Once you’ve planned your campus visits over spring break (see last week’s column www.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com) juniors and their families need to focus on the “three R’s.”
No, not “Reading, (W)Riting and (A)Rithmatic,” but rather: Research, Resume and Recommendations.
Research: Spend the time determining if a college represents a good fit for you. I always suggest that my families examine what I call the “trifecta of fit.”
1. Academic Fit – It is critically important that a student identify colleges where they’ll be challenged but not overwhelmed. Does the school have a range of majors, concentrations and courses that interest you? Are the typical class sizes the kind that work for you? Are graduate students likely to be teaching many of your courses freshman year? These are factors that are measured annually by The Princeton Review (PR) in their college guidebook “PR Best 380 Colleges.” Is the academic atmosphere characterized as collaborative or competitive.
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2. Social Fit – These questions relate to location, size of the town, accessibility to restaurants, shopping, culture, etc., climate, size of student population, role of athletics, dominance of greek life, extracurricular offerings, dining and housing options, study abroad and internship opportunities, etc. In essence, is this a place where you think you’ll feel at home? Is there enough to do to keep you engaged, but not too much to do that might make you feel overwhelmed?
3. Financial Fit – No one, not students and definitely not parents should be burdened with college debt. Openly discuss the realities of your family’s financial situation. How much have you saved? Research whether you’re likely to qualify for need-based aid by completing the EFC (Expected Family Contribution) Calculator on the FAFSA website (www.fafsa.ed.gov). Make sure you put colleges on the list where you can expect to receive generous merit aid; schools where your test scores are in the top 25 percent of students they accepted in the previous year.
Resume: Juniors should be finalizing their resumes or brag sheets. Make sure you list how many hours per week and how many weeks per year you participate in each activity because most college applications ask for that information. Provide details on the contributions you made and your level of responsibility. Strengthen your resume with active verbs that are meaningful. Don’t forget about what you’ve done over your summers. Did you start a landscaping business, take a course, participate in a mission trip or other community service activity or complete an academic program at a university?
Recommendations: Ask your teachers if they will be willing to write you a letter of recommendation in the fall of your senior year. It is important to “book” them now because the most popular teachers often put a cap on how many letters they will write and you don’t want to find yourself closed out.
Other things juniors should be thinking about: Testing and test prep, summer plans, refining the college list after visiting colleges over spring break and course selection for senior year.
Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org; www.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com