Getting ready for the college selection and application process can feel intimidating, and you probably have numerous questions.  The good news is that you are not alone!

Choosing a college is no easy task. Considering it is a choice that will lay the groundwork for your career and that college is one of the biggest financial investments you will ever make, most students and their parents are aware that it is not a decision to be taken lightly.

While it is important to ask a lot of questions, some of the most significant ones should be the ones that you ask yourself. Figuring out your own learning style and choosing schools that play to those strengths are one of the most important keys to your educational success.

Some Frequently asked Questions and Answers:

When should a student start their college search?

The best time to begin your college search is when you are ready!

The college search process involves many factors, from the program offerings and the total cost of education to the admitted student profile to the location of the campus. Putting this puzzle together can take longer than you can imagine.

Your junior year is often viewed as the best time to begin seriously considering the college process; however, there are many students who are actively thinking about their college search during their sophomore year and still others who wait right before their senior year. Just keep in mind that there is no disadvantage to an early start and the longer you wait, the less time you will have to complete a thorough search and have the time for us to help you craft the most effective essays and applications.  Moreover, you are more likely to miss early deadlines or overlook a few institutions that may have been perfect for you.

Will Coronavirus change college admissions in 2021?

Reactions to the novel coronavirus/COVID-19 have caused a great many changes to daily life in recent days. One group particularly affected by these changes is high school students.

High schools, colleges, and universities across the country are working tirelessly to keep students both in the US and abroad informed about what this means for students moving forward. The college admission process is complicated enough, and with another layer of uncertainty that is directly affecting applicants, families are wondering what to expect.

We have been here before and have successfully counseled families through numerous uncertain times. We believe in focusing on what you can control, and with more than forty years of experience, our team is at the forefront of the ever-evolving admissions landscape. 

What college is right for me?

Choosing a college or university is a significant decision. With hundreds of schools to consider, many high school students can feel overwhelmed by the process.

There is no magic formula for choosing a college, but there are steps you can take to find a good fit: a match for your academic, social, financial needs, and your career goals.

You should start the process of choosing a college with a comprehensive look at yourself, not with a list of schools. Many students want to start their search by looking at specific colleges. This sounds good, perhaps, but it is a faulty strategy. For it is the assessment of your interests, attitudes and abilities that is central to identifying colleges that are right for you. Before you start poring over online catalogs from colleges, you want to examine yourself as a person and as a student. Such an appraisal will yield data about yourself that will allow you to move with confidence and greater knowledge to the next stages of finding a college.

Here are some important factors to keep in mind so you can make the best decision:

  • Geographic Location
  • Academic Quality
  • School Size
  • Overall Cost and Financial Aid Options
  • Housing Options
  • Food
  • Campus Environment and Cultural Diversity
  • Religious Affiliation
  • Study Abroad and Cooperative Education Programs
  • Resources and Support Systems

How many colleges should I apply to?

To increase your chances of being admitted to a selective school, and to account for colleges which you may not have considered before, we recommend a balanced list. A general guideline is to apply to at least 2-3 reach colleges, 3-4 matches, and 2 likely/safety schools. They should all be colleges you would be happy to attend.

            What are reach, match, and safety schools? 

  • Reaches: Your GPA and SAT or ACT® score are lower than the average score range of the previous year’s admitted students.
  • Matches: Your GPA and SAT or ACT® score are solidly in the same range as last year’s admitted students.
  • Likely/Safety: Your GPA and SAT or ACT® scores are higher than the average score range of last year’s admitted students.

Is it better to declare a major or apply undecided?

The applications for many colleges and universities allow students to specify an intended major, though this is not required – and not all students ultimately choose to do so. In most cases, choosing to begin college as an undecided major or electing to declare a major before arriving on campus depends on an individual student’s situation.

If you have a competitive college concentration in mind, your GPA will be key. If your high school GPA does not reflect your full potential and you would like to use your first year of college to correct this issue, it likely makes sense to apply as an undeclared major. This is a particularly good idea if your high school GPA is weak in the major’s core field or fields.

Engineering is one common major where this strategy may apply. Because engineering offers strong career prospects, it can be a popular concentration. Thus, universities can be highly selective in which applicants they accept to their engineering schools. If you lack a history of high school success in science and math classes, it may be best to take college-level courses in STEM fields before you apply to this major.

As long as the required courses for your intended major are not so numerous that they need to be started during your freshman year, consider this approach.

The second and perhaps most important reason to opt against declaring a major on your college application is if you are truly undecided. It is not worth choosing a concentration before you have fully researched your potential field.  And there is no harm in marking undeclared. Do you know that the most popular major chosen is “Undeclared?” In fact, if it’s the honest answer, it’s the best answer!

What advice would you give to an LGBTQ student who is considering college?

The transition from high school to college can prove difficult for all students, but LGBTQ students are particularly vulnerable. For prospective college students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, or queer (LGBTQ), it’s crucial to find a college with a supportive learning environment where they can thrive.

The number of organizations offering positive support and access to valuable resources grows every year. Many universities have dedicated LGBTQ directors to help LGBTQ students qualify for financial aid, housing, and other programs that can make college not only possible, but also a positive experience.

Increasingly, colleges are acknowledging the LGBTQ presence on their campuses and prioritizing safety and inclusiveness. As you compare prospective schools, don’t hesitate to ask administrators, counselors, and students about the resources available to LGBTQ students on campus. Ideally, you want to find a campus that can feel like home, but the work to become comfortable at school starts before you even submit your first application.

If you are not out yet, or you’re questioning, an LGBTQ-friendly college could be a healthy environment for you to discover your true identity. Look for schools with websites demonstrating an active LGBTQ community that’s supported on campus. Additionally, signing up for a course in LGBTQ studies or attending a seminar at the school’s LGBTQ Resource Center could help you on your journey of self-discovery and allow you to connect with others who are struggling with similar issues.

How important are sports and extracurricular activities on your college applications?

When it comes to extra-curricular activities, the options are endless.

An extracurricular is any activity that doesn’t count towards academic credit. These are activities that a student participates in outside of class, whether in school or in the community:  the arts, athletics, clubs and organizations, volunteer work, paid employment, religious involvement and a host of other personal commitments.

When applying for postsecondary education, colleges and universities want to know if you have been an involved and an active member of your school and community. They can also provide a student with tools that can be applied to most workplaces, including leadership, collaboration and critical thinking skills.

While extra-curricular activities may not be the first thing college admissions officers look at, they are important. A stellar list of activities won’t make up for a weak essay, out-of-parameter testing, or a transcript riddled with poor grades. All other things being equal, they can, however, enhance your fit.  They will also give the admission officer a better picture of who you are, what you do, and what your values are.  What they really want to see is not that you are involved in as many activities as possible, but that you are committed to those you choose.

Admission officers are more likely to consider an applicant who is deeply and passionately committed to a specific activity, rather than one who is superficially involved in multiple ones. They are looking for a student who demonstrates commitment and passion outside of the academic setting. We refer to this as “depth over breadth.”

How am I going to pay for college?

Asking “How do I pay for college?” is like asking, “How do I get healthy?” or, “How do I learn another language?” There are lots of answers, but there’s not always one clear path.

If you’re like most students and families, you’ll cobble together funds from multiple sources, and some types of financial aid are better than others.

Just about every college financial aid program requires the FAFSA, even if they require other forms.  However, most schools and states use nothing but the FAFSA to determine eligibility for aid.  You can submit the FAFSA as early as October 1st of the year before your student will enroll in college. Most of the information required to successfully complete the FAFSA is what you would normally need for completing your income taxes.  Many parents can do the FAFSA on their own, but there are many free resources online.  Your tax accountant is another good resource, especially if your financial situation is complicated.

Some colleges require an additional form besides the FAFSA.  The CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE is administered by the College Board.  Schools require the CSS PROFILE as it provides a more complete account of your financial situation, which helps them award aid from their own funds.  For that reason, the PROFILE is longer than the FAFSA.  It is the same general concept, but you will need more records to answer all the questions and it will take more time to fill out.

Scholarships are another source of financial assistance for college students.  There are many varieties and your guidance counselor and/or private college consultant is the best resource for information to point you in the right direction to gain information about ones that will be the most valuable for you.

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