Things that shouldn’t matter at all when picking colleges

Here a few factors I think should have absolutely no influence over where you apply or attend college. 

1. Where your friends want to go

Going to a college where you don’t know anybody can be an intimidating prospect.  And after four years of high school, you might have some pretty close friends who seem the perfect companions for your upcoming college years.

But the cold, hard truth is that you will not be going to high school anymore.  You are about to go to college.  You’re going to have to make this decision based on what is best for you, not based where your friends will be.

2. Where your boyfriend or girlfriend wants to go

No matter how strong your romantic connection and conviction may be, I don’t recommend that you allow it to be a factor in determining where you go to college. 

3. Trendiness

In some cases, teenagers adopt a dog-like pack mentality.  It is a scientific phenomenon that as yet defies explanation.  But if there is a significant jump in applications to a particular college, you can be that school will be on kids’ lists the following year.  We see it happen all the time. 

Sometimes, this might happen for good reason.  After all, there are a lot of great colleges out there who deserve to have their good word spread. 

But if the only reason you are applying to a school is because everybody else seems to be doing it, you might want to think twice before you fill out the application.

4.  Where the school is ranked on the US News list

It's funny how many the same schools who are so proud of their US News ranking would be unimpressed if a student cited it as a primary reason he wanted to attend.  Really?  That's like spending an inordinate amount of time, money and energy to get the perfect outfit before a date and then penalizing your date for telling you your outfit looks nice.   

Don't pick your colleges because of where they are ranked.  The rankings are very controversial, and they change every year.  So you could effectively pick a college ranked in the top ten and have it drop to outside the top 15 before the following year.  Is it worth this risk?

5.  Anything you'd be embarrassed to admit to the college when applying. 

You should be proud of your reasons for applying to a college.  If you're not, you need different reasons (or different colleges).

 

When rejection is a good thing

Highly-selective colleges are always going to be picky.  They receive applications from the most qualified students from around
the world.  And almost everyone who applies gets rejected (about 10-15 out of
every 100 applicants gets in).  That's not going to change.

So you can lament that your test scores aren't high enough or that you don't have
enough AP classes or that you haven't yet achieved statewide or nationwide or worldwide acclaim
for one of your activities. 

Or you can reject that thinking.  You can reject the idea that not being good
enough to get into an Ivy League school equates to just not being good enough at all.  Reject the idea that your
admissibility to Duke is a measure of your worth.  Just reject it.
  

Instead, embrace the idea that hundreds of colleges will almost certainly
take you exactly as you are.  

The wisdom and merits of exploring less visible colleges

I once did a seminar about how to choose colleges, and while trying to make the point that you shouldn't apply to a school just because it's famous, I turned to a student in the audience and asked,

"Would you ask someone to marry you just because she was good looking and rich?"

The kid didn't even break a smile and answered, "Probably." 

I do love a teenager's honesty. 

Maybe Marty O'Connell, Executive Director of Colleges That Change Lives will have better luck with that analogy when teens read her article about the wisdom and merits of selecting less visible colleges.   

Colleges that Change Lives

Ctcl picMarketing author Seth Godin recently published a recommended reading list on his blog.  And I was happy to see one of our favorites show up–even happier to hear his take:

"The more you learn about the industry of marketing colleges, the more
skeptical you'll become of the $150,000 famous school degree. Every
high school parent in America should read this book."

If you're intrigued, check out:

Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About Colleges by Lauren Pope



Wanted: Thoughtful and Deliberate College Applicants

The National Association for College Admissions Consulting just completed a survey that confirms that 90% of colleges have reported an increase in financial aid applications.  That's not surprising given the downturn in the economy.  And with every piece of bad news about increasing levels of competition and decreasing availability of financial aid, a lot of students are going to respond by firing off even more college applications.  It's hard not to panic during the throes of senior season, especially this year.

But there's an opportunity for the thoughtful and deliberative student to stand out here.      

Now more than ever, colleges don't just want applicants–they want applicants who are good matches for the school and are most likely to accept an offer of admission.  If you're applying to a school just because of the name, or just because your friends are applying, or just because you want to apply to as many colleges as possible to keep your options open, it's going to be hard for you to communicate your match to that school.  You're not going to appear to be someone who's likely to accept that offer of admission.  And that can hurt your chances of getting in. 

