Tag Archives: College Advice

College Parenting

The Truth About Helicopter Parenting

We’ve all heard the term “helicopter parent” and as college admissions consultants, we are all too familiar with the term and the type. The tell-tale signs start right from our first meeting; parents who won’t let their child get a word in edgewise and who dominate each conversation or workshop by attempting to “sell” their student’s accolades as if we were hosting a contest.

Most of our staff members are parents too and we understand the desire to “brag” about our children’s achievements, awards and academic successes. But the bigger question has become, “are overzealous parents doing our children a favor?” and more importantly “could we actually be acting in a manner detrimental to our children’s success?”

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal by Rob Lazebnik coined this phenomenon “Concierge Parenting.” Never in history have parents taken on a bigger role in controlling their children’s future. Parents answer emails for their students, write their college essays, schedule their visits, the list goes on and on. We tell clients at our Parent Workshops: “Your job is to make yourself irrelevant.” Sound harsh? It isn’t – it’s actually “truly” parenting to teach your children to fend for themselves. You will not be there, nor should you be, when they head off as

If you don’t allow them to spread their wings in high school, they certainly won’t know how to do it when they really are on their own. We see very few parents who allow their children to “OWN” their college search process and in the end, this affects not only the student’s overall self esteem, but makes it very difficult for teenagers to find their own identity.

A recent interview with Erin Chastain, the head women’s soccer coach at DePaul University, a Division I program, shed light on how helicopter parents are perceived from the perspective of a college coach. Parents – listen up. Ms. Chastain notes that students are being recruited at younger and younger ages which allows parents to excuse overstepping their parental boundaries. However, Coach Chastain said that during the recruitment process, it’s not just the athletic prowess of students that coaches are watching – it’s the parents’ behavior.

“We are absolutely evaluating the parents on their visit. Do they let their child self-advocate? Are they supportive and respectful?”

Coach Chastain goes so far as to say that they look to the parent’s character to see what they might be getting in a student. If most parents knew their behavior on the sidelines would affect their child’s destiny, would they change their ways? It’s something all parents should ask themselves and not just those with athletes because the old saying “the apple does not fall far from the tree” is often quite accurate.

So what is an over-anxious parent to do? Take a breath first of all. I was always taught that the best way for any of us to learn how to succeed was to fall down and figure out how to get back up. Many of us don’t allow our children that lesson anymore; WE pick them up. And then we make their beds, cook their food, pay for their iPhones and dominate their college search or athletic endeavors. Unfortunately, we aren’t doing them any favors; we are paralyzing them. There is a famous poem by Kahlil Gibran titled “On Children” that I’ve had on my refrigerator since the day my oldest daughter was born. Every parent should read it. . . “Your children are not your children . . . You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts. You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. . . you may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.” Sound advice that, when followed, will yield independent, young adults who are able to think and do for themselves. After all, do you really want your children coming back home after college? Probably not.

Make your list and check it twice

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.

Financing college: What you don’t know can hurt you

We see it on the faces of almost every single parent who walks through our door. It’s the look of disbelief at what just ONE year of their child’s college education will cost, much less all four. The sticker price is staggering, ranging from $90,000 to $250,000, depending on the school and a variety of other important factors. Parents feel a bit deflated and this is understandable; they are facing the second largest investment of their lives, not to mention that most people have more than one child . . . needless to say it can be overwhelming.

And that is where we come in. At The College Advisor of New York, we’ve helped thousands of families find a way to send their children to college without “losing the farm.” How? Knowledge is power and financing college is no different. The earlier in the college search process that you understand how much money you will be expected to contribute towards your child’s education, the better chance of finding a way to come up with the money.

College consultants toss the term “EFC” all the time, but what does this acronym stand for and the bigger question is, what does it mean? It stands for “Expected Family Contribution.” This is the number that schools calculate to determine how much THEY feel YOU can contribute towards your child’s education. And believe me, it’s always much more than you anticipate. The simple example goes something like this. If “X” school costs $55,000 per year and your “EFC” is $20,000 per year, then you are expected to be able to pay $20,000 of that $55,000, and College “X” will come up with some – NOT all – of the difference in financial aid. However, if your “EFC” is $70,000 in that same scenario, you would receive no aid. I am oversimplifying it here, but this is the easiest explanation.

So how do schools calculate this number? There are two ways: the Federal Methodology and the Institutional Methodology. One is the government’s formula for need based aid and the other is the calculation required by many private colleges. Various colleges require both and neither formula assures that you will receive any aid; they just calculate your EFC to determine your financial need. Confused? You’re not alone.

There are so many factors that go into determining this magic number, but not many professionals out there that can help you A.) calculate it and B.) know what to do once you have it. One of the first questions we ask of our new clients is “do you have a financial advisor?” Many of them do, but most financial advisors and accountants do NOT understand the nuances of the college financial world (and they would admit that themselves). Just as we tell families not to rely on their English teacher to advise them on their college application essay, here too is a word to the wise: Seek out a college admissions counselor who knows the financial aid process. And because my blog always contains one shameless plug, here it is . . . The College Advisor of New York is the only college consulting firm that incorporates the financial aid process into the college search process. Dr. Dean Skarlis is the “go to” professional for financial advisors. He answers their college planning questions that so often arise with their clients. He also runs seminars and trainings specifically aimed at educating financial professionals on how to plan so that families can keep more of their hard earned money. He is one of the few people out there with this expertise.

What exactly does this mean to our clients? It means our parents have the peace of mind that on May 1 of their child’s senior year, they will not be staring at a college education they can’t afford. It means that they won’t have just one; they will have several college options to choose from. We help our families weigh whether it is wise to spend more money at the brand name school or less (often MUCH less) at the less well known university where they received a large award. And the game is changing here too, because we are finding that even our families with the ability to truly afford those expensive schools, are choosing the school that gave them aid in one form or another.

And that brings me to one more point. All financial aid is not created equal. Many of our families will never see any “need” based aid. But they don’t have to despair. We help them to seek out schools where their student will stand out, and thus receive merit scholarships. The caveat here is that all schools do not offer merit aid; another reason not to rely on a financial planner but to instead turn to a college admissions consultant who knows the big picture. The stakes are very high, and the road can be confusing. As I’ve said in past blogs, our process seeks a fit in three areas; academic and social for the student and financial for the family. By working with us, you know right from the start what you can afford. More importantly we help you strategize about how to cut your costs, and come up with the money to pay for school. That is truly peace of mind and one that will never leave you telling your child “we just can’t afford that school.”

All colleges are not created equal. Why “fit” is more important than ever

Our goal for every family with whom we work is to help them find colleges that are a great fit socially, academically and financially. While many think they understand the concept of social fit, they may not, so I thought I would take a few minutes to define it in more depth for you.

There are many different aspects of what goes into the social/cultural environment on a college campus. Some schools are dominated by a Division I sports culture; others are highly intellectual. And while it’s widely known that the general political and cultural climate on college campuses is quite liberal, the full depth of what that means may not be clear to many.

My middle daughter is a sophomore at a large East Coast University. She is very happy there and has found it to be a good match for her on all levels. However, we often laugh at some of what she is forced to participate in as a college co-ed in today’s world. A shining example came through recently when she forwarded a survey to me that the Office of Residence Life asked everyone to complete. It focused on “sexual orientation.” One of the many questions posed to her included “How would you describe your sexual identity?” And there were NINE possible answers (I still can’t figure out what at least six of them mean and neither can she). Beyond the standard “Asexual and Bisexual” we have a menu including, but not limited to “Queer, Questioning, Pansexual (?), and Fluid”… Really?!

