Q and A with the College Counselor

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http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jeannie-borin/got-college-prep-question_b_5645902.html?utm_hp_ref=college&ir=College

I ran into the article above and thought heck, I’ll try to give my own answers to the questions in there!  I won’t answer the last question because that is about in state and out of state students and international students are all out of state (no matter how hard we try!)

1.  We don’t have time or money to visit schools I’m really interested in.  What can I do?

This is quite common for us here in the Philippines.  I talked about the importance of college visits in a previous post.  Usually people don’t visit because they don’t want to spend the money (a ridiculous excuse) or it’s a time issue.  If you start the college research process only as a senior, it’s a little late to be visiting colleges.  This is a very good reason why you should start researching US colleges in your junior year.

But given that you didn’t (can’t) visit, what else can you do?  Outside of the usual avenues of research (Internet, college guide books, etc.), try emailing the admissions office people regarding questions you may have.  See if they have students you can email and ask questions.  On a lot of college websites, they have a “virtual tour” button but that just shows off the pretty campus buildings and quads, etc.  Also, don’t forget YouTube!  A lot of colleges post videos of themselves and their programs online.  You can look at the dorms, maybe even listen to a lecture.  

2.  What makes a school large or small and what are the advantages and disadvantages of each?

For me, a large school is anywhere there are more than 10,000 undergraduates.  A small school is maybe less than 2,000 or 3,000 undergraduates and between that is medium sized.  Obviously, this is a subjective assessment and you may have different parameters.

I’m often asked if a large school is better than a small one or vice versa.  For me, it’s a matter of taste.  Some people find the atmosphere of a small school stifling or claustrophobic while others find the anonymity of a large school isolating.  I have a bias and that I think small schools provide the best undergraduate education.  It’s in small schools that you will find the intimate student-faculty relation that gives rise to great mentoring.  I think faculty mentoring of students is one of the biggest benefits of a college education.  I’m not saying that faculty mentoring can’t happen at a big school…it can but not as readily perhaps as a small school.  It’s true that a large school might have more course or class offerings or fancier facilities than a small one.  But I ask you:  how many courses or classes can you possibly take anyway?  Sure, grad level classes are available at your university but will you have the time or the prerequisites to take those classes?  Same with fancier facilities….sure, you have them but do you have use of them?  Or are they generally the preserve of graduate students?

I once talked to a couple of students who were keen on doing scientific research in their prospective college careers in the States.  They figured their best bet would be to go a large research university.  I told them that would be a mistake.  If it was the opportunity to do research is what they wanted, they should go to the small liberal arts college.  At the large research university, most of the research opportunities go to the graduate students.  At the small college, there are no graduate students so guess who gets to use the fancy microscope?

3.  If I haven’t found the right extra curriculars, can I still appear to be a dedicated student?

Ideally, colleges like to see students who have dedicated their efforts to two or three activities the student is truly passionate about.  They like to see that the student has gone out of his or her way to develop his skills in this area or made a distinctive contribution to the community as the case may be.  But not all students are like this.  Many students haven’t really found an activity they really really like…and there’s really nothing wrong with that.

Applicants are always asked by colleges to be authentic and if that’s what you are, then so be it.  

To show you are a dedicated student, study hard, learn and get the best grades you can.

4.  What are the most significant, avoidable mistakes student make in the admission process?

Oh boy….not starting early is probably my top choice here.  When should we start?  For me, students should start thinking about studying abroad (specifically the US) about TWO YEARS before the date of prospective enrollment, i.e. August or September of JUNIOR year (not senior year!)  This gives one the time to think carefully about their decision whether or not to go abroad in the first place and to begin looking at colleges and starting the research process.  This also allows them the chance to finish all testing by end of junior year or beginning of senior year.  Try to take the SAT by January of junior year.  And get at least a tentative list of colleges together to visit in the summer.

Another mistake is overdoing the SAT preparation and underestimating the importance of the essay.  I’ve talked about this in previous posts but it’s worth mentioning (again) that a perfect SAT score, by itself, will never get you into any college.  It is a support for your grades.  Your college application essay, on the other hand, depending on where you apply can be absolutely crucial to a successful application.  In general, the more competitive the admission, the bigger part your essay will play.  Also, make sure to get qualified help for your essay.  What’s qualified help?  Help from someone who knows what US college application essays are about.  Most people here don’t….even teachers here don’t really know.  Get professional help on your essay and again, start early.  Christmas vacation senior year is not the time to start work on your essay.

Finally, seek qualified professional help in your college search.  While this is not a requirement, qualified college experts (like myself!) can make finding your college fit easier and quicker….especially important if you are starting out a bit late (senior year).  Don’t rely on whoever or whatever.  I had a client who decided to rely on the advice of cousins “who had experience applying abroad”.  I ask you:  if I had “experience” with cancer, does that make me an oncologist?

5.  How important are college rankings in choosing a college?

Most counselors say that one should consider rankings as only one factor in choosing a college. I’m going to go out on a limb and say you should try to ignore them altogether.  I think rankings can be good in that it might introduce you to colleges you may never have heard of before but that’s it.  Remember that there is no such thing as a best college or university….only a best college or university FOR YOU.  Rankings will never determine this for you.  You need to go out and do the spade work and strive to find your ideal college fit.

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