Tuesday, March 8, 2011

From the Trenches -- Starting Points for the College Selection Process Part 3

This will be the last in the series -- we will be looking at some concrete things that can be done (dare I say by parents)to jump start the process of figuring out what schools just might make sense.

Here's what Tina Squyres shared. "This is the one place that I stuck my oar in (with my kids’ blessing). To get them started, and since the number of schools that are available is so large, I created a spreadsheet for each daughter. I started with what they want to study (which included for my older daughter music opportunities for non-music majors). The spreadsheet includes information about male/female ratio, SATs, location, number of students, academic/social/quality of life ratings, and a column of notes from the college guides. It is sorted by location in the country (neither daughter is interested in a southern school but they are on the spreadsheet), overall size, and academic rating.

"My older daughter used the spreadsheet exclusively when deciding which schools to visit and where to apply. I’m not sure how my daughter who's a junior will use it, but she feels like it makes the process a little more manageable. Her spreadsheet has 60 schools on it. She probably won't consider smaller schools (under 3,000 students); the southern schools that made the list; and schools where the male/female ratio is skewed heavily in favor of women. That means that her working list is approximately 30 schools...a more manageable list than the several hundred schools found in the college books. It also means that I hope I did my homework really well!"

Kim Cook and Tina have taken similar paths. "Some experts may disagree with this, but frankly once you have some of those preferences, and if you know your kid pretty well, I would do a fair bit of the legwork yourself online in terms of researching schools. I work from home so I could devote an hour almost every day to scouring all of the aggregate sites – Princeton Review, Kiplinger’s, US News, Collegeboard, College Prowler, College Confidential, etc. I delved deep into potential schools websites – you can tell a whole lot about a school from their online image, and from videos, student comments, how engaged the school seems to be with its community and student body. Departmental pages for the subject areas my kids were interested in were an important component of this online research too."

She added something we all need to remember as we face travel to prospective schools. "You can waste a whole college visit trip if you haven’t thoroughly ‘explored’ the school online. We have lots of friends who literally drove up the entrance to campuses and turned around and drove back out – the first impressions were so negative for the kids they didn’t even care to get out of the car! If you’ve driven or flown a long way, that’s a big waste of time. Do a lot of virtual legwork ahead of time, then present the bookmarked pages and your first impressions to your student, let them explore the schools’ websites on their own, and build your list that way."

But, try to make the process as pleasant as possible. Linda Auld, of Suburban Learning Center described a mother/daughter road trip her friend took recently. "They took it easy visiting one college in the morning and then sightseeing, staying in nice hotels, and visiting family/friends along the way, covering five schools, big and small, from Delaware to D.C. Now they have some ideas about big/small, public/private, city/suburban. Their advice: treat yourself nicely and just don't try to do too much in one day!"

We'll change the subject tomorrow, but many thanks to our panelists who responded and shared their views.

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