If you have a junior in high school NOW is the time to start building the college list! No worries, this list is not set-in stone. However, these five steps for juniors to take when creating their college list, will provide them with a simple guide; it will eliminate future undue stress and provide students the control they need to navigate through the college admission process. Now is a great time to determine what a student wants in their post-secondary education. What type of school will your child be most successful in? COVID, of course, has thrown in some new variables. Some parts of creating the college list have changed, yet others have not. Either way, it is still true that the earlier one begins this journey, the less stress there will be in the senior year.
So, let’s talk about how to build the list. By the beginning of senior year a college list should be narrowed down to 10-12 schools. How does one find a good fit? While the coronavirus is around, we cannot visit campuses in-person or attend college fairs, so we’ll discuss how to acquire information about schools. We don’t know if schools will all be open next fall or online or hybrid. These unknown factors may change the fall of 2022 as well. How do we tackle the unknown? I will discuss resources one can use to learn about important characteristics that a student should be aware of. Let’s get started with the five steps to building the college list:
- Discover values, interests and learning styles of the student
Before creating a list of colleges, it is essential to look at the student. It is the student who needs to find the right match between them and the institution. The more a student knows of themselves the more they will be able to move to the next stage of finding a college match. The student should learn about their needs academically and socially. Students can eliminate barriers to success by carefully understanding the opportunities and environment that best match them. The Self-Survey for The College Bound is an online survey student can take that allows them to assess themselves. This knowledge will assist students to begin to discover the types of schools where they will thrive.
College Match, A Blueprint for Choosing the Best School for You, by Steven R. Antonoff, Ph.D. is a highly recommended workbook that is full of assessments and questions for students to consider.
- Research, research, research
Online college research can become overwhelming. My advice is to check out 4 or 5 search sites and then land on a couple favorites to use over time. One I recommend is Big Future. It is a Collegeboard site that also provides important college admissions tips, videos and an up-to-date college search data base that can be counted on to provide students the opportunity to create profiles of factors they would like to see in their post-secondary choice. Students can store their choices, add and delete over time. Search factors that include, but are not limited to: size, majors, location, cost, extracurricular activities, athletics, academic profile and religious affiliation.
College Scorecard is a US Dept of Education site that has many of the same aspects as Big Future, but also lists important factors such as percentages of students who graduate within six years, job placement, average financial aid distribution, average loan amounts and retention rates.
youniversitytv.com allows students to take virtual tours, which we will discuss as well, but for the student who needs the visual aspect, a virtual search engine is recommended. Students on this site give tours and discuss their opinions of the campus and education they are receiving.
- Create a chart
Spreadsheets with important features of each campus can be created using Google Sheets or Excel. The book I mentioned earlier, by Stephen Antonoff, contains “College Fact Finder” worksheets and, of course, there are many free downloadable versions online. The important piece is to pick the significant characteristics, fill in the information, and see how the schools compare. No college is good or bad, but definitely its size, location, affordability and perfect educational opportunities will vary.
The student will use their chosen online sites to research and learn. Students can add their own personal notes or give the school a grade or rating. They should also look at their admission chances, which we will discuss in step #4 of building the college list.
In addition to the college search engine sites, it is recommended that students begin to attend virtual fairs and campus orientations. COVID has brought a new level of access to these events. Colleges will also have many social media platforms. Joining a Facebook page for a college will allow students to learn more about activities, events, majors and opportunities. Back issues of college newspapers also provide great insight on the social aspects of a campus. This will not only benefit the student by helping them learn about the institution’s characteristics, but some schools will keep track of students’ demonstrated interest. If a student emails an admissions officer to ask questions, attends Q & A sessions and follows the school on social media, it shows they have an interest in the campus.
- Narrow down the list
The big four categories a student should consider when matching themselves to a college are: social fit, academic environment, financial cost and post-college opportunities. Choice of major, location and class size should also be considered as the list is narrowed down. A student will determine the most important personal aspects after they self-assess. The criteria they find important can be added to their chart, as discussed earlier. Academic fit is slightly different. It has a rubric, that, before coronavirus, was a bit easier to use. The SAT and ACT were a given factor, but many schools will be waiving these exams for next fall. College data bases will post last year’s acceptance rates and by comparing your child’s GPA (and possibly, test scores) they can place themselves on a scattergram to show how likely they are to be accepted at that institution. Cappex is a great search site that includes this scattergram.
By the fall of the senior year students should take the list they created while researching schools that match their criteria. They should then narrow down the list to choose the following:
2-3 Likely Schools-these schools are ones where the student’s grade point and test scores far exceed the average of those students accepted in the last cycle.
3-5 Target Schools-these schools are ones where the grade point and test scores are at or above the student’s.
2-3 Reach Schools-these are ones where the average grade point and test scores are much higher than the students.
0-2 Far Reach Schools-some Ivy League and a hand full of other schools with very low acceptance rates are considered wildcards. They can be considered, but having an overall balanced list will help students get accepted to a variety of schools to then choose from. Upon acceptance, students can evaluate their financial packages. By making this carefully chosen list a student will have the best chance of finding their best fit, academically, socially and financially.
Standardized testing is another discussion, as many schools are now test-optional or test-blind. This will be discussed in greater depth on an upcoming blog post. My recommendation, at this time, would be to still, if possible, take one SAT or ACT before the end of the junior year. The student should practice and prepare for it as much as possible and then, they have the option to use it if they want. By 2022 some schools may have new standardized tests or will be requiring standardized tests again. It is hard to know, but one wouldn’t want to end up not having the option to apply to a desired school. Also, many merit scholarships still base awards on standardized test scores, even though admissions are dropping the requirement.
- Consider options:
Prior to COVID a junior may have only planned to list 4-year universities. Now that we are moving into 2021 and are uncertain about what things may look like in the Fall of 2022, it is a good idea to create some options besides 4-year institutions. Many community colleges will have free tuition, making them a great way to obtain the first two years of required credit. In California there are over 100 community colleges. Students could expand their lives by moving away from their home town or stay local and save money while living at home. In addition to the 10-12 universities adding a community college (or two) or investigating gap programs, which include interning, community service, as well as earning college credit while abroad, are great ways to keep options open in these uncertain times.
I wish juniors much good luck on their future. Please let me know if I could be of any assistance. If you have questions or comments you can reach out to me at: