College Planning Blog

Welcome to Best College Fit (BCF) College Planning Blog, an ongoing discussion of the factors that impact the college planning process. This space will keep you abreast of critical planning strategies, introduce you to key resources and comment on timely issues that relate to your college planning effort. We look forward to staying in touch and seeing your comments as we progress through the college planning process together.

Archive for the 'Campus Visits' Category

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Are you beginning the college planning process with more questions than answers?

If so, plan to join Peter Van Buskirk in two free upcoming webinars sponsored by Revolution Prep to develop a plan that works for you.

On June 5, Peter will be interviewed by Rev Prep’s Jon Small on the topic of “Jumpstarting the College Planning Process.” In this keynote event of the Revolution Prep Summer Webinar Series, they will discuss:

  • Strategies for starting the college planning process
  • The importance of “intentionality” in developing a plan for college
  • Getting the most from college visits
  • Tips for acquiring letters of recommendation
  • Determining the relevance of support services (essay support, test prep, etc.)

Click on “Jumpstarting the College Planning Process” to register for the June 5 webinar (9PM ET).

On June 19, Peter will follow up with a presentation of “Little Things that Make a Big Difference in the College Admission Process.” In this webinar, he will examine opportunities to stand out as an applicant within the context of the competition at targeted colleges. He will reveal common mistakes made in the application process and offer tips that empower students to:

  • Establish ownership in the process
  • Develop thematically cohesive applications
  • Take advantage of academic opportunities available to them through the senior year
  • Build relationships with colleges that are important to them
  • Put themselves in the best position possible for admission success

Click on “Little Things that Make a Big Difference in the College Admission Process” to register for the June 19 Webinar (9PM ET).

Revolution Prep is a leading provider of tutoring and test preparation solutions, offering a range of online and in-person support for students.

By Peter Van Buskirk

As the school year winds down, thousands of families are gearing up to start the college search and selection process in earnest. For many, the process includes plans to visit college campuses. The questions that often arise, however, are “When is the best time to visit?” and “What should we expect to accomplish?”

The answers are fairly straightforward. Visit when you can and soak up as much information as possible! Ideally, you would visit colleges when classes are in session and the campuses are full of life. That may not always be possible, though, so go when you can. The best opportunities may be around business trips, holiday travels or vacations.

And if such opportunities should occur early in the college planning process, go “window shopping.” When you are “window shopping,” you are less concerned about buying and more interested in checking out the inventory. Give yourself exposure to as many different kinds of places as you can—big schools, small schools, research universities, liberal arts colleges, urban campuses and places way out in the country.

Visiting a range of colleges while there is no pressure to “buy” allows you to develop a broad perspective with regard to what is “out there.” Later, when it is time to buy, you will know what you like and you know where to find it. As you visit the campuses, allow your senses to guide you. Ultimately, it will be a “sixth sense”—the proverbial “gut feeling” that will lead you to the places that suit you best.

And the information you glean from your visits will come in handy when it comes time to prepare your applications for admission! (To learn more about related strategies, check out the “What’s My Story?” application preparation workshops being offered around the country this spring and summer.)

So, pack up your “sixth sense” and get ready to enjoy the adventure found in “window shopping” college campuses. The following are tips that will help you get the most out of your campus visits—wherever you go!

1.  Take advantage of everything the school has to offer. If an interview is offered, take it! Take a tour. Visit an academic department or program area in which you have an interest. Ask thoughtful questions that reflect your interest.

2.  Plan ahead. If possible, schedule your visit at least two weeks in advance. At some colleges, you may need to call two months in advance for an interview appointment. This will be especially true over the summer and around holidays.

3.  Prepare well. Read the information you have about the school. Look for the potential synergy between your interests, perspectives and learning style—and the offerings of the school. While on campus, you will want to test your initial impressions. Know why you are there. See how you fit. By examining your priorities in advance, you can be alert to evidence that the campus in question will support you in achieving your goals.

4.  Arrive early. Avoid feeling rushed. Give yourself time to stretch and walk around before you make an official introduction. Find a snack bar or some place where you can comfortably take in campus life. How do folks relate to each other? How do they relate to you?

5.  Get more than one opinion. Much of that which is offered formally by a college during your visit is staged for your benefit. It should look and sound good. It’s part of the sales pitch.

If you can, allow time to go “backstage” where you can learn more. Visit the “neighborhoods” of the campus that you are likely to frequent should you choose to enroll there. Introduce yourself to students and ask questions like: “What do you like most about your experience?” “How would you describe the academic environment?” “How is this college helping you to achieve your goals?” “If you could change one thing about your experience, what would it be?” Listen to their stories. How do you see yourself fitting into the picture they “paint” of life on that campus?

6. Record your visit. Make notes as soon as you are able. The more colleges you see, the more they will begin to look and sound alike. Take pictures. Buy postcards. Give yourself a visual index of what you have seen to avoid confusion later.

7. Build relationships. Your campus visit gives you a chance to establish relationships with individuals such as interviewers and information session presenters who might be decision-makers when your application is considered. Collect business cards. Be sure to stay in touch with them in appropriate ways as you continue exploring your interest.

8. Connect with the recruiter. Institutions typically assign their admission personnel to different areas of the country for recruiting purposes. Find out who from the institution recruits in your area and check to see if that person is available. If so, introduce yourself. If not, ask for that person’s business card. Regardless, consider him/her as your “go to” person when you have important questions later in the college selection process.

9. Absorb it. Resist the impulse to come to immediate judgment, one way or the other, on a campus visit experience. Sleep on it. Process what you have learned. Weigh your impressions against those you have of other schools. Your first reaction is bound to be emotional. In the end, you need to remain as objective as possible.

10. Focus on fit. How does the college you are visiting meet your academic needs? Will you be challenged appropriately? Is the style of instruction a good match for the manner in which you are most comfortable learning? Does the college offer a sense of community that makes you feel “at home?” And where do you see evidence that you will be valued for what you have to offer.

For more discussion of a good college “fit,” check out Prepare, Compete, Win! The Ultimate College Planning Workbook for Students in the Best College Fit Bookstore.

BCF Readers’ Forum 9.23.17


Saturday, September 23rd, 2017

Periodically, I use this space to respond to questions I have received via email or during programs. My intent in sharing both questions and answers is to provide insight into the college-going process and stimulate conversation that leads to informed decision-making with regard to educational futures. As always, your comments are very much valued. To submit a question, contact me directly at Peter@BestCollegeFit.com.

Dear Peter,
Is an optional admission interview something that everyone should do? My son isn’t convinced. Can you please tell us the pros and cons? He is specifically looking at a college that I believe is looking for evidence that a student has shown interest.
Molly

Dear Molly,
In the selective admission process, interviews are golden opportunities. If a college ever offers your son an interview opportunity with a paid, admission staff person—take it! That person is a decision-maker and it is always a good idea for your son to have some exposure with someone who could become an advocate behind the closed doors of the selection process. Most colleges that offer interviews make them optional, in part to see who takes advantage of the opportunity. In addition to meeting someone who can speak on his behalf in the admission committee, the fact that the interview takes place is the best indicator of his interest in the institution. Please reassure him that no one has ever died in an admission interview—he’ll be fine!
Peter

Dear Peter,
You have indicated that the net price calculator is not very helpful, especially for private colleges, and suggested that families might ask the university for a financial pre-read. Is it appropriate to ask them to do it now (before applications are submitted) and what documents would they need?
Ariel

Dear Ariel,
You should be able to secure early estimates of your expected family contribution (EFC) by simply forwarding your 2016 IRS tax returns. The school will let you know if it needs additional information. It is important to note that many private colleges will look at both the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and the College Scholarship Service PROFILE to determine which methodology it will use in assessing your EFC. The latter is a much more granular assessment that can show an EFC that is higher than the FAFSA by as much as $10,000. Be sure to ask the person providing the early estimate to identify the methodology used to arrive at the estimate as well as the methodology that is likely to be used in the event that your student is admitted.
Peter

Dear Peter,
Do you know which colleges are generally more generous with their financial/merit aid?
Stephen

Dear Stephen,
It can be argued that all colleges are generous with financial aid, including scholarships. Just remember that each will use its resources to leverage the enrollment of the students whom they value most. That’s why it’s important to target schools where your student is likely to be in the top quartile of the competitive playing fields (for admission) and will be valued for what he has to offer.
Peter

