Student, Know Thyself

Creating a reasonable list of schools is one of the keys to a less stressful college application experience.

What many students and parents do not understand is that it is vital to start the process by taking a good, hard look at yourself. Before you even open a college guide or peruse a website, take stock of what you believe will make you happy and successful. Think

Make Your College List

in general terms at first:

  • What kind of climate do you want to live in?
  • How far away from home do you want to be?
  • Do you think you’ll thrive in a large school with many times the number of students in your high school graduating class, or would you rather live on a smaller campus with a more nurturing environment?
  • Is city life what you crave, or a more rural setting?

If you’ve already begun to form an idea of what you might like to study, add this to the mix as well – although your major may change several times once you enter college, it is a good guide to finding schools that will offer programs that will pique your interest.

After you have spent some introspective time, you can begin to start looking at schools. Now, everyone is special and your cheerleaders, from your parents, to your friends, to your teachers, may tell you that any school would be lucky to have you in their freshman class. But the more honest you are with yourself, the less heartache and panic you’ll risk in the end.

Start by researching and choosing a selection of what I call “foundation schools,” where your grades and test scores place you in the top percentage of applicants who are accepted. These schools will form the basis of your application process, giving you the peace of mind that you will have several choices at least from this group.

Next, research and choose a selection of mid-range schools, where your grades and test scores put you right near the middle of accepted applicants, but where getting in will be a bit more difficult than your foundation schools.

Finally, it’s perfectly fine to choose a few reach schools as well. These are the colleges where your grades and test scores are slightly below the average accepted applicant, but where you feel you may offer something special that will help you overcome your lower academic ranking and give you a chance at acceptance. As I’ve said, be honest with yourself, don’t be overly optimistic, but at the same time don’t judge yourself too harshly. After all, the only schools you can guarantee will not accept you are those where you do not apply.

In all three categories, be sure at least at this point, that these are schools where you really believe you will be successful, comfortable, and happy. Remember – make certain you have a good mix of choices on your list. If you apply only to foundation schools, you may always wonder what opportunities you may have missed; if you apply only to reach schools, you may be setting yourself up for heartbreak.

Now have fun creating a list that excites and inspires you!

When It Comes to Planning For College, It’s Never Too Early

Visit a college campus while on vacation

Visit a college campus while on vacation

For most high school students in their freshman and sophomore years, college may seem to be hovering in the far distant future.  And parents, reluctant to pressure their children, may not broach the subject.  In truth, it’s almost never too early to at least begin the process of choosing a college.

While your children are young, an occasional visit to a local college or university can kick start the thought process without pressure.  If the family is traveling on vacation, try stopping at a school or two in other locations and ask your student what they think.

Conversations about college can become more frequent as your son or daughter enters middle school. Encourage them to give some thought to what type of school they might like to attend, or have some general talks about where in the country (or the world) they might see themselves going to college.  Eighth grade is also a good time to talk seriously about the choice of courses in high school and firming up plans for extracurricular and athletic activities.


As your student moves into the world of high school, more concrete questions might crop up, and it is a good time to bring up the topic of financing college in a non-threatening way.  You will regret it later if the subject of paying for college doesn’t come up until their senior year.  Make sure your student knows they should be looking at all possibilities, and stress that there are many factors at play in college choice.  The summers during high school offer the chance for students to consider taking advantage of a program or two on campus at colleges and universities, whether athletic or academic-based.  This will offer the opportunity to “test drive” a school, live in a dorm, and get the feel of being a college student.

Though it’s impossible to eliminate stress completely when it comes to college admission, beginning to tackle the topic early can at the very least help to ease the whole family gradually into the process.