Thursday, August 1, 2013

A College Search

Welcome to my blog "A College Search."  Note that it isn't "My College Search" - I am not looking to attend college, I am old enough to have a child looking to attend college.  In fact, it is my 16 year-old, soon-to-be high school junior who is looking to attend a school.  For the purpose of this blog, I will refer to my daughter by the initial M.  My goal here is not to document M's search, I mainly want to discuss the process in general, but it will be colored by her specifics. 

It would also be incorrect to refer to this blog as "M's College Search," because she is not doing much of the driving.  As a high school student, M is busy with her sport, plays and other activities.  So to a large degree this is my show, but I cannot do it alone.  I can do the work, but M needs to provide the dream.  Also note that the goal is not to get into someone else's idea of "the best school," but to get your student into the best school for them. No website can give you that answer.  You need to know your child and his/her goals.  The best way to start might be asking the question... 

Q #1:  Where do you see yourself going to school?
M and I first discussed what she wanted out of a college after her first semester of high school completed.  Yes, this is a little early, but she brought it up.  I asked her general questions like the ones that can be found at; large school or small school? big city, suburb or small town? how far away from home?  what might you want to study?

Task: Create a List
She wanted an academically challenging small school, in our region - but at least an hour from home.  She didn't have a preference for setting, and she said she might want to study engineering.  With that information, I was able to start compiling a list of possible schools.  (I decided to keep that list - and everything else related to M's search in a spreadsheet.)   

Tip #1: Plan on your student changing their mind, especially if you are starting early.  Create a broader list than the one they defined.  In my case, M said "our region" - the Midwest, but I included schools that were in the south and east coast.  I also included some medium and large schools.

Task: Research the Schools on your List
For this I used  Two nice features of this site are 1) "Other Schools to Consider" on the lower left of any particular school's page.  (Use their list to build your list if you think it might need building or refining.) and 2) Rankings and Lists on the right side.  These give you some sense of what the students think of the school.  By research, I mean start recording the information that might be important to your student.  For M, I recorded those ranking and lists data, the number of students, location, the percent female, the percent international, academic rating (and no, I don't know exactly what that number means).  I also copied and pasted the "(School's) Students Say..." text into my spreadsheet.  Also are the student's possible majors offered?  I also quickly discovered that small liberal arts schools don't offer engineering - but the school websites explained that they had partnerships with schools with engineering programs.  M could start at a small school and - if her grades were high enough in her math and physics courses - she would be able to move to an engineering school to finish her schooling.  So I started to record these types of programs (4+1 yr at engineering school, 3+2, and  2+1+1+1  - where your 3rd and 5th year are at the engineering school, but you get to spend your senior year with your class).  I also recorded which schools they typically partnered with.

Task: Check in with your Student/ Refine the List of Schools
I then presented her with a sheet on each school.  (I also removed the name of each school from that sheet, to prevent her from selecting a school based on perceived reputation or some other bias.)  M's task was then to give each school a judgment -  Yes/ No/ or Maybe.  Record these judgments in your spreadsheet.  Pay attention to if the student said "yes" or "maybe" to any school that was outside of her original parameters.  Ask her why.  Have her parameters changed?  If so you might want to add more schools that meet her new parameters.

So now your student has told you that school X is a "No" because they got listed in "dorms like dungeons" or something else that you think is a ridiculous reason to not consider a school.  You can push back and ask them if they want to change it to a "maybe" and see for themselves, or you can just go with it.  Remember, there are thousands of colleges in the US and each student only needs to go to one.  The list needs to get culled.  You need to eliminate schools.  Some will be eliminated for reasons you don't understand or agree with.  That is OK.

So where are we heading? 
We want a list of schools to which our student will apply.  If your student wants to go to a less selective type of school, you don't need to apply to many schools.  The school I graduated from, for example accepts 70% of applicants and my test scores were well above their averages, so if that is where I wanted to go, I would only apply to that one school.  But the general rule when applying to more selective schools is to apply to 7 schools; 2 "reach schools" that the student would love to get into but they fall short of that school's typical student profile when it comes to test scores or grade point average, 3 "match schools", and 2 "safety schools" where the student exceeds the school's average student.

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