Academic fit is easy to understand and as college admissions consultants, we strive to help students find it, but social fit is more ambiguous, and I find it easier to describe to a student by ascertaining what they WON’T want on a campus after I get to know them via the assessments and our 1:1 meetings. There is the simple explanation in describing a student body as either “conservative” or “liberal.” Parents who seek a conservative school for their child will find it more challenging to find a variety of options, with the exception of several dozen Christian colleges, and perhaps a couple dozen additional more “traditional” colleges. A quick Google search or this article will provide surprising information about Yale’s “Sex Week.” Big name schools aren’t the only places you’ll find this fascination with sex. At Allegheny College in conservative Western Pennsylvania, there was more than worship going on in the chapel. And many of these ideas are working their way into the actual curriculum. At Skidmore College, students can take a class called “Queer Theory.”

Are these type of courses truly worthy of academic credit? One could successfully argue that they are anti-intellectual, yet these examples are not isolated. But regardless of one’s political, cultural or religious beliefs, many parents, and some students, are simply unaware that these subjects and programs are offered at most colleges and universities throughout the country. And this brings me to one critical question that, as college admissions professionals, we constantly ask ourselves: How can we prepare families to ascertain an accurate view of the cultural and political climate on their college visits? More importantly, how can we help students understand their developing world view, and the type of college that will help them both support and challenge it so that an appropriate level of learning occurs?

The best way to fully understand these issues is for students to gain self awareness by asking themselves who they are and what they believe. We spend a good deal of time discussing these issues with them. But we also recommend that students spend considerable time researching schools carefully online. Students and parents should view the list of majors and courses offered. You can read guidebooks like the Princeton Review’s “Best 379 Colleges,” and follow the school’s Twitter feed, or “like” their Facebook page. Most importantly, you MUST VISIT the colleges to which you plan to apply, and do more than take a tour. Talk with students; sit in on a class; grab the school newspaper and read it on the drive home. Get the “vibe” of the student body and the campus in real time. Is the campus too intellectual for your student? Is it too focused on Division I sports? What kinds of extracurricular activities are taking place?

You are about to invest a small fortune so you must understand what the social/cultural climate will be like. If you take this advice before you submit applications, you have a much better chance of finding a place where your student fits in and feels they can take an active role in their education.

Don’t Miss Dr. Dean Skarlis Speak on College Planning

The Society of Financial Service Professionals (SFSP) of ENY is hosting an evening with Dr. Dean Skarlis, of The College Advisor of New York, in which he will provide his insights on the college selection process. The event is open to all SFSP members and their clients and is a great opportunity for Chapter Members to provide extra benefits to those clients who may have children approaching college age.

Light refreshments will be served; hope to see you there!

Wednesday, January 14th
6:00 – 7:30 P.M.
Italian American Community Center
Dante Room
$20 for Members & Client Guests
$35 for Non-Members

Dr. Dean Skarlis, President of The College Advisor of New York

Dr. Skarlis will outline the steps you and your clients need to find the best fit college. Some of the topics he will cover are:

  • The top 5 factors colleges look for in applicants
  • The financial aid process
  • Proven strategies to reduce college costs
  • Rankings/schmankings: understanding why “fit” is critical
  • SAT/ACT strategy and the NEW SAT
  • How to make the most of college visits
  • The importance of the essay

For more information on Dr. Dean Skarlis, please visit the College Advisor of New York website.

For further questions regarding this event, contact Melissa Shriver at ENYChapExec@gmail.com.

