This is the time when parents and students are making decisions about college. I have been through this process three times with my sons and would like to share with you some of the things I learned about choosing and surviving college.
The process of applying to colleges can be time-consuming and discouraging. Many students begin enthusiastically investigating and visiting colleges only to become discouraged and “burn out” when they are faced with the application forms. As a result, important deadlines are unmet. My first piece of advice therefore, is to begin early and to do a little bit at a time.
Students who know they are going to apply to college should begin keeping records as early as possible. They should list everything: clubs, jobs, community activities, sports, trips, special events and so forth. When faced with an application form, most students forget very important information.
Students usually know that they have to take the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Tests) as part of the admission requirement to most colleges. Many students do not realize, however, that many colleges also require achievement tests. It is best to take these tests immediately after the student has completed the course in high school. Not only is information fresh in the student’s mind at this time, but this system also allows the student to space these tests over several years.
Most college admission offices agree that the interview is not very important. What is important is the composition required by most colleges. I believe the best compositions are those written from the heart. One applicant wrote a composition in which she described her room and told what everything in it meant to her. Her choice of subject matter made great sense, since she was certainly the world’s expert on the topic. She was admitted to the college of her choice.
Selectivity in college applications is important, not only because they require so much work but also because of the expense involved in each application. It is best to apply to no more than five colleges and one of the five should be a college the student knows will accept him or her. This is not as difficult a task for the students who know what they want to study as it is for those who have no major choice. Since most schools are not strong in all departments, students should choose the school which has an outstanding department in the major of their choice.
Students who choose a college because it is “in” that year, may be setting themselves up for disappointment. Many students feel that they are at a great disadvantage if they do not get into the prestigious colleges and they have somehow failed before they even start. The idea that there is only “one” college to go to in order to be successful is simply not true. What makes students successful in college is the effort they put into it.
Since few students begin their major studies in their freshman year, there is always a good chance of transferring to their first or second choice college in the junior year. Many colleges have high attrition rates in the first two years. Colleges that are difficult to get into in the freshman year, are sometimes easier to get into in the junior year because there is not as much competition. Another reason is that grades are a better predictor of college performance than SAT scores. Students who do well at another college have proven themselves and college admission offices are taking less of a chance on their future success than they are with freshman applicants.
No matter what the final choice is, however, students need to remember that they can succeed anywhere, since it is what they put into the experience that makes the difference. Many students decide after the first semester, that they do not like the college they choose and want to come home or transfer. I would suggest that you encourage your children to stay at least two years at their college. Most students come to love the schools they are attending and when properly motivated, get very good educations.