Dear Peter,
My son is an accomplished student looking at mostly highly selective institutions. When I complete the Net Price Calculator it often indicates our expected family contribution is essentially the full bill. Would you recommend taking the time to complete the FAFSA and perhaps the other financial form (CSS PROFILE) the highly selective institutions require if we are likely not going to qualify for need? By not completing the FAFSA, does that take our son out of the running for merit scholarship consideration?
Ellen

Dear Ellen,
While the Net Price Calculators are not perfect, they do tend to give you the best-case scenarios for the schools in question. If they are projecting your EFC at or above the total cost of attendance, that’s a pretty good sign that you will be expected to cover the full cost of attendance.
 
Completing the FAFSA and the CSS PROFILE can’t hurt if you think there is a chance that your financial data might have been interpreted incorrectly. That said, schools that offer merit (non-need based) scholarships will often require completion of at least the FAFSA. You should be able to determine the filing requirements on the websites of schools that offer scholarships. Moreover, if you want your son to take a Guaranteed Student Loan or seek on-campus employment, you will need to complete the FAFSA as the federal government is the funding source for both.
Peter

Dear Peter,
Is it possible to say to every college that you are giving an Early Decision application to each? While I am just a Sophomore, I am eager to know how Early Decision works?
Raj

Dear Raj,
Early Decision is an application option that many colleges offer that allows you to declare your “true love.” In other words, you are saying to the college, “If you admit me, I will withdraw all of my other applications and enroll at your school.” Formally declaring your first-choice interest to multiple colleges would be dishonest and unethical.

At this point, you should try to identify colleges that are good fits for you. Then, investigate them thoroughly so that, by the start of your senior year, you are ready to move forward with applications to a short list of no more than eight colleges. If one of those places emerges as your absolute first choice, then ED would be a viable application option at that school. You may only apply ED to one school, though. If that school defers or denies you, you become a “free agent” and are able to consider an ED application at another school if it offers an ED Round Two option.

Please note that colleges do compare lists of ED accepted students. If you show up on more than one list, be prepared for each college to withdraw your application completely.
Peter

Dear Peter,
Several of my son’s “reach” schools have indicated that submission of ACT Writing and SAT Subject tests is optional. However, these schools are highly competitive. At schools like this, is there an unwritten expectation that these test results should be provided? Is everyone else providing them and would it be a glaring omission if my son didn’t provide results, especially for the ACT writing?
Julie

Dear Julie,
I generally advise students not to submit test results when those results are at or below the averages for colleges where the submission of scores is optional. In such cases, the presence of average or below average scores cannot help. Moreover, the presence of low scores tends to introduce a negative bias into the minds of the reviewers.
 
If your son’s overall credentials are otherwise attractive to an institution, the absence of test results will make it easier for admission officers to rationalize admitting him. This is not a question of your son needing to submit scores to prove his ability. Rather, the test results, when provided, become part of the institution’s profile of admitted students and it would rather not include scores that would depress the profile. If he doesn’t send the scores, the college doesn’t need to worry about how they will look on its profile if he is admitted.
Peter

Dear Peter,
We’re about to visit some colleges and my daughter is nervous about the interview process. One of the colleges where she will be interviewing indicates on its website that it encourages questions at the interview. Are there any points or questions that you feel are essential to ask during the interview?
Lynn

Dear Lynn,
I worry that one of the biggest problems facing students is they overthink the interview. At its basic level, the interview is simply a conversation between two people who are eager to get to know each other (or the college that one of them represents). Quite frankly, the content for many interviews emerges from the chit-chat that takes place during the walk from the reception area to the interviewer’s office!

Your daughter does need to be prepared with 2-3 talking points—things she wants the interviewer to know about her background, interests, and/or difficulties she has encountered academically (if there are any). This is her opportunity to give the interviewer insight into who she is beyond the resume.
 
