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 May 2018

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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.

BCF Readers’ Forum 5.16.18


Wednesday, May 16th, 2018

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,
I am recently divorced and will be facing the funding of my children’s college educations alone. They currently attend a private day school. I recently attended a free seminar about funding of said educations. It turned out to be a teaser for a company that offered everything from preparation for the SAT exam to assistance in preparation of the College Scholarship Service Profile and FAFSA applications to appealing any awards by the schools if deemed to be inadequate. The initial fee is $1995 per family with an additional $39 per month per child for 48 months. There is no contract and the service can be terminated at any time. Do you feel that a service like this is valuable and worth the cost?
Eileen

Dear Eileen,
You are wise to be cynical about this company’s pitch. In reality, your prep school tuition dollars are already producing many of the same benefits that the company seems to offer. Basically, you would be paying to have them complete your financial aid forms when you can do them yourself at no cost or have your accountant do them for a lesser fee. With regard to appeals of financial aid awards, colleges don’t want to hear from a consultant—they want to hear from you directly. The only possible value to engaging the company is to your peace of mind regarding elements of the process. They will not get your kids into colleges or leverage better financial aid awards for them. They will, however, charge you for services that, in my opinion, aren’t necessary.
Peter

Dear Peter,
As my son registers for future standardized tests, should he fill out all the profile questions on their websites (other than the basics, such as his graduation year)?

Both testing organizations ask for a lot of information they clearly state is supplied to colleges. We are wondering if there is any harm in declining to supply information—questions related to anticipated majors, extra-curricular information and plans for how many years of college, etc? Conversely, is there any potential drawback to providing this information? The information that is requested seems very over the top!
AnnMarie

Dear AnnMarie,
Welcome to the world of lead generation! Colleges, summer camps and scholarship programs will buy tens of thousands of names of students who meet their minimal requirements and then direct their messaging at getting the students to respond!

I am not aware of any downside to withholding the optional information requested by the testing agencies. If your son would rather not be subjected to the deluge of random mail/email that would otherwise result from that sharing, there is no harm in declining to provide the information. The possible upside to sharing is that his name might be picked up by colleges and/or scholarship programs that could be of interest to him.
Peter

Dear Peter,
Do college admission officers take a high school’s ranking into consideration when looking at a candidate? My son goes to a full-time gifted school which has always ranked as one of the best high schools in the USA. Being in a school of all gifted students, the competition is stiffer. Even with his 4.7 GPA he is not ranked in the top ten percentile of his class. Will this work against him when he applies in highly selective schools?
Arlene

Dear Arlene,
The answer to your question will vary according to institutional type. Whereas many state universities evaluate high school transcripts at face value, most private colleges and universities review academic records contextually. In other words, before they can make any sense out of the student’s academic performance, they first delve into the learning environment from which the student comes to better understand who attends the school, what courses are offered, how students are evaluated and how they perform when taking AP/IB/SAT Subject Tests. With this information in hand, they come to a better understanding of the individual’s performance. I don’t know where your son goes to school, but I suspect the college counseling folks are pretty diligent about providing the contextual information needed by admission officers in order to make good and fair assessments regarding its students as they apply to college.
Peter

Dear Peter,
How does one ace the college interview??
Jonathan

Dear Jonathan,
I would offer four bits of advice to the student preparing for interviews. First, be in command of your academic (and life) credentials. Students often feel compelled to present resumes and/or transcripts to their interviewers. Frankly, that’s not necessary. Interviewers are more interested in hearing the student’s interpretation of that information in the student’s words. So, it is important that you can recite courses, grades and test information. You also need to able to talk about important activities and life events, including any circumstances that might have contributed to irregularities in the academic record.

Second, you need to relax. This cannot be underestimated. You should be able to engage comfortably in conversation with someone who is eager to get to know more about you. Good interviewers are adept at leading the conversation and drawing critical information from the interviewees.

Third, positive body language is important. A pleasant smile, good eye contact and firm handshake help to set the tone. Just as important is the elimination of distractions—chewing gum, nervous ticks (shaking legs, etc.), inappropriate attire (go with “business casual” for teenagers) and conversational hiccups (“like, well, you know…” “Ummmm…” etc.).

Finally, be knowledgeable about the institution—know why you are there! Don’t ask questions that can easily be answered on the college’s website. Make sure you convey an air of confidence that you know why the place would be a good match for you.
Peter

Dear Peter,
My daughter is a junior with a straight “A” average in 5 AP courses with a 1570 SAT. She plays volleyball for her high school and an elite club year-round. She wants desperately to attend an Ivy whether playing volleyball or not. Having been consumed with volleyball year round, she has had little time to participate in other extracurricular activities. She now feels behind in some respects and wants to travel overseas for a week this summer to assist indigents and will set up a website for donations throughout her senior year. My question: how will admissions people view this at Ivys? Is it worthwhile for admissions purposes or would she be better served with summer employment or internships?
Lee

Dear Lee,
Given your daughter’s academic credentials, she will be on the academic “competitive playing fields” academically at any school in the country. Without any further considerations—and assuming her classroom performance continues at the same level through her senior year, the odds of gaining admission are between one out of ten and one out of twenty at the colleges of interest. In order to improve those odds, she needs to present non-academic credentials that cause her to stand out among similarly qualified applicants at the institutions in question. Quite frankly, it is possible that her volleyball involvement could provide the “hook” she needs. She will know soon if that is to be the case as the college coaches will start identifying their top prospects this summer. Her club coach should be able to give her a sense as to the likelihood she will be recruited by the Ivies.

