by Lisa McLaughlin
Independent College Admissions Couselor
Students need guidance for college admissions.According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there are more than 3,900 four-year degree-granting universities in the United States. However, it is not uncommon when you ask Southern California students today where they want to go to college that they list maybe five schools of interest. The younger the student is, the more common schools like UCLA, USC, and San Diego State are named.
The more knowledgeable students, as they move through high school, understand what it takes to get into those schools, stay the course and frequently visit their high school counselor for guidance. Then, there are the others, the thousands of students who don’t understand what the requirements are to gain admission to these types of schools, or any universities for that matter, and end up with few options their senior year due to poor planning and preparation. These are the students I am most concerned about in my independent college admissions consulting practice. How will I assist these students to make their application stand out from the thousands of pages admissions directors read each year? Are the colleges on their lists schools that meet all their needs and priorities?
Meeting families where they are in the college selection process is the most critical aspect of my job. At the beginning of this school year, a local family met with me because they heard I could provide solid advice regarding how to get their child into the Ivy League.
This particular student felt he had done all the right things to make himself a competitive candidate for admission to Harvard. He had taken almost all the Advanced Placement courses offered at his high school, participated in varsity sports since his sophomore year and was promoted to a leadership position on one team early in his high school career. Ever since he could remember, he had wanted to go to Harvard.
Our detailed interview went on for two hours as I posed question after question to help him prioritize the factors important to him in his dream college. Do you prefer anonymity or intimacy on a college campus? Is participating in research important to you? How far from home is too far? Ever lived in the snow? What about the rain? Does the school have to offer your major? Do you want to continue your athletic involvement competitively in college? By the time we finished, something had happened. The student didn’t really know why Harvard was on his list in the first place. The “prestige factor” didn’t matter as much after we narrowed down his priorities with respect to what he was looking for in a college. Originally, the prestige of the school was of utmost importance to him. The student thought this was critical if he ever hoped to gain acceptance to medical school.
Knowing that since he was very young, he wanted to attend Harvard, it would still be important to include well-known universities on this list, but I also wanted to ensure that the student had choices of schools with varying levels of selectivity.
Myth #1: You don’t have to start preparing for college until your junior or senior year of high school.
Myth #2: Attending a prestigious university guarantees more job opportunities in your future. In addition, you have to attend one of the most prestigious schools in the country to have any shot at acceptance into a medical school, business school, or any other graduate school, for that matter.
Myth #3: There is only one right college out there for me, and if I don’t get in, I’m worthless.
Myth #4: A campus visit is not important since it entails a tour and information session and you really cannot get a feel for the campus in one day.
Myth #5: The majority of colleges are so competitive that I do not have a chance of being accepted.
After processing his information, at our next meeting, I was able to present an initial 25-30 school choices. The student was excited about all his options. However, the parent kindly asked, “What about Columbia? New York University? Princeton?”
I explained the process I go through when developing a personal list for a client. Every school on the list met each of this student’s personal priorities and the factors important to him in a college. Columbia did not have the athletic team the student was interested in, neither did Princeton, and NYU did not have a central campus—something the student felt he really wanted in a college. In addition, there were the red flags I noticed when reviewing his admissions profile. He dropped Spanish the second semester of his junior year and maintained five academic classes that semester out of a possible six classes, continuing this pattern into his senior year. I was concerned that if he chose to apply only to Ivy League schools, he might end up gravely disappointed in April when the decisions came out.
We started reviewing the list and Johns Hopkins University piqued the student’s interest. “I thought that was only good for graduate school. But, I’ll apply there,” he said.
Before making a decision, it is critical for students to thoroughly research the university and I proceeded to walk him through several activities to help him gain a better sense of the university, its course offerings and campus life. Since the student had never visited a single college campus in his lifetime, we discussed the value of campus visits. (Campus visits are crucial—first of all, you need to “feel the fit,” and second of all, demonstrating your interest in a school can actually help improve your chances of admission at some universities.)
With a carefully planned East Coast itinerary, the student was sent to visit classes, meet with professors, visit athletic coaches and observe an intercollegiate athletic club competition. Most importantly, he would be staying overnight with hosts at the respective schools and living the life of a college student.
Upon returning from his whirlwind tour, the student called and said, “I loved Hopkins. I can see myself there. I didn’t feel that way on any other campus. This is my first choice by far.”
On December 15th an email arrived. “Congratulations! You have been accepted to Johns Hopkins University under the Early Decision Plan. All of us in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions couldn’t be more pleased that you’ll be joining the campus community as a member of the Class of 2010.”
The student was speechless and his mother could barely catch her breath.