With regard to questions, she might inquire about the things she would like to know regarding her possible academic interest (accessibility of professors, internships, research opportunities, study abroad, etc.) as well as other aspects of campus life that are important to her. In addition, if she is uncertain about any aspect of the admission process/requirements, now is the time to ask. She should be careful not to ask questions for which answers can be easily found in the college’s promotional literature or on its website.
Peter

Dear Peter,
My son recently started a club at his school, but he is afraid to share it with colleges because of the title, Conservative Student Union. While the purpose of the club is to give opportunity for students to discuss political issues, he is concerned admission officers will not look at the merits of the work involved with starting up a club, running weekly meetings and organizing community service and, instead, will judge him on the title of the club. Thoughts?
Mark

Dear Mark,
First of all, congrats to your son! His initiative is noteworthy and that, rather than the content of the club, will be impressive to admission committees. First amendment rights are highly cherished on most college campuses as institutions generally relish the opportunity to include students who represent a range of social, political, spiritual and cultural interests. I would remind your son that any place that would judge him harshly because of his beliefs or his involvements (assuming he is respectfully engaged) is probably not a place where he is likely to be comfortable for four years.
Peter

By Peter Van Buskirk

“I need to get out of here!” It’s a feeling shared by teenagers almost daily that is expressed loudly to anyone within earshot. And “here” is wherever you are at the moment—home, school, community. Just about anywhere else would be better than where you are.

Perhaps you recognize the symptoms. It seems the older you get the more claustrophobic your world becomes. Everybody is in your business and you need space. You’re ready for a new look, a change of scenery. And right about now, college seems like an inviting destination.

As eager as you might be to get up and go, though, the chances are there is a quiet voice inside you (never to be heard by anyone else!) that says something like, “I’m not sure I want to go. They feed me and let me drive their car. Besides, my friends are right around the corner. I actually have a good life here. Do I really have to leave?”

The answer is “yes.” At some point you will need to find a change of address. And, if that place will be a college, why not find one that bears the qualities you like in your home environment—a place that includes people with shared values and interests, a place where people will encourage you on bad days and celebrate with you the good days? Why not find a community into which you can settle comfortably?

When you think about it, the best college fit will be a place that offers a community in which you will feel comfortable. It will be a place where you won’t be distracted by worries about how you fit in. You won’t worry about what people think about you—how you talk, what you say, how you dress or what you think. You won’t have to prove yourself to anyone. Instead, you can relax and focus on getting the most out of your college experience and that includes, by the way, your academic work. There is a strong correlation between one’s comfort level in college—and one’s grade point average!

So, how do you find such a place? It’s hard to search the Internet for such a fit. Chat room conversations can be deceptive as they tend to reflect only the opinions of those who participate.  And the images you see on videos and in printed materials are rarely unattractive.

As a result, you will need to do some original research. Specifically, you need to experience college campuses and, in the process, be sensitive to your “gut” reactions. Quite often students who believe they’ve found the colleges of their dreams are hard-pressed to explain the attraction, except to say, “It’s a gut feeling. It feels right—like I would be at home.” As you think about living apart from the comforts of home, finding your niche is vitally important so let your gut go to work for you.

What “gut feeling” do you hope to find as you look at colleges? Look for students who come from similar backgrounds—who share your interests and your loyalties. While they shouldn’t be exact clones of your friends from home, it’s a good sign if they are people from whom you can learn and around whom you can grow personally. In all likelihood, your gut will tell you when you have found people you’d like to get to know better.

Moreover, what does your gut tell you about a college’s inclination to stretch and support you through various aspects of your college experience? Do you sense that people in a given environment will encourage and support you in your journey of self-discovery? Based on your experience on college campuses, where do you see evidence that interaction with others will help broaden your perspective—get you to take risks and think outside of the box periodically? What does your gut tell you about how an environment will respond if you struggle? Will anyone know?  Will anyone care?

The answers to these questions will help define the ideal college community for you. At a time in your life when you might be aching to get away and have a different experience, it’s vital that you “land” well when you get to college. Be careful not to react impulsively, then, as you consider your college “home away from home.” Be sure to test your reactions. Until you can experience such a place first hand and come away with a really strong, positive “gut feeling,” that feeling only exists in your imagination. Be prepared to visit campuses—and revisit and revise your list accordingly—as your college search continues until one day you will know the place that feels right for you because it feels like home!