Applying to college is typically on the mind of most students as soon as they enter high school (and for their parents it's likely much, much earlier). For many the anticipation of the college application process incites a fair amount of uncertainty. Therefore, we have enlisted the help of Patrick Love, one of our seasoned high school counselors to answer some commonly asked questions in the hopes that we might smooth the path on our students' road to college.
Though often on their minds quite early on, when should parents realistically start encouraging their students to prepare for college applications?
It really depends on the family and the student. At Concordia, in the annual 1-on-1 reflection and planning meetings that we do starting in grade 9, we have students reflect on their strengths and interests. They can then identify a range of college majors where they might be able to go deeper yet into those areas of strength and interest. Counselors can then give them some suggestions of colleges that would be strong in the area that they might want to pursue.
When do students at Concordia start the college counseling process?
We touch on it with students in 9th & 10th grades. We then go more in depth in 11th and then 12th grades, as students begin to actually do work that will be part of the applications they send into colleges.
What are some of the things that students should consider when deciding what colleges they want to apply to?
College “fit” can be a little bit hard to define because it is a little bit different for everyone. Generally speaking, fit is made up of a range of social, academic, and financial factors.
We encourage students to visit college campuses and get a feel for the student body. Ideally we want students to feel like they will be appreciated and that they look forward to spending the next four years with the students on that campus. Academically, students need to find a place that matches their learning preferences and where they will be provided with opportunities that will successfully prepare them for the future. Financially, the schools where a student applies need to fall within the budgetary realities or goals of that family.
What advice would you give students who aren't yet sure what college or major they would like to choose?
It’s actually quite common for students to go to college while being “undecided” about their major. Additionally, one piece of research I’ve read said that 2/3 of students who think they have a major selected before starting college actually change their minds and pursue something else. Whether a student is sure they know what they are going to do, or have no idea, I think it’s important to keep going deeper into current interests, exploring, and further developing skills and knowledge that will help them to be successful in the next step in their lives.
What resources would you recommend to parents and students who want to learn more about schools, majors and application processes?
One of the things I really enjoy about college counseling is that there is always so much to learn. I spend a lot of time talking to college reps about the application procedures they use, and how my students would go about applying. I also keep a spreadsheet that lists all the countries that my students sometimes apply to, and websites that contain key information on how to research schools, majors, and application procedures. One resource for US institutions is bigfuture.collegeboard.org. It contains both college and career research tools.