More about Dr. Dean Skarlis

Dr. Skarlis is the President and founder of The College Advisor of New York. Dean has more than 23 years of experience in higher education, including 6 years as a Consultant at American College Testing (ACT) and 9 years as an administrator at Duquesne University and the University of Pittsburgh. A passionate student advocate, Dean has taught at the graduate and undergraduate levels, and has served as a Senior Lecturer at Tiffin University. He holds a B.A. in Psychology from Allegheny College, an M.A. in Psychology from Duquesne University, and a Doctorate in Educational Policy and Administration from the University of Pittsburgh. Dean also earned a certificate from the Harvard University Institute on College Admissions. His research has focused on quality teaching and learning, retention, and program design at four-year colleges. He is a member of the National Association of College Admissions Counseling and the Independent Educational Consultants Association.
Dr. Skarlis has conducted presentations about college admissions for thousands of students, parents, faculty, and administrators at more than 220 colleges, universities, and high schools across the United States. He has also been a featured speaker and trainer for hundreds of families, financial planners and Certified Public Accountants on the intricacies of college financial aid and scholarships. Nationally, he has appeared on ABC World News and has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal twice, and most recently. Locally, he has been a featured guest and member of the “Answers Team” on CBS 6 WRGB TV, WTEN TV, Fox 23 News, and the YNN – Channel 9 “Family Living” segment which is broadcast across upstate New York. He has been quoted in several local and national publications including an article in The Washington Post entitled, “The Dirty Little Secrets of College Admissions,” The New York Post, The Times Union, The Associated Press, TheStreet.Com, and Capital Region Living Magazine, as well as The Portable Guidance Counselor, a book about the college admissions process published by The Princeton Review in 2010. Dean also serves on the Board of Directors of the Albany-Colonie Regional Chamber of Commerce and the East Greenbush-Castleton Youth Baseball League. In his spare time he coaches Little League Baseball and Pop Warner Football in the community of East Greenbush, NY.

The College Advisor of New York
18 Corporate Woods Boulevard
Albany, NY 12211
(518) 512-3021

The College Search Process “Know Thyself”

As a college admissions counselor, one of the most gratifying parts of my job is watching the personal growth in a student from the time of our first meeting until the day we sit down at the end of senior year and actually help them make their college choice.  Our families normally come to us at some point toward the end of the sophomore year or during the junior year, and many students are convinced they not only know what they will major in but already have a fairly good idea which colleges they want to apply to.  As counselors, we realize just how much this will change over the next 18 months or so, and watching it unfold never fails to intrigue me.

As our process begins, we have our students take a series of assessments aimed at finding the right fit school for them both socially and academically.  I know for busy high school kids, the last thing they want to do is take yet another “test.”  However, when I begin working with them 1:1  and we review their answers, some distinct and important facets of their personalities and learning style come to light and often a window opens for them.  Suddenly, this college search process seems more relevant, and the assessments we ask them to do have validity – there is a “method to our madness.”

Ultimately, we all have the same goal – as counselors we want to make sure our service is valuable to our clients.  Parents want help with a process they see as overwhelming and students too are often confused with the myriad of options that lay before them.  As our process unfolds, we begin to see the finish line, but so much more has been uncovered than first might meet the eye.  Of course, our desire is to find the right match for a student.  But the self discovery that takes place almost in the shadows is for me, the most rewarding.  I cannot tell you how many students sit with us at our final decision meeting and say something like “I would  never have looked at that school if I’d done this myself” or “I thought I wanted architecture as a career and then you told me to shadow one and now I’m going to study biology!”  So in the end, all the assessments, brainstorming, meetings and campus visits pay off and the next four years of their lives begin to take shape.  Knowing we played a minute role in this self discovery is very rewarding.  The benefits to our process are multi-layered and definitely not limited to the college admissions process.  Having what I always call “an omniscient narrator” throughout this journey is unique and in the end, if I am able to guide my students to a place where they can discover their best selves and step into the next phase of their lives with confidence, I’ve achieved my goal too.

Parenting Your Child Through The College Admissions Process

We’ve worked with thousands of students and parents to help them navigate the often stressful college admissions process, and over the years, I realized that my job not only involves coaching students, but much of it has evolved to coach parents on this very different journey.  Below, I’ve outlined the top 5 things you can do to effectively parent your child during this challenging time.

1.  Realize It’s Not About You:  No matter how much your children may be like you, they need to make their own observations and decisions.  You are NOT applying to college.  They are.  This is not your chance to go back and “get into” Harvard.  Distancing yourself from the emotions of the process allows you to support your child, rather than add to their stress.   This is not a high school playoff game or a state final soccer match.  It is a rite of passage during which your child will begin to establish their independence,   You need to be a stabilizing “grounding cord” for your child.

2.  Understand your grief – not theirs.  You may not consciously realize it, but you may be sad that your child will soon be leaving home…for good.  This could cause you to feel depressed or angry.  Some parents lash out at their student or spouse.  Think about it.  Feel it, talk to a counselor or member of the clergy.  Then, get over it.  Instead of feeling sad, get ready to turn your child’s bedroom into a Jacuzzi room!

