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Take advantage of college fairs

21 Sep

 

The Campanile is a familiar landmark at UC Berkeley–where my husband Craig, our daughter Bethany, and I all got our undergrad degrees.

You can get a lot of bang for your zero-cost buck by attending a college fair. These events, held typically in the fall and spring around the country bring college recruiters to cities to talk with prospective students and their parents.

Typically, as many as 200 or more colleges attend these events — and many of my former students found their dream college at one of those fairs. If you do not have the time or money to travel all over the country or even just your own state, you can get some pertinent information in a short couple of hours.

You can find one in your area by talking to your high school counselor. Some of the major ones are sponsored by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), and I have listed a link to its scheduled fairs at the end of this blog. An organization on the West Coast that sponsors college fairs is the Western Association for College Admission Counseling (WACAC), and I’ve listed the link to the two in the West that it sponsors below as well. You should register in advance to save time at the door for these FREE events, so you can save time when you arrive. You will get a bar code that colleges can quickly scan to send you material in the mail after the conference.

(As you search for these college fairs in your area, make sure that as you register online, that you are registering as a STUDENT and not a college rep. These are most always FREE events, so if the online form asks for payment . . . oops, you’ve got the wrong form!)

Look sharp when you go. Often the college reps at these fairs are from the prospective students or outreach office at their university. However, sometimes you might find that admissions officers and perhaps even the head admissions counselor is standing right in front of you.

To make the most of these events, engage with the college representatives. As I’ve taken students to college fairs over many years, I give them a pep talk before we enter the event, saying something silly like this: “You’re happy! You’re smart! You’re friendly!” That gets a smile on their faces and helps them understand that they should be the one most proactive about getting the most from the experience.

Do the following:

1. Smile, extend your hand, and introduce yourself. “Hi, I’m Sally Smart, and I’m a student from Littletown.”

2. Explain what kind of college program you’re interested in. “I’m interested in mechanical engineering. Can you tell me something about your program?”

3. Engage in conversation about those subjects important to you. Here are some other great questions to ask:

  • “How would you characterize the students at your university?”
  • “What do students like most about the college?” “What do they like the least?”
  • “Is the faculty accessible to students other than the traditional office hours?”
  • “Are any departments being cut back or discontinued? If so, why?”
  • “What percentage of students receive merit-based financial aid? And what percentage of students receive need-based financial aid?”

You and your parents might want to make a list of important questions before you attend the college fair — ones that are most important to you.

I coach my students to ask each college rep at least a couple questions. One that can often catch a rep off-guard is “Do you like your job?” You can find out the true answer to that in their face — and that can say volumes about a school, too! If the rep was a student at that college, ask that person to relate some of their best and worst experiences.

Pick up any and all of the freebies: brochures, flyers, pens, and other trinkets. If you can’t use them, your friends and even your high school counselor probably can.

Any exciting news about college acceptances yet?

Here are those links to find college fairs near you:

http://www.nacacnet.org/college-fairs/students-parents/Pages/default.aspx

https://www.wacaccollegefair.com/Registration/EventSelectForState?stateName=All

How to figure out a college major

6 Sep

You can learn a lot about majors at a college bookstore!

As you’re making plans to apply to colleges, one question comes up repeatedly.

What will be your intended major?

That’s a biggie, seniors, because you want to apply to colleges that have a strong program in that major. (The answer to that question will be in next week’s blog.)

But how can you know if a major will be a good fit?

That’s also challenging at this point, but there are a couple good ways to find your academic niche.

First, on a university’s website, find the list of required courses for a major that interests you. Then go to the link for the required courses of that major (not the general ed courses).

Read through the actual course descriptions–the short paragraph that tells you what the course will be about). Do these seem interesting to you? If so, that could be a good fit for you.

Yes, you’re allowed to look through college textbooks.

Another strategy is to visit a college’s bookstore and head toward the section that has the books required for the various college classes (yes, you can do that!). Find your major and the various courses in the department being offered that semester (or quarter). Thumb through them. Read a page or two.

I’ve been known to ask students these questions. “Do these books seem interesting to you?” “Can you see yourself reading this material?” “If not, do you think this would be the best major for you?”

If you do NOT like the material in the textbooks, then peruse the bookstore for academic books that DO interest you. Maybe that will be your fit instead.

Happy major hunting . . . and keep in mind that some universities will allow you to apply “Undeclared,” which means you have not yet decided on a major.

Hey, reader . . . 50 Life Lessons for Grads–written by 50 college grads–will be released in April. Look for it for the perfect gift for all the grads you know.

 

What admissions officers want

30 Aug

My youngest is currently getting a master’s degree from the University of Hawaii in Honolulu.

While some four-year universities may simply use GPA and scores to determine acceptance, others may consider many criteria in the admissions application, including a combination of the following:

 

 

  • School achievement (GPA)
  • Test scores (SAT or ACT)
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Personal essay(s)
  • Personal (or telephone) interview
  • Activities, including leadership, athletics, and community service.

It is important to carefully review a college’s admissions considerations, so you can make decisions about where to apply. It is NOT a good idea to apply only to one or two colleges, because that doesn’t leave much wiggle room if the response is negative. Here’s a traditional guideline:

  • Apply to a couple “safe” schools — those to which you (or your student) will certainly be accepted.
  • Apply to a couple “challenge” schools — ones with good reputations that probably will accept you.
  • Apply to one or more “reach” schools — ones that are more selective.
  • Think about a mix of both public and private universities. Public universities usually are more affordable, while private universities can usually offer more free financial assistance, as well as graduation within four years.

The College Board began tracking admissions considerations in the early 1980s and has consistently found that the most important considerations for acceptance are the student’s grade point average and the rigor of courses taken (College Counseling Sourcebook, 4th edition, 2007). Colleges have found that students who challenge themselves in high school and achieve in difficult classes will also succeed at the college level. So, if you have not performed all that well in high school and are counting on the fact that you are student body president this year . . . you may be disappointed.

What I have learned is that I cannot always predict whether or not a student will get into a certain college. My oldest got into all five colleges to which she applied. The next two kids got into most of the schools to which they applied. The last one got into three of the six even though she had the strongest profile of our four kids — and the school she attended (UC Berkeley) was the most selective of those six. So, who knows?

What I do know is that for selective schools a student must have stellar grades and scores . . . and a unique leadership quality that has been demonstrated consistently over the entire high school career. Leadership is demonstrated in a couple ways: holding a presidency or vice presidency in a school, class, club, or other organization or organizing (as a committee chairman or event chairman). Generally, only serving as a member or other kind of officer doesn’t demonstrate “leadership.” So, an ASB president title slapped on during the senior year when no other leadership was demonstrated in earlier years may not be enough for some admissions folks looking for something to tip the scale in the student’s favor.

Community service is fantastic on a student’s profile, but the volunteer work should be focused and cumulative over many years, rather than spotty endeavors in this cancer walk or that food drive for the shelter. Additionally, the college applicant should be able to show that she ORGANIZED the various events, not merely attended or participated. Again, colleges want leaders, not followers.

So, this week’s assignment:

  • Make a list of what schools to apply to.
  • Write the deadlines in your planner.

And understand this: The early bird generally gets the acceptance AND the best financial aid offer. So, make your weekend “job” college applications this fall .  .  . and get them done!

To what schools do you plan to apply?