Beyond volleyball, your daughter needs to be careful not to be seen as manufacturing a credential in order to enhance her competitiveness. Rather, she needs to make choices as though college is not in the picture. She needs to make herself happy—to find personal enrichment in all she does. In doing so, her actions/decisions will reveal the authenticity of character that might set her apart from the competition. She should not embark on the overseas project simply to create a credential worthy of admission to an Ivy League school. She should do it because she can’t help herself—because she feels absolutely compelled to engage in the project. Even more compelling will be the connectivity of her decision-making with other choices she has made in life.

Highly selective schools see thousands of seemingly gratuitous examples of summer service in underdeveloped countries. The fact of the involvement won’t turn heads. If it is part of a larger sense of mission and opportunity that she can clearly articulate in her application, then it can make a difference.
Peter

Dear Peter,
My daughter just received her ACT score. She did not score well at all on her SAT, however, she managed to pull out an above average score on her ACT. We intended to continue her tutoring and have her take both a second time. My husband, now armed with the higher ACT score, thinks we should drop the SAT altogether and focus on her area of strength with the ACT. He feels we should continue working to improve on the ACT score and that most schools will take either test. Could you provide any guidance on this?
Sophia

Dear Sophia,
Your husband on the right track! It is true that every college in the country will accept either the SAT or ACT. I strongly urge students to sample one of each in order to determine the test with which they are most comfortable and then to focus on that test taking it no more than three times. In this case, if your daughter seems more comfortable with the ACT, then she might as well focus on preparing for that test (and not worry about the SAT going forward).
Peter

By Peter Van Buskirk

May is a month when high school Juniors find themselves staring at the seemingly “uphill” portion of the college planning process. Whereas the prospect of “going to college” has been on the radar screen for quite a while, the task of getting there is now approached with a new-found sense of earnestness.

The coming months will find students compiling lists and sorting through options in the hopes of happy outcomes. It won’t be easy, though. Just contemplating the upcoming gauntlet of college visits, essay preparation and tests—not to mention the panicked rush to meet application deadlines—can induce waves of anxiety on even the most thoughtfully organized families.

Getting “there”—to the happy endpoint—with a modicum of sanity intact, then, requires an implicit understanding of roles and responsibilities. And it requires recognition that ownership of the process and the outcomes rests with the student.

The question of ownership in the college planning process isn’t easily or comfortably resolved—if addressed at all—within many families. After all, parents have been heavily invested in outcomes for their progeny since birth. College is simply an extension of the litany of experiences that parents intend for their children on the way to establishing happy and productive lifestyles. And who, better than the parents, can make the critical decisions about where and how to apply?

The truth of the matter is that the college application and selection process represents a launching pad for young adults as they emerge from the comforts of home, family and all that is known into a world of self-discovery. They need to recognize—and seize—such opportunities for reasons that are important to them and no one else.

This assertion can be difficult for some parents to swallow. After all, it isn’t easy to give up control and expect an 18-year-old, with little-to-no experience, to make the right decisions in managing a process of this complexity when the stakes are so high. For these parents, peace of mind is found in handling the important decisions themselves—hiring private educational consultants to manage the process, putting kids in pricey test prep programs and paying for access to essay editing services.

When this happens, students become spectators in the planning for their respective futures. Forced to the “sidelines,” they are not able to learn and practice good decision-making skills or experience accountability for their actions in a process that impacts their respective futures. Unable to truly affect outcomes, they are affected by them.

The best outcomes in college planning occur when the student is vested with ownership. After all, the parents aren’t going to college—it is the student who must compete for admission. And it is the student, who, based on the strength of his credentials and preparation, will be given the opportunity to test his skills at the next level educationally.

Achieving this opportunity in a manner that is ultimately rewarding to the student and satisfying to the parent calls for an approach in which parents cede ownership to their students, an approach in which “directing” gives way to “guiding.” Turning over the controls isn’t easy, but at some point it’s necessary. (If you have taught your kids to drive, you know what I mean!) For kids, going to college represents, among other things, the opportunity to step out of their parents’ shadows and into a world of possibilities they can begin to imagine for themselves. And getting there, despite their inexperience and busy schedules, is something they must learn to do for themselves.

The gift of ownership, then, can be incredibly empowering for a young person who is straining to define herself. College admission officers are eager to see how students are emerging as young adults. They want to hear their voices and learn about their accomplishments. They want a measure of the student’s vision and self-confidence that can only come from the student. As a parent, you have done your job in that you have brought her to the point where she can begin speaking for herself. Now, it’s her turn.

Tips to parents for implementing the transition to student ownership:

  1. Engage in conversation that gives your student the opportunity to think about and identify his priorities for life after high school.
  2. If such priorities include a college education, explore with your student the factors that will be essential –in her mind—to defining a successful experience (i.e. distance from home, style of instruction, social life, etc.).
  3. Focus on finding the best college fit. Preoccupation with prestige and rankings often detract from a student’s ability to make smart, student-centered choices.
  4. Give your student responsibility for the development of a college list. Encourage a long list that at first includes a range of options. Then help him assess these schools within the context of “fit” and his priorities. Support opportunities to visit colleges whenever possible.
  5. Urge your student to maintain a file of information about the colleges that interest her most. The file might include a spreadsheet on which she tracks data and impressions for each college that relate to her priorities.
  6. Encourage your student to wrestle with questions such as “What will a college get if it admits you?” and “How might you convince admission officers that you will be a good fit for their schools?” Such conversations will help the student find greater focus when it is time to apply for admission.

As you and your student become immersed in college planning, continue to visit this College Planning Blog for additional blog postings that provide greater insights and guidance with regard to different elements of college planning. In addition, Prepare, Compete, Win! The Ultimate College Planning Workbook for Students, available in the BCF Bookstore is a great resource for students as they begin to take ownership in the college planning process.

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.