Selecting where to apply; going to college may be a rite of passage but applying to college and selecting which ones you want to gain admission from are the necessary stepping stones to that rite of passage. I understand that for many people this can be daunting and even somewhat terrifying. What if I don’t get in? What if I can’t swing the tuition? What if I make the wrong choice?
Let me put that in to perspective. With very few exceptions, most employers do not care where you went to college, just that you went. That’s right. They are more concerned with did you get your bachelor’s degree and in what area. University of Michigan, University of La Verne, Florida State University. Doesn’t really matter. Honest. Obviously there are a few exceptions to this. There are a few schools that by nature of “who” they are just open doors. But you still have to know your stuff or even the name doesn’t matter much. With that in proper perspective, then selecting where to apply to for college, at least for me, is also a fun part of getting to that rite of passage.
If you have been following along in my series, then you are already aware of my suggested strategy for wading through and organizing the thousands of post-secondary education institutes that are out there. If not, be sure to read part 1 of this post and be sure to check out the links below to the rest of the series. Getting down to a manageable number is not as daunting when you know how to tackle it and keep everything organized. And by manageable I mean about 10 to 15 schools.
Taking the First Crack At It
Most kids and/or parents already have some schools in mind before they ever start looking. That’s ok and actually its a great place to start. Just don’t get stuck on these schools and stop. Start by making a list of all the schools you know of and to which you might be interested in applying. I know for me I grew up drilled that I would be applying to Duke. This was partially because of me wanting to be a doctor and partially for the tuition discounts available from having a parent working there. (Don’t forget to look into schools your parents might work at, especially private as they typically offer reduced tuition for their employees and their employees’ children.)
Once you have your list, start filling in your spreadsheet. ALWAYS start with your child’s major. (And for the record, I truly believe our children are the one’s going to school so they need to be doing this work, not us parents. We are there to support and guide; not do. So if I switch you, your child, etc. around forgive me. I’m using them synonymously.) I don’t care if its a legacy school or not. If the school doesn’t have their major, its a waste of time. Most people probably have ten to twenty schools they know and think they might like to attend. But you could be missing some wonderful opportunities if you just stop with those.
Use Your Resources
There are so many that exist and frankly, tons of services ($$$) available to help you get in to college. Personally, I suggest starting with some free resources BEFORE going to fee based resources.
Attend College Fairs
This is a great way to get exposure to a variety of colleges. Most high schools set up college fairs with local and non-local colleges and universities. Its an awesome place to start looking at colleges which you may not be aware. Many big name colleges may not send out their admissions recruiters to every school. But many do make the trip. They are recruiting after all. And think of it that way. They want you to attend their school. In fact, they need students. You are shopping them. So just like when you go out to buy a new purse or price car insurance, shop around. Ask questions. You have a recruiter captured so to speak. Most times, they are former students and can give first hand knowledge of the school and college life. Always ask about majors. Again, if they don’t have yours, then its not the right school.
When you leave, you should have picked up a few schools at least that interest you. I actually found my university at a college fair – and hadn’t really heard of them prior even though it was only 10 minutes from where I’d moved to six months prior. Goes to show you, there are colleges every where. You might also find out some other interesting information along the way. For example, there are many schools that are doing college “co-op” degrees and majors. You apply and are admitted to one university say under a Math/Engineering major. You attend the first school for two years and earn a Bachelor’s in Math and then attend the last two years at the other, say Columbia, and get your Bachelor’s in Engineering. Ultimately you earn two degrees and often the partnership is with a prestigious college.
Talk to Your High School Guidance Counselor
You are going to want to have your child do this anyways as they are their “go to” person for making sure they are on the right track for graduation. They can guide your child to school resources for college searching. My stepson’s school has access to a site called Naviance that allows students to search for scholarships, personality style to career matching, college investigation and even allows for grade and testing score comparisons between your child and previous alumni (high school) that attended specific colleges.
I know. It seems like that is the “go to” answer for almost everything these days. Got a question – Google it. It’s becoming a verb. But in this case, it can be your busy student’s best resource. There are tons of places that provide information on colleges and use various search methods. Always start with your major though, regardless of the site.
I like this site because you can search colleges by major. If your child’s major is Business Administration, you shouldn’t have a hard time finding a school that has the major. However, there are some majors that are on the obscure side. For example, if your child is looking for a degree in Wetlands and Marine Resource Management, you have a much smaller pool of schools from which to choose. In fact, with that specific major, there are 8 schools.
College Board (www.collegeboard.org)
Your child will use this site to sign up for their SAT tests but in doing so, they can submit information about themselves that will in turn send said information to colleges that to a large degree fit your child’s profile. And if they do, watch the college and university fliers start flying in. But they can also search colleges as well.
Princeton Review (www.princetonreview.com)
Probably known more for their assistance with studying and improving testing scores, but their site also offers college search abilities.
US News (www.usnews.com)
Probably not the first one you would think of but it is an amazing resource. You can use it to get all kinds of information on schools from the top 100 hardest schools to get into to the top 100 easiest schools to get into. You can also search for college rankings, majors, retention and more. It also has some helpful college planning tools.
Major First and Then…
At this point, you probably have a whole lot of schools to choose from. Now comes the numbering down.
Major: Get Specific
I know I have said it several times but start with your major. Except now its time to get specific. Many kids have a general idea of what major their chosen career needs. Your child may have a more specific idea if you both worked on finding their passion and a related career. So use that to narrow down hundreds to maybe 30 to 50.