The best way to approach this is to slow down, to select your colleges thoughtfully, and to apply deliberately.  Get good advice about your college list.  It's OK to apply to a few reach schools, but make sure you apply to a reasonable number of schools that your high school counselor thinks are likely to admit you, schools that you also sincerely want to go to.  Consider applying to one financial safety school where you're sure you can get in, you're sure you'd want to attend, and your family is sure they could pay for even if you got no financial aid.   

Students who do show some evidence of thoughtful college soul searching are always appealing to admissions officers, which can make you more appealing to the financial aid office, too.

You, too, can be a crazy fan!

Gonzaga_2We all know that Duke has some wonderfully crazy basketball fans.  There just aren’t many places where students will camp out in tents (in the cold) to get tickets.  But as hard as it is for a Duke student to get a ticket to a Blue Devil basketball game, it’s even harder for a high school student to get an acceptance letter from the Duke admissions office. 

Sports fans, however, can take heart.  Check out rivals.com’s rankings of the 16 schools with the best home-court advantage (based, of course, on the fevered pitch of their fans).  Sure, there are some highly selective schools on the list like Duke and Notre Dame.  But there are also a lot of great schools where you’ll need to be on the top of your game to get tickets, but needn’t be at the top of your class to get accepted.  Check out the pictures of fans at schools like Wisconsin, Illinois, New Mexico, and perennial Collegewise cool school Gonzaga.  As their fans would say (scream), Go ‘Zags!

For the Admissions Officers…

College_fair_2 As Arun and I gear up for our annual trip to NACAC, I remembered a conversation I was lucky enough to have with Llloyd Thacker of the Education Conservancy at last year’s conference.  The subject was college fairs, and how so many admissions officers are under enormous pressure to generate student interest in their schools.  Given that the vast majority of admissions officers we’ve met are smart, likeable people with a genuine interest in education and students, how could these reps use a college fair to really help kids make even better decisions about their educations and their futures (if these reps were allowed and encouraged to do so)? 

Here were some of the ideas we discussed, (though I’m sure the best ones are probably all courtesy of Lloyd). 

1.  Don’t focus only on the features of your college–share the real benefits of the process of education (this one was definitely Lloyd’s).

[Read more…]

Easing the Stress

Stress_2 Boy, do we like Jay Mathews, Education Columnist for the Washington Post and author of one of our favorite admissions books, Harvard Schmarvard.   And his most recent column, "Ten Ways to Reduce College Application Stress" reminds us why.

Some of the tips actually suggest ways the colleges could do more to ease the stress on kids, like tip #3,  "Make the super selective colleges tell all potential applicants that their admissions processes are often irrational and that getting accepted is akin to winning a lottery."

I like tip #9 the best–"Repeat this phrase every day: In America, people succeed because of the quality of their character, not the notoriety of their college." 

And as usual, he's got great data to back it up.

Thanks Jay!

Decisions, Decisions

Like many seniors across the country, the members of our Collegewise class of 2007 are making their final college selections before the May 1 deadline.  And more than any class we can remember, they seem to be wrestling with their choices, seeking our advice about which college will really be the right  choice for them.  That’s something we love to see because it means…

1.  In spite of all the bad news, seniors are still getting accepted to colleges.  They have choices. 
2.   Our seniors giving this decision the time and attention that it deserves.

If you’re in a wrestling match with your college choices and are struggling to make the right decision, we’ve got a few tips that might help a little. 

[Read more…]

Telling It Like It Is

We’ve always been impressed by colleges who aren’t afraid to come right out and say, "We aren’t for everybody."  We think kids deserve honest answers about what their life at each college would actually be like, but it’s often hard to get those answers from the slick brochures and flashy websites.  Student blogs, however, are a different story.  They’ll tell it like it is.  And according to this article, one quarter of college admissions offices now offer blogs written by students or admissions personnel, and the vast majority of those blogs are largely uncensored.   What a great way to give prospective students a sense of what it’s actually like to be there.