Thursday, March 14, 2013

Building Your College List

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Building Your College List

This article is reprinted from A+ Test Prep and Tutoring's monthly newsletter. http://aplustutoring.com/
I am quoted several times throughout.

Finding a college that is