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College Admissions Senior Summer Check List
By Robert W Andrews
In today’s New York Times, “The Choice” gave a “July Check List” for seniors who are involved in the college process http://thechoice.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/07/03/counselors-calendar-seniors/. The suggestions are certainly useful, but this article seems to be geared towards students who are lucky enough to have parents engaged with the college process. For many other students however, the college process has been, and will continue to be, self-driven. Their parents have been in the passenger seat along for the ride and in many cases, they are unable to even read the street signs! I’d like to offer some pragmatic advice for First Generation College Bound students:
Don’t underestimate your potential when developing your college list: Now that you have your final junior year grades and those June ACT scores, you can start to categorize schools as target, reach and likely schools. However, published “averages” on college websites and in guidebooks may not tell the whole story for all students. Many first generation college bound students fall into the trap of “under matching.” This is when students matriculate to colleges that are far less selective than those to which they are capable of attending.
Make sure you do your homework and don’t let the “averages” scare you from applying. Many highly selective liberal arts colleges and universities look at applications in what is called a “holistic review” process. This means they take into account a variety of things when making admissions decisions. Grades are most important and testing certainly accounts for something, but we have seen students accepted to fantastic schools with much more modest testing than published on a college’s website. often times, a college will “forgive” a poor grade because of an outstanding circumstance in an applicant’s life.
When making your list you want to make sure you aim high AND achieve balance. Have a few likely schools, but also make sure to have a few reach schools too. If you need information and can't find the answer ask questions. If you can’t find someone knowledgeable about the college application and admission process, ask the college admissions counselor at a college you are interested in attending. Most admissions reps are eager to assist students who come from under resourced communities because they know a lot of misinformation is out there and may be confusing. Amherst College even has a free telementoring program that helps first generation college bound students with their college process. Learn more at https://www.amherst.edu/admission/telementoring. It’s free and you don’t even have to apply to Amherst!
Understand your financial aid situation now: Ask your parents for this year’s tax returns and sit down in front of the computer and figure out what your Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) will be. You can do this by visiting The College Board’s website https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/pay-for-college/paying-your-share/expected-family-contribution-calculator.
Use this as a platform to discuss your family’s financial circumstances. After you determine your EFC, you need to have a serious discussion with your parents about the cost of college. Is this number “scary?” If so, begin brainstorming ways for you to reduce college costs Should you apply to some colleges that offer merit awards to students with credentials similar to your own? Some awards are institution specific, but others like those sponsored by corporations like Coca Cola and Burger King can apply to most schools. Once you figure out your EFC, you can then visit individual college sites and use their “net price calculators.” By entering your financial information you will be able to see a typical financial aid statement for someone in your financial circumstances. You can see if a school relies on loans to “meet need” or if they do it with grants and scholarship. If you still need help call the college’s to which you are interested in applying and ask to speak to a financial aid officer. During the summer, they have more free time to answer questions about financial aid.
Keep your brain stimulated: There is a lot of research out there that shows that students from under resourced communities “lose” some of the learning gained during academic year over the summer. Don’t let this happen to you! Read, go to museums, participate in an enrichment course, sign up for a class at community college, do your own research project, or go to a free lecture in town. Basically do anything and everything you can to keep your mind working and engaged. If you were a runner you wouldn’t stop training two months before your final marathon, so why after an entire career as a student, right before senior year, would you sit on the side lines and let your brain turn to mush? For college, your brain is a seriously important muscle that needs to work out all summer long.
Start your college applications: The Common Application www.commonapp.org goes live for the 2012-2013 academic year on August 1. The essays will not be different this year, so now is the time to start working on a draft now. On August 1, create your account and get as much of it done as you can before school starts. Your senior year is likely packed with tough classes that will require you to write papers and do a lot of reading. Why add to that workload when you can complete your Common Application over the summer? Also, many colleges don’t go “live” with their supplemental essays until September, so you know you are going to have plenty of “college application” work during the fall semester. Minimize the work by doing as much as you can now.
Talk to your parents about leaving home: Get out a map of the United States and point out to your parents where all the schools on your list are located (not all parents have a good grasp of geography, especially if they are new to the country). Explain why these schools are on your list and why even though they might be farther away you want to apply (they offer good financial aid, strong academic programs or whatever your reasons). Watch their body language and facial expressions. Expect some tears as they realize you are growing up and about to make real the dream of higher education. Many parents sacrificed a lot so their children could go to college. The moment this becomes real, they may be overcome with emotion. Sometimes, parents react negatively because they are scared, jealous or fearful of something that is unknown. No matter how they react, keep talking to them and help them see that you are able to achieve your goal of going to college. They may have no idea what “going to college” means, so if you haven’t started the conversation yet, starting it before you apply gives them more time to get used to the idea.