Advice for 11th grade students and parents

Now that I have been through a few cycles as an independent college counselor, I have lots of advice to give. Here are a few tips for families to make the process go smoother.

Start Research Schools Now

As I read numerous essays answering the question “Why are you applying to this school” or “Why have you chosen this major at this school” its clear students don’t know why. They have picked their school because of a brand name or ranking. I probably didn’t know why at that age either. I mostly wanted to go to a college where I wouldn’t be compared to my two older sisters. But colleges, especially the highly rejective ones, care about the why. They want to know you have done your research, understand what they offer, and how it will benefit you. They want you to be happy so you stay, graduate and become a generous alumni. Start now so you have built a list that you are not only excited to apply to, but, can share why.

How do you research?

  1. Visit–through an official admissions visit (not a drive around campus or just meeting someone you know there). Hear the admissions presentation and take the tour. Look around–do you feel like these are your people? Does the campus have classrooms and facililites that will accomodate your interests and needs? Are people friendly and interacting with each other or walking/studying alone? Also go in some buildings not on the tour. Do they not show them because they are old or full of huge lecture halls. Go in the cafeteria and see what’s being served. Drive around the surrounding to see if it feels safe, has things to do and is accessible.
  2. Attend a virtual information session-if you can’t go in-person, see if they offer a virtual session. Many schools offer both a general session about the university and specific ones on majors or schoosl within the university.
  3. Go through the website. Look at the general curriculum everyone must take to graduate. Find your major and the requirements you need to take as well as electives you are excited to take. Look up the clubs and campus life. Read about residence halls and living learning communities.
  4. Follow their social media and read the school paper–what are they talking about on campus? Do they promote issues and events that interest you? Are there problems on campus that might impact your time there (like safety, budget cuts, staff turnover)?
  5. Check out college guides like Fiske, Niche, Collegeboard, Naviance, Scoir, Cappex, and Princeton What are they saying about the school?
  6. Check out reddit blogs if that is your thing.
  7. Don’t get hung up on rankings. They don’t always reflect the experience you will have at a college. They are designed to sell magazines.

Start Your Applications Early

The Common Application is the application used by most colleges. You can create your account as a junior and complete most items on the Common App tab. While the Common Application does make changes over the summer they tend to be minimal. Do not complete anything on the my colleges tab as those will change for 2024. Common App typically releases their personal statement writing prompts very early (they announced Jan 27, 2022 that questions were staying the same for 2023). You can begin your personal statement in the spring/summer.

Colleges often release their essay questions early as well. Follow their social media or join their admission mailing list as they are often announced over the summer (not everyone releases early). Use the summer to outline what you want to share with colleges, what did you like about each school and write their essays. It will make life much easier in the fall. It is not uncommon for students to have 10 or more essays to write.

Create a Plan and Stay Organized

Make a spreadsheet or document with your list of schools, their deadlines, the requirement (essays, recommendation letters, resume, test scores optional or not) and set dates to accomplish the tasks. Mark off what is done. Stick to the plan. Don’t wait until the last minute. Websites crash, people get sick, recommenders forget they said they would write your letter. Plan ahead so you aren’t making a stressful situation more stressful.

If you need help building a college list, navigating the research, brainstorming essays or crafting your application–Coffman Consulting is here to help.

Published by Kate Coffman

Kate has worked in admissions, financial aid, college and career readiness for over twenty years. She most recently served as the Vice President and Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at Franklin College. Kate has also worked in admissions at Butler University and Indiana University. Kate has presented at numerous schools and conferences helping families, educators and those who work with youth understand how to be college and career ready, how to apply to college and how to afford their education.

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