I’m about to save you thousands of dollars. No need to hire one of those expensive college coaches. My only credential is that my wife and I have successfully helped both our kids get into the college of their choice. Since those college coaches are so darn expensive, I figured I’d share some pearls of wisdom we learned going through the process twice.
Part 1 is about the college visit. Colleges are laser-focused on yield these days. This means that they want to know that the people they admit actually will come to their college. They all admit more students than will actually attend but they want this percentage to be as high as possible. This means you want to do everything possible to convince the college that if admitted, you will enroll. How do you do that? They look at several factors. The top one is whether you’ve applied Early Decision or not. Early Decision means that you are agreeing to enroll if accepted. There’s no stronger showing of interest than this. And if you apply Early Decision (and you should but I’ll talk more about that another time), your odds of being accepted are significantly higher than if you are in the Regular Decision pool of candidates.
If you’re not applying Early Decision, then it’s very important to demonstrate real interest in the college. One of the best ways to do that is to visit. If you schlep yourself all of the way from home to the college to go to an info session and a tour, they reason you must be serious about attending. It’s also the best way for your kid to get a feel for a college. We toured 18 colleges with my son before he made his decisions and probably 10 or so with my daughter. In some cases, they knew before we got back in the car whether the college would make their short list or not. They felt it. And the only way to feel it is to actually go there and walk the campus and see the students in action.
During the information session, it is critically important that both you and your child take notes. The notes will help you remember this college and distinguish it from others when they all start to blend together in your mind. Your kid’s notes will also inform what kinds of things stood out for them. These notes will be a huge help to you later down the road when your child has to write the “Why do you want to go to College X?” essay. These highlights will provide fodder for the essay and demonstrate to the college admissions officers that you’re not just using the same essay for all colleges and just changing the institution’s name.
If your child likes what they see during the info session and tour, try to eat a meal in one of the dining halls. Food is an important part of the college experience. Eating in the dining hall will help inform the college selection process. Do it if you can.
When you go to visit, you get bonus points if you (a) schedule an informational meeting with a department your kid might be interested in majoring in, and (b) schedule an interview for your kid (if they are offered).
Thousands of prospective students visit campus each year to attend the info session and a tour. That’s great. But far fewer actually go further by scheduling time with a professor or department chair in an area of your kid’s intended major. Doing this serves multiple purposes. It gives you and your child a better sense of their program. Take copious notes during this meeting. These notes will again prove helpful when you later write the “Why This College?” essay.
The point about scheduling an interview really depends upon your kid. If your kid has a winning smile, a good sense of humor and is comfortable talking to people, then you want them to interview. Again, a small percentage of the many of the thousands of students who tour campus each year will actually interview. This will make your child stand out and demonstrate your seriousness in attending this school. Of course, if your child is uncomfortable talking to strangers and answers most questions with one word or a grunt, then you might want to opt out of the interview process. You make the judgment call here.
Last thing, and this is very important – before you get in the car to return home, have your child write down impressions of the school. Did they hear about a funky club that interested them? Talk to some students in the dining hall? Hear an interesting story from their tour guide? Did they like the architecture or the library? It is scary how quickly schools start to blend together in your mind during this process and these notes will help remind them about this school later on. They will also prove hugely valuable when writing the essay. Final thing is you should ask your child to rank this school among all of the schools they have up to that point. As you add schools to the list, by having your child rank and re-rank the schools, it will clarify what is important to them and make them more confident in the schools they choose.
By the time you’re done visiting schools, you ideally want 3-4 reach schools, 3-4 comfortable schools, and 3-4 safety schools on the list. If your child gets into every school they apply to, then either they are a super genius or there weren’t enough stretch schools on the list. On the other end of the spectrum, you want to make sure that you’re not aiming so high with every school choice that your child doesn’t get in anywhere.
That’s it for Part 1. Hope this is helpful. Stay tuned for Part 2.