Part of the joy I find in working with high school students on their plans to transition to college, is getting to know the student and family in order to work as a partner in finding their right college fit. My goal in this effort is for the student to be on a campus where they feel comfortable with the learning environment, and have opportunities available to them to become engaged with all that their college has to offer. This will be different for each student, and many variables will play into a decision regarding best fit. Learning supports, internship opportunities, academic majors, access to professors, classroom size, activities and clubs, all can play a role in helping to determine where a student can thrive. Absent from this list is college ranking.
Recent research from Stanford’s Graduate School of Education speaks to the fact that it is student engagement in their college experience that is indicative of future success. Not necessarily, for most groups of students, the college ranking. This research helps to reinforce what families should be focusing on as they explore college options, as it is a guide to help prioritize what will be most important for the student's future. I am hopeful that this type of research will continue in order to help families have the information they need to make important decisions that can help set students up for success after college.
Many current seniors are in the midst of applying to colleges, but every student will be at a different point in the process. Some are just getting started on their college list and essays, while others have already submitted early applications. Regardless of where you are in the process, it is helpful to explore resources to provide you with knowledge about what you need to know next. For students still pulling together their college list, here is a great resource. For students who need to get the big picture of tasks they need to complete for the application, this has wonderful information. For students who are looking at the cost of colleges this can be very helpful.
Taking advantage of resources is an important skill for students to have, not only during this application process, but when you are in college as well. Colleges offer a variety of types of resources to support students in being successful. As you move farther along this process to the point where you are deciding what college to attend, take some time to explore the colleges to see what they offer in internships, career services, mental health support, academic support, social opportunities, etc. Do the research that will help you make the best choice for you, and make use of the resources available to you to get the information you need.
With the start of the new school year, it is a good time for students and parents to develop an understanding of the tasks to be aware of while in high school in order to prepare for college. It has been my experience in working with students through the high school years, that the more they are exposed to discussions around college, the easier it is to manage the application tasks. Discussions can involve talking about different types of colleges, visiting a college, reading about colleges, talking to older peers or siblings about their college process, etc. It does not have to be stressful for the student, but rather a process of slowly increasing their understanding and awareness of colleges and what they have to offer. I find that those students who are exposed to the topic of college during the high school years enter senior year less stressed about the application tasks, as they have an integrated sense of the process.
To help with this, here is a link to a resource that I appreciate, as it lists tasks that encourage students to talk to counselors, think about the type of learner they are, etc. It is not just a to-do list. Another opportunity for students to get on track with a college-going mindset is to attend a college fair. This is a great opportunity to learn about different colleges and speak to college representatives. Similarly, many high schools host college representatives during the fall, so make sure to find out when colleges that could be of interest to you will be visiting your school. These are all great ways to help students and parents get on track for the college application process.
While it is still summer and high school students have more free time to reflect, it might be helpful to think a bit about elements of what colleges are looking for in students beyond grades and test scores. More colleges are giving voice to the importance of character in applicants, as admissions officers are working to create balanced communities on their campuses. They are interested in who you are as a student and a person, and how you will contribute to their campus. This short video does a great job of talking about this in more detail.
In addition, this article from the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) goes into further depth on this topic. It is hoped that students and parents will think through this perspective as you as a family make decisions during the high school years. What are the pros and cons of adding rigor to your schedule? What opportunities are available to you that you can step into and grow from? Colleges want to know who you are as a student, so take the time during high school to explore experiences that demonstrate who you are and what is important to you.
While rising seniors are likely enjoying a well deserved break after junior year, it might be a good idea to set aside time during the summer months to review the college application process and understand what will be expected. Some students decide to work on their application essays over the summer in order to have one less thing to focus on in the fall. Many high schools are aware of this and will work with students in essay workshops at the end of junior year or over the summer. Here are some resources to get you started:
8 Tips for Creating your Best College Essay
7 Effective Application Essay Tips...
In addition to the essay, there are many other elements of the application process for students and parents to be aware of. This article does a great job in providing an overview of what to expect and how to prepare. Once a student has accumulated resources to guide the process, making a plan to get organized and find the time to work on the essays and applications will be key!
The college application process has many moving parts for students and parents to be aware of, which at times might lead to some confusion. From SAT/ACT scores and the option of retaking the test to potentially improve a score, to what classes to take, to how to handle a learning difference on the college application. Each of these questions are very common, but the answers are unique to each student. Considering some basic points can help to guide the student and parent to the answer that fits their situation best. For example, if a student is wondering how many AP classes to take in his/her senior year of high school, it is important to look at potential majors in college, how the student performed in previous AP classes, how well the student can balance the rigor of a difficult schedule with their other obligations, etc.
In thinking about how a student might want to handle a learning disability or other challenge in their application, the discussion will revolve around the student’s experience with their challenge and how it has and has not impacted their lives. After talking this through with students, it is often quite clear to a student how to handle this topic on the application. There are some myths, however, about the benefits of revealing a disability to a college that students and parents should be aware of so they make the decision to reveal a disability for the right reason. This article talks about important points to consider in planning the transition to college, including the myth that colleges have to meet a quota of students with disabilities as well as the fact that colleges do not have to automatically follow IEP's and 504 plans. This is a wonderful article with many helpful points and insights.
As students are winding down their high school years and preparing to transition to college, it may be a good time to reinforce the importance of self-advocacy for students moving on to college. A student being able to know when they are experiencing a challenge academically, socially, etc, and taking the steps to seek help is critical to success in college. Many students while in high school count on their parents and teachers to move them through the self-advocacy process. Now is the time to start to have conversations as a family to talk about how best to build these skills before the summer ends and college begins. Here is a great article that talks more about this topic. Click on some of the links within the article for even more resources.
College readiness skills such a student's ability to be aware in a timely manner when help is needed and the ability to ask for help, are critical to the success of any college student. Similarly important are organizational skills to manage classes and homework, as well as social skills to successfully transition to dorm life and the many other highly social aspects of college life. However, not all students are ready for the same level of independence as soon as they graduate from high school.
Beginning in high school, talking about college readiness as a family can help set expectations for the student and parents, as well as provide an opportunity to allow the student to be able to set clear goals in order to build the necessary skills for a successful transition. As the high school years pass and the student makes progress, the family can work together to determine what is the best next step for a student after high school. This article does a wonderful job in speaking to readiness. Very much worth a read, and consider sharing it with family members to help get the discussion started.
When high school students begin to formulate their college list, they will consider many aspects including cost, acceptance probability, academic areas of interest, location, etc. For students with learning differences, the types of support available at each college will also be a factor. However, when developing the college list, the student with a learning difference or special need may not have a full sense of what would be best for them when the time comes to decide where to accept an offer. For example, a student with high functioning autism might need an organizational tutor several days a week while in his junior year of high school. By the end of senior year, this may be reduced substantially for some students as they continue to mature into adulthood. Therefore, accounting for maturity and emotional growth is important to add to the aspects to consider when creating a college list.
No one has a crystal ball and can know who a student will be during the spring of senior year when it comes to how they understand, manage and self-advocate around their disability. Therefore, planning for substantial growth will be important, as well as planning for the possibility of minimal social emotional growth will be part of a balanced and thoughtful college list. This can be made clear to students in an empowering way, with the plan that each college on the list can offer an opportunity for success. It will simply depend on the resources that a student will need to receive in order to best achieve success. And as success is defined by each student, the list should be a positive reflection of choices.
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