For example, my step-daughter loves the ocean and at one point really loved the SeaWorld trainers. Say she wanted to eventually become one of the trainers. She may want to look at Zoology or Marine Biology. Trust me there are a lot of schools that meet both of those majors. But say she really wanted to study and learn why they do certain behaviors, what it is that makes whales swim in pods or form family units, then a major in say Animal Behavior is a way to number down the schools.
That’s not to say that your child still couldn’t major in Marine Biology. But in getting really specific, your child is not only narrowing down schools but your child is also narrowing it down to schools that have their broad major AND their specific area of interest. In fact, if I were guiding my step-daughter in the above example, I would encourage her to either double major in Marine Biology and Animal Behavior or Major in Marine Biology with a Minor in Animal Behavior. Odds are they are going to have many of the same core class requirements.
Narrow Down by What’s Important to Your Child
As I mentioned in part one, my step-son is an avid fisherman. Early on, we knew that any school he would attend had to have bass fishing as a collegiate activity. In the case of his activity, its so very specific, it was easier to first search for schools with bass fishing and then cross reference to see if they had an engineering major. That could be true with your child
Odds are your child may not have that specific of a requirement. Most will first limit colleges by major as above. Then number those colleges down again by activities your child must have. For example, if your child is seeking a gymnastic scholarship, its a good idea to make sure the school has gymnastics. Perhaps they want a college that is religious base or offers missions. These specifics can help narrow down quite a bit of colleges.
Where Do They Want to Be or Don’t Want to Be
This is where the Geographic Area and Development Classification come in to play. Keep in mind if the above two criteria have narrowed the choices to 10 to 15 colleges – STOP. You need a good net of colleges to apply to in order to create the best opportunity for your child. If it did not, then press on by first looking at where they want to be geographically or don’t. I can’t stand the cold or extreme heat and I’m not too fond of too much rain or tornados. Based on that, I pretty much eliminated 75% of the US and with it a fair amount of colleges.
Your child can do the same with Development Classification. For myself, when it came to college, I knew it was temporary. So while I’m not the biggest fan of living directly in a major metro area (except San Fran – I love San Fran), it wasn’t a huge factor for me – not nearly as huge as not being cold, or wet or diving for a storm cellar. However, for a friend of mine, who got into Duke, the laid back urban area of Durham, NC was too slow for that LA born and bred boy. He eliminated a lot of colleges based on really wanting to be in a fast paced metro area.
At this point, your child should have a reasonable size list to manage. Even though you are shooting for 10 to 15 colleges to apply to, its okay if they have it narrowed down to about 30. What’s next will get it down to the colleges they will apply to. Your child will select a couple dream schools (2-3), several target schools (4-7) and a few back-up schools (3-5).
Sort and Pick
If your child has been storing their college research in an electronic database program such as MS Excel or Apple’s Numbers, then I suggest sorting the schools by either GPA, SAT scores or ACT scores. This will allow your child (and you) to realistically compare the average admitted student to themselves.
Dream Schools: These are the schools that are your child’s I really, really want to get into schools but I’m not sure if it will happen based on GPA, test scores or financial aid. A dream school should be a stretch, not an impossibility. Applying to schools costs money so don’t spend good money (or time) on the schools that you know are out of reach. But if your child is within a few points of the average testing scores and reasonably close to the GPA, then give it a try. After all, the numbers are just averages. There are some with higher scores and other with lower scores. Essays, letters of recommendation and interviews go a long way in the admittance process but we will get deeper into that another post.
Target Schools: These are schools where your child falls right in line or right above the average admitted student. They still have to nail the essay and other requirements.
Back Up Schools: These are the schools where your child is the big fish in the small pond. These are schools with high admission rates and where the school would love to have your child attend. It should also be a school where they would be happy and comfortable attending. Just a reminder, your child can’t phone in the essay and other requirements but these are the guarantee schools.
My personal recommendation is try to pick schools that have high percentages of offered financial aid and/or those that offer merit, need, athletic and other scholarship or grant opportunities. This is my take on it. College is beyond expensive these days. I believe we should, as parents and our students, do our part. But very few of us don’t need some kind of help. When students receive financial aid packages, its their paycheck for their hard work. Our contributing funds are the reward for our hard work. Its like looking for a job and asking for a certain salary or having a job and asking for a raise. You are asking for what you are worth. The same is true for financial aid. Just as I am grateful for when a boss recognizes my worth, I will be equally grateful when a school sees the worth in my child and offers them a lucrative financial aid package. And I keep in mind, as our children get an education by attending a university, the university benefits too. After all, they need students to stay open. Okay, I’m off my small soapbox.
Now Its Time to Expand
By figuring out your child’s dream, target and backup schools, you should dwindle the remaining schools down to 10 to 15. Remember that each school has separate application requirements. That’s where the expandable folder comes in to play. Label each pocket with the name of one of the schools. You can do this alphabetically or, as I did with my filing system, separate them by dream, target and backup, then alphabetically list each school within the main category. I personally like this because it helps me remember details better such as which are which. With everything a senior has to do during their college admissions, you’d be surprised how quickly details get lost.
Looking at the Big Picture And Going Deep
On the outside of the expandable folder, attach a sheet of paper that lists each school and critical deadlines – application deadlines, interview deadlines, SAT/ACT deadlines. In each school’s pocket, make a similar “checklist”. You will want to put each school’s application deadline, requirements – SAT subject tests, interview, number of letters of recommendation, etc. – and fee. Keep all information related to each school in the school’s separate pocket. This includes your application, essay and letters of recommendation. Ultimately, it will include acceptance letters and packages, financial aid offers, and one lucky one with enrollment information.
Once your child has selected what school’s to apply to and set up his/her organization system, its time to start the application process. Set one – request an application.
Until next post!