Make your list and check it twice

by Deb Coco on June 16, 2015

As a college admissions counselor, one of the most exciting points in our process is the meeting with a student when they receive their school list. This meeting is a milestone. It means that this student has completed a series of sessions with us based on a number of assessments aimed at the best college “fit.” Fit is a magic word in the world of college admissions and is tossed around quite a bit, but it is paramount to our system.

A good college list is based on a number of factors unique to each student. First and foremost is academic rigor and performance. A student who has excelled in AP classes, knocked their standardized test out of the park and participated in a number of extracurricular activities is sure to have a list with school names all of you would recognize. But what about the” B” or even “C” student? What about a student who has done very well in school but doesn’t have AP classes on their transcript or hasn’t been able to break 1200 on their SATs (that is Math and Reading – writing is really not a factor on the SAT combined score). What will their list look like? Families must also factor in finances, the question of whether or not Division I, II or III come into play (pun intended), and other factors… there are many ingredients that go into this recipe, and it can get quite complicated.

And that is exactly what I tell my students after we wrap up our second one-to-one meeting aimed at finding fit and possible majors and careers. Many ingredients are added to the recipe, which makes each list unique. In addition, the process is dynamic, seemingly always shifting. After all, they are teenagers!   This is why college lists should be revised and refined as the student moves through her junior and into senior year. Students’ academic performance often improves (or wanes) as junior year moves along. Maybe they took the SAT or ACT for a second (or often third time) and the scores increased. This would enable them to either add more competitive schools or adjust the selectivity rating we have already assigned. And often students’ interest change – actually more often than not!

Our college lists are comprised of schools with three categories: Stretch, Probable and Safe. And they are just as they sound. A stretch school is a school we believe will be somewhat difficult for a student to gain admission to. A probable school is one we believe they will “probably” be accepted into and a safe school is, well, self explanatory. We all remember our safeties! And it is worth noting right here that we tell EVERY student that it is extremely important they like (if not LOVE) their safe schools. Why? There are two reasons. First, these are the schools that will usually offer merit scholarships. Merit awards are scholarships based on a student’s academic performance. A school sees a student that is higher than their average applicant and offers a certain amount of money that will not need to be paid back. And as we often tell students, it’s great to be wanted! We see families more and more weighing their options based on finances and having a huge scholarship is hard to turn down.

In fact, financial fit is an area that has become much more critical. Most college admissions counselors do not have this expertise, so buyer beware. I’ve said in past blogs that we will not put a family in the position of having their child fall in love with a school that we know they cannot afford. We recommend that early in your college search process, you assess your affordability by calculating your EFC or Expected Family Contribution. This is the amount that the government and colleges assess (based on a complex formula) that you can afford to contribute towards your child’s education. And it is always MUCH more than you could ever imagine. So what do you do? This becomes one of the ingredients in the “list recipe.” Not all schools give merit money. Some schools are known for generous financial aid packages and others are stingier; your child’s list will have appropriate schools to your financial situation.

Other than social fit and finances, the most important ingredient is of course, academic fit. All colleges and universities are NOT created equal! If a student wants to become a mechanical engineer, they will not see a small liberal arts college on their list. And vice versa. A student who wants to major in Art History or English may savor the small, Socratic method of learning so they probably won’t see the University of Michigan on their list.

In our work, we give numerous assessments to assure families that the schools they visit are an accurate representation of their child’s academic strengths, aptitudes, learning style, personality, and interests, all combined with their finances.

So there is much that goes into a student’s list. At The College Advisor of New York we enjoy all phases of the college search process but the ultimate reward is watching a student find a school from a list we worked hard to create.

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