the basic premise of “If I do this, I expect you to do that” helps eliminate surprises.
Bring to the college planning conversation your own experiences and arrangements with your parents, but keep in mind that working your way through college has become significantly more difficult as college costs have escalated. In fact, this approach can actually be counterproductive if a student devotes so much time and energy to earning money that she is left with little time to study. She ends up working extremely hard to pay for something that has less than optimum value.
Many families simply tell children not to worry about college costs, or not to worry about it while searching, but this can cause confusion. Instead, have the college cost conversation wrapped up prior to senior year. If the message is, “Don’t worry about it for now,” the impression you leave may be that money is no object or that a student really shouldn’t worry and therefore not plan and save for her college financing portion.
College planning questions to consider when it comes to paying for college.
How does an intended major impact this question, i.e. am I as a parent more willing to support a future anesthesiologist vs. an anthropologist? If a student delays admission by taking a “gap year”, how does that change things?
Who gets credit for merit scholarships?
How about study abroad programs? Who pays for that?
What stipulations are there for semesters beyond the traditional four years?
How does a possible journey into grad school factor into all of this?
Making the effort to have open, honest conversations about money and college financing is far better than the consequences of NOT having these conversations. Be bold. Be open. You’ll be glad that you were.
We’ve helped thousands of students and families over more than 10 years, and can lend insight to your college cost and college planning conversations. Email me anytime or schedule a free consult to get your college questions answered.
When it comes to researching colleges online, a word of caution. Much of what you find when you start typing words into Google is going to be junk, which isn’t exactly news to you. Instead of Googling “best colleges for future doctors” or “occupational therapy majors,” start with the best resources for information on colleges. These are the tools I use as a professional college planner for my first-step, basic research. Some are better than others for specific search functions, so plug in some criteria and test them out. Use the tools that you like best.
Whenever I turn to a website such as these, I always take the results with a grain of salt and use them only as a starting point. If you find that College X has biochemical engineering, go directly to their website and do more digging to confirm the initial results, and then make contact with someone at the school who can tell you more and answer some questions.
Get Better College Information By Going Beyond Online Research
After you’ve done your research online, including spending significant amounts of time on the college websites for the schools that interest you most, you need to make contact with the schools that interest you. Yes, this means picking up that 50-pound phone and calling someone you don’t know who is probably older than 30 and asking good questions. This is the first step in an ongoing dialogue between you, the prospective student and family, and the college.
Before you pick up the phone or fire off an email, consider these guidelines for effective college search dialogue.
Find the right person to ask. If you have questions about the college in general, ask admissions. If your questions are specifically about majors or programs, find a professor or administrative professional within the department, such as program coordinators. When applying to grad programs in the early 1990′s (read: largely pre-internet) I found myself communicating much more frequently and with greater success with administrative assistants than professors. They were easy to reach because they sit next to a phone, and they knew all the details about how to apply, deadlines, requirements, etc.
Don’t ask for answers that are readily available on the website. If what you’re looking for doesn’t jump out at you, ask another family member to search for it, or use the search box that is usually in the upper right-hand corner of each page. It’s a sign of laziness to ask, “How many students do you have at your college?” It also sends the message that you can’t find answers on your own. If you legitimately can’t find basic data, then by all means ask.
Keep your queries brief and professional. Whether you’re 17 or 47, a well-written email with a succinct introductory sentence and closing statement works best. A variation on the email template here always works well. Hello [salutation if available] My name is _____ and I’m a sophomore/junior at [high school] in [town and state]. I’m very interested in [name of college] and specifically in your [major or department]. I have three questions I’d like to ask:
How many of the students in your [academic program] enter the workforce immediately vs. going on to graduate school?
What sets [college]’s [major] apart?
What new classes or facilities could I expect to see if I enroll?
Thank you for your time and attention to these questions. Sincerely,
You may not get an immediate response, but you will get a response. If you don’t try someone else, or call to see if that person is traveling or on leave from the university.
4. Treat this as the first step in a larger conversation. My rule of thumb is to never ask more than three questions in a single email. Don’t deluge the person with so many questions that she can’t respond in a timely manner. When you receive a response, it’s likely to include a “please let me know if you have more questions”, and while you don’t want to take advantage of that person’s time, you should take her at her word. Thank her for her time and send a follow-up question if you have one.
Between diligent online and offline research, you’ll be well on your way to identifying some colleges that could be great fits for you. For help defining the University of You and exploring great college options based on your unique needs, goals and passions, email me about our College Search services or schedule a free consult here. This is my life and my passion to help students find their best college fit!
