Decisions, Decisions!

by College Advisor NY on April 12, 2017

By Deb Coco

It’s finally that time of year.  Our students have visited, visited again, applied and of course, WAITED.  May 1 is just a few weeks away.

If you are like most students, you’ve received offers from several schools and now it’s time to buckle down and weigh your options.  It’s more difficult than it seems, because all schools are not created equal.  And most likely your offers are not either.  Some schools may have given you some financial aid and others possibly merit scholarships.  Often the “dream” school didn’t offer money, but the safety did; do you choose the school with “cache” or do you take the money and run?  So many factors go into deciding which college or university to attend and you’re wise to mull it over.  Here’s some tried and true advice about how to weigh this decision, which is possibly the biggest of your life thus far!

For most students in 2017, money matters.  Even if you were not a financial aid candidate, it’s hard to turn down a large (or even small) merit scholarship.  Keep these facts in mind:  merit money is yours, it’s an award based on your academic achievement and you should be proud of it.  You will also not be required to pay it back – which is extremely enticing in today’s world of trillions in student loan debt.  However, financial aid is the name of the game for a huge pool of students and some of it WILL have to be repaid.  Whether your package involves loans, grants, work study, or a blend of the three, once you graduate they become your first mortgage.  So, the bigger the loan the more weight on you to be quickly and gainfully employed upon graduation.  Consider this when making your choice; what does school “X” offer students in terms of job placement?  Every college and university has a department of career counseling and some are better than others.  Check into it and see what alums have to say about this important factor.  Career counseling offices “should” post their statistics on job placement and be there to answer your questions; if they are not, buyer beware.

There is also much talk about “fit” and with good reason; there are thousands of colleges and no two are alike.  After acceptances go out, so do “Admitted Student Day” invitations.  Don’t turn these down or think you already know everything there is to know about a school; if possible, take the time to attend these special days.  Schools roll out the red carpet for their accepted students and you’ll have the opportunity to be much more intimate with faculty and students than on your initial campus tours.  One of my daughters was extremely perplexed about her final decision and the accepted student day at her university “knocked it out of the park” and cinched it for her.  They are valuable opportunities to make a final evaluation and should definitely play a role if you’re on the fence!

And last but never, ever least; I’ve always believed there is a case to be made for trusting your gut.  I tell students that their feedback on schools is based on that “gut” reaction they have when they step onto a campus.  Do these students look like people I’ll feel comfortable living with for four years?  Is the physical campus one that excites me?  I love schools with an “old” feel; I’ve had students feel exactly the opposite and want a modern, “techy” like vibe.  These factors, and others, matter; pay attention to them.  Other issues may need to matter more, but if all else is equal, there is a case to be made for choosing what feels “right.”

It’s more likely than not that you will ultimately end up where you’re meant to be.  However, it took a long time to visit, study, take those SATs, write your essay AND apply; don’t jump the gun on the biggest part of all.  Most importantly, congratulations!  You’ve completed the most difficult part – now enjoy your success.

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By Deb Coco

Parents – do you remember your junior year of high school?  My recollections revolve around a pack of girlfriends, Friday night football games, dances and the dreaded curfew.  I have to think hard to recall SAT prep (I’m not even sure I did any, and the ACT was virtually unknown in Boston).  AP courses were in their infancy and college essays were penned and mailed, not agonized over.  I’m sure this reads like an episode of the Walton’s for students, but I’m not that old.  However, every year as I watch my students journey through junior year, I’m struck by just how much has changed in a relatively short period of time.

Most parents would agree with me when I write that I’m glad I’m not a kid in 2017.  The technology is great; who would have dreamed of iPhones in the 80s?  As college admission becomes more and more competitive, the weight on our high school students gets heavier.  Test prep is now all but mandatory, AP courses are also critical if your student has designs on a selective school, and being VERY involved with numerous extracurricular activities is a must if you want to stay in line with the competition.  Add to this the fact that you “should” be out visiting colleges every chance you get. Tired yet?

At this time of year I begin to see my juniors glaze over because fatigue is setting in.  I see it as I reach out for feedback on February break visits; the bloom of being so close to college is “off the rose.” Often trying to get that feedback is like pulling teeth because kids are overwhelmed with the expectations of this year.

Just how important is junior year?  Of the four years of high school, it is unequivocally the most weighted in college admissions. It is the year that will be scrutinized because colleges expect students to stretch themselves and rise to the occasion.  It reminds me of a phrase psychologist Karen Horney coined many years ago:  “The tyranny of the shoulds.” The list of what should be done this year is long: students should challenge themselves academically by taking tough courses; they should excel on standardized tests; they should be busy outside the classroom, they should be visiting colleges . . . and the list goes on.  This is where I’d like to make the case for contacting an experienced, college advisor at the end of a student’s sophomore year.  In doing so you will be “up and running” with a structured program as junior year rolls around and you understand what is expected of you and when.  Not to mention, we help roadmap the process for parents and students alike and there is comfort in knowing what is headed your way and that you have a plan in place.  Students will have their school lists in hand when vacations roll around, they will know which tests they should take and when, and they’ll already be brainstorming their college essay before they depart school as a “rising senior.”  Add to this that their parents will already know what schools they can afford and how, and you are already leaps and bounds ahead of your competition.

So, this is how to survive junior year; start planning with a college consultant early.  Gone are the “good old days” when it was safe to apply to just a few schools, leave your application until the last-minute and hope for the best.  That is a recipe for disaster.  Working with an advisor gives you a sounding board for stress and streamlines a very difficult process.  But, parents hear me now:  Please don’t think that the intensity of junior year is too much for your child or give in and think they shouldn’t have to deal with all these factors.  These kids are just a year away from independence . . . from having expectations placed on them by professors who won’t send reminders, and administrators who will expect them to behave as adults.  This IS the path to adulthood and it’s important to stand back, and let them find their way.  At times it is hard to watch them struggle, but it builds the necessary foundation for a successful college career and lifelong skills.  Being prepared is the very best survival strategy not just for junior year, but for collegiate success.

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