3.  Understand your affordability EARLY in the process.   Will you qualify for financial aid?  If so, will the college meet all or only some of your need?  Will your child qualify for merit scholarships?  And at which schools?  We help our families plan for these questions ever day.  Once you have a rough number in your head, it’s incumbent upon you to figure out how you’ll come up with the money.  If you cannot, then talk to your child about other options.  The number 1 reason students drop out of college is because they cannot afford it.  That’s why we talk about “fit” being academic, social and financial…This is YOUR job and ONLY your job.

4.  Stay in the car, but don’t drive.  This may be your toughest challenge.  You need to be involved in every step of the process, except taking the SAT, doing your child’s applications, and writing the essay, but your child needs to be the driver.  This can get tricky, so be careful.  Consider hiring an experienced educational consultant.  When they tell your child to write her essay, she’s more likely to do it than if you do.  You will be spending lots of money, so you would do a disservice if you weren’t involved, but your child, not you, needs to own the process.

5.  Remember that this is a process, not a decision.  If you engage in a well informed, well researched, logical and systematic college search, the decision will follow the process.  In fact, by April of the senior year, the decision will be easy.  Until then, there will be a lot of uncertainty and that’s ok.  Let the process unfold on its own, and don’t pressure your child for a decision.  The trips to visit colleges can be a lot of fun.  They may be the last time you spend quality time with your child until they become an adult.  Use this time to talk to your student about life, fun stuff, anything at all.  Cherish these times, and try to have fun, but don’t expect them to decide where they’re going as soon as you get in the car after a campus tour…They will likely not know until the Spring of their Senior year.

In the end, this is your child’s process, not yours, but some kids may not be ready to fully engage in it, so tread carefully, and assess where you and your child are at each step…Good luck!

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The Hyper-Competitive World Of College Admissions

For the Fall, 2011 freshman class, Harvard University accepted only 6% of its applicants.  This was the lowest in the Country.  Yale, Princeton and Columbia followed close behind, each admitting only 7% of its applicants.  To emphasize how difficult it is to be admitted to one of these schools, it’s important to note that 95% of Harvard’s incoming class ranked in the top 10% of their high school class, and the middle 50% of admitted Harvard students’ SAT scores was 2080 to 2370.  That means that a student in the 25th percentile of the admitted Harvard class (the bottom quarter) scored in the top 6% of the 1.6 million students who took the SAT last year.  Those in the middle, an “average” Harvard applicant, scored within the top 2% of all SAT test takers world-wide.

These numbers are no surprise to an experienced college admissions consultant, but they may shock an unsuspecting family entering the process.  A family with whom we recently worked was astonished by the fact that their son was not admissible to Harvard despite the fact that both parents and 2 of his 4 grandparents graduated from Harvard.  The student in question had better grades and higher test scores than both of his parents!  And this hyper-competitive environment has filtered down through the universe of public and private colleges throughout the nation.  This all begs the question:  Why is college admissions so competitive these days?  There are 3 primary reasons:

1.  Today’s American students are competing against a global student body.  Twenty five years ago, few international students sought admission to America’s colleges and universities, but with the rapid population growth in China and India, not to mention many other countries, more students are seeking entrance to U.S. colleges, which are considered by most to be the best in the world.

2.  There are more students in the pipeline.  While the overall population of American high school students has stabilized, it’s still at its highest level in more than 15 years.  More importantly, the percentage of high school graduates who go directly on to college is at its highest point ever, about 70%, according to the National Center For Education Statistics.

3.  Finally, more kids are applying to more colleges than ever before.  Online applications, like the Common Application, make this much easier than ever before.  The average student applies to approximately 6 colleges, compared to only 3 twenty years ago.

So, with more applicants, more applications and the same number of colleges as there were two decades ago, the admissions process has become much more of a numbers game.  This means that good grades in college prep courses, strong SAT or ACT scores, a powerful essay, solid extracurricular activities, and strong teacher recommendations are critical for admission to the Ivies and many other schools.  The most important action students can take is to study hard, and do well in high school!

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Not Your Father’s College Admissions

The old commercial by General Motors went something like this:  “The new Oldsmobile is not your father’s Oldsmobile…”  Within a decade of that advertisement, the Olds line was abandoned.  Such is the case with college admissions.  It’s quite literally not your father’s admissions game.  Instead it’s much more competitive, complicated, not to mention, significantly more expensive.  Below I’ve outlined several of the most poignant differences between old and new.

Highly Competitive:  When I applied to college in the 1980s, only 6 out of 10 high school students went directly from high school to college.  Today, that number has increased to 7 out of 10.  To make matters worse, colleges are now recruiting internationally, so kids are being compared to students not only across the U.S., but around the world.  Factor in that because of online applications, kids are now applying to more schools (an average of 7 as compared to only 4 just 15 years ago), and you’ve got many more applicants, many more applications and the same number of colleges as there were 25 years ago.  That all leads to a dramatically highly selective environment.

Test Prep and Grade Inflation:  With the significant growth of the test prep movement, more students are focusing on SAT and ACT preparation, so scores for high performing students have increased over time.  In addition, grade inflation has crept into our high schools like never before to the extent that today, a “B” is much closer to what a “C” was when parents were in school.  Because grades and test scores are among the most important factors in the admissions decision, especially at the highly selective colleges, this adds to the highly competitive nature of today’s process.

An Overwhelmingly Complex Process:  Applying to college used to entail writing an essay, completing some basic paperwork, and mailing the packet to the 2 or 3 colleges to which you sought admission.  The Common Application, and other competing applications, promised to change all that.  The idea was that you would do one application which would enable you to apply to any combination of 500 colleges who use that application.  The problem is that the Common App is not very user friendly.  It’s less than intuitive interface also has several additional pieces, called supplementals, that are specific to each school.  As a result, instead of writing one or two basic essays, many students have to write more than a dozen college essays, depending on the particular schools to which they apply.  Even submitting the applications has become time consuming.  In many cases, you submit once, but you have to pay 10 times!  And what if your college does not use the Common Application?  Then you have to search, register for, complete and submit that many more applications at the college’s own web site.  For many, this is a dizzingly challenging process which is why we recommend starting EARLY during the summer before a student’s senior year of high school.

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Three Reasons You Should Begin The College Search Early

Many people ask me when students should begin the college search/planning process, and the answer often depends on the particular student.  Last week, I met with a young woman who is finishing 9th grade.  She needed some advice on course selection for next year.  She was also confused about possible careers.  This student was goal oriented, and sought advice.  We had also worked with her older brother, so she knew we were available to help.

But for most kids, 10th or early in 11th grade is the best time to begin the process.  Why so early?  There are essentially 3 key reasons:

1.  It gives you plenty of opportunity to select colleges, and most importantly to visit.  This is the most critical reason for starting early, because we suggest that most families visit 12-14 colleges.  And we recommend that you do so while school is in session, so if you start this toward the end of the junior year, you won’t have much time to visit before application season in the fall of senior year.

2.  It gives you a chance to assess your family’s college affordability at least 2 years before you get your first bill.  That means you still have time to plan.  You’ll be able to determine whether you’ll qualify for financial aid and scholarships, and you’ll have the chance to save more money, not to mention bracing yourself for the significant college expense that will be coming your way.

3.  The fact is that the more time you put into any project, the better the outcome.  College is a life shaping, significant investment of time and money.  The more you approach it strategically and thoughtfully, the better the decision will be.  You wouldn’t decide on a home to buy based on visiting two houses in two different neighborhoods over a month long period, especially if you were moving to a new city.  Instead, you would take your time, and think hard about all the elements you want and need in a home, neighborhood, school district, etc…You should take the same approach to helping your child through the college planning process.

The bottom line:  Start early, take your time, and think thoughtfully and strategically about which colleges will be a great fit for your child.  Doing so will ensure that the college search will be fun and fruitful.