College move-in days are happening all across the country, despite school at all levels looking different due to COVID this year than it has in the past.
Yesterday, I repeated the same three pieces of First Day advice to our son as he begins his first semester at the University of Cincinnati. It’s the same three mandates I’ve shared with students for years as they begin their first days of college. In reflecting on this advice during our 8-hour drive home, I realized two critical things:
These three keys are as relevant now in the midst of a pandemic than they’ve ever been. In fact, they are more important now than ever before.
These three keys are just as important for high school students as for college students. These three keys can help high school students start strong this school year, even though school looks different due to COVID. However, the way you apply them looks different this year than in the past.
Three Keys to A Strong Start in College and High School This Year
The three keys to a strong start for you this year, whether you’re a college student or high-school student are these:
Start something on Day One of College or High School
The long version of this mandate goes something like this. On day one of school, you’ll get something called a syllabus from your teachers. This outlines what you’ll cover throughout the semester, key assignments, due dates and more. Most if not all of what’s on that syllabus isn’t due today. Ignore that. START IT TODAY. Start SOMETHING today. A HUGE part of becoming a Student is taking responsibility for moving your own stuff forward. That will be more important for you this year than ever before. For most students, there’s not a bell moving you from room to room this year. So take initiative. Start something. Read your syllabus on day one (this is one key that surprisingly few students actually do.) Then commit to the plan to do the work. This means transferring the contents of the syllabus into whatever planning tool or calendar you use. Plan the work. Work the plan. It starts today.
Then, start the first assignment. Read the chapter. Read the rubric. Give some intentional thought to what the assignment is all about. Take the first step day one.
Start something on day one of the school year this year. Do not let your head hit the pillow on day one until you can say that you took the first step in at least ONE thing that you will need to complete this semester.
Join something on day one of the school year
Engaged students are invested students. Colleges host events to boost engagement among students in the first few weeks of the school year. They’re called Involvement Fairs, Engagement Fairs or something similar. Colleges will do the same thing this year, but quite possibly these engagement events will be virtual or look different than they have in the past. No matter. The goal is the same. Get students engaged. For most college students, the easiest way to track down your school’s upcoming engagement fair is to check your student email. If you don’t see it there, Google “[name of college] + student organizations”. There will likely be the details of the event listed right there on the Campus Life page. Worst case, there will be information for contacts you can reach out to in order to get information.
If you have not already, spend some time researching your school’s student organizations and activities online. Pick 2-3 opportunities that light your fire. Then track down how to reach out to them and get involved.
Not ready to sign on the dotted line? Okay, join something more informal, whether it’s a pickup basketball game happening at the rec center, a game of frisbee on the quad, a conversation in the hallway of your dorm where you start by introducing yourself. Or simply JOIN your roommate for lunch or dinner in the dining hall. Extend yourself to others. If you have your eyes peeled, you will see folks all over campus walking around doe-eyed, waiting to be invited to do something, anything.
Will this feel strange? Yup. Unnatural? Totally. Do it anyway. Will it always result in success? Nope. You will face rejection, poor fits, changing your mind, full rosters, lack of response by folks you reach out to, and more. Doesn’t matter. Keep doing it. By the 21st or 25th time you do it, you will start to develop a habit of joining, engaging, reaching out, extending yourself. You are the new kid. This is what new kids have to do in strange situations to form community. More importantly, this is what ADULTS do to get involved. You are now a young adult. It is on you to get involved. Join something today.
For high school students whose activities have been severely impacted or cancelled by COVID, reaching out may be more important for you than ever before, and probably requires more initiative, guts and gumption on your part than ever before. The opportunities are still there if you look for them. Non-profit organizations need volunteers. Your nearby neighbors need help. Your church needs assistance. Your peer group needs community now more than ever, and so do you.
If you’re really in doubt about what’s available to join that is of interest to you, ask someone. Ask your guidance counselor. Ask a school administrator. Ask your parent. Ask your neighbor. Ask your coach. Google local organizations whose views you support, and ask them how you can help. Look up. Look out. Join something.
Say something on day one of the school year
The long version of this mandate sounds like this. College students, your professors hold office hours for a reason. They expect you to reach out to them when you need help. Go one step further. Reach out before you need help. Reach out day one of college.
Even though classes will be held largely online, many or most college professors are on campus and available for student appointments. On day one, schedule one with each of your professors. Worst case, this takes place via Zoom.
The purpose of the visit is to see and be seen. Having read your syllabus (see step 1), you now know what will be expected of you in this class. Let the professor know what you’re looking forward to about the class and how it fits into your overall goals. Ask them how they prefer to be contacted if and when you have questions. Ask them what steps they’ve seen students take who are committed to being successful in this class. Ask them how you can help support them as a student. Ask them what they love about the campus and the school. Chances are, you’ll learn a lot of valuable insights during this conversation. No doubt, you’ll make a positive first impression on your professor. Most importantly, you’ve established a connection that will be easier to continue when and if you need help during the semester than if you waited until you’re in need to reach out to them.
Say something also looks like this: Participate in class discussions starting day one. No one’s dreading online classes more than teachers. It’s hard enough to stare out into blank stares when the eyes are right there in the room. It’s even more daunting for teachers and professors to try to manage a one-way monologue via Zoom when no one participates. Be the student who makes the job of facilitating a discussion EASIER for your professor. Come prepared to class. Engage. Ask questions. Respond. Raise your hand. Say something.
High-school students, this goes for you, too. If you cannot connect in person with your teachers, make sure you send EACH OF THEM an email on day one or at LEAST during the first week of class to introduce yourself, let them know you’re looking forward to the class, offer your help and build a relationship. You have no idea how grateful your teacher will be that you took the initiative to reach out to them.
Start something. Join something. Say something. These are the three keys to a strong start to this school year, and every year. Good luck!
On May 7, the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents approved a new “test optional” policy for 12 of the 13 UW System campuses. We did a FB Live video regarding this announcement on May 8. You can view it here. The University of Wisconsin-Madison, the state’s flagship university, will still require ACT or SAT scores as part of college applications. For all other UW System schools, the class of 2021 and 2022 will not be required to submit an ACT or SAT score as part of the freshman application. Here are answers to common questions you may have about this announcement.
Do I still have to take the ACT with all other juniors next March?
Yes. As of now, the state-mandated ACT exam will be administered to all Wisconsin public high school juniors on March 9th, 2021 and is required.
Should I still prepare to do my best on the ACT or SAT? What importance does it have?
Yes. Standardized test scores (ACT or SAT) remain one of the top three criteria for the majority of colleges in the United States. For the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the majority of colleges beyond the UW System, a strong score is an essential piece of your application. Most sophomores and juniors do not yet know the complete list of colleges to which they’ll apply. Ensure you’re fully prepared and have the greatest number of options available to you when it’s time to complete college applications by earning your strongest possible ACT or SAT scores. Proven ACT Test Prep programs can help, or you can prep on your own.
What does “test optional” really mean?
Test optional simply means that you have the option of submitting an ACT/SAT score. You CAN submit ACT or SAT scores. It is not required, and by not submitting a score, you won’t decrease your chances of admission.
What if I have a good ACT score? Will they just ignore it?
Not at all. You’ll still be rewarded for a strong ACT/SAT score if you submit it as part of your application. Test optional does not mean “test blind”.
Should I still submit my ACT or SAT score to a test optional school?
The answer is sometimes. It depends. For insight specific to your situation, schedule a free consult anytime. In general, for “test optional” schools, you should submit your score if it will improve your chances for admission and/or merit aid. Think of your college application as a portfolio that tells the story of you. If your GPA is on the low end of the school’s average GPA for admitted students, an ACT or SAT score that falls within the school’s “middle 50% range” for admitted students could help. You can find the “middle 50% ACT range” on a college’s website or use a site such as collegedata.com to find this. Your score should fall within this range, and ideally toward the higher end of that range. Other factors such as cumulative GPA and extracurriculars can impact the score you may need for your best chance of acceptance.
What about the impact of an ACT or SAT score on scholarships and merit aid?
Many colleges and universities reward strong academic performance with merit aid scholarships. Of the factors used to determine awards, the two most common are your cumulative GPA and ACT/SAT score. In many cases, a score beyond what you “need to get in” can dramatically increase your scholarship, and that extra effort and even expense to prep can make a big difference in which schools are affordable. Since merit aid policies vary greatly, you may wish to contact the admissions or financial aid office of any test optional schools on your list to know if ACT/SAT will or will not be used for awarding merit scholarships.
I still have questions about ACT scores, SAT scores and college admissions. How can I get answers?
We’re always here to help. Email Tom Kleese with questions, call Tom directly at 608-553-3445 or schedule a free consult. Freshman, sophomore or junior year is a great time to come in, get your key college questions answered and develop a plan for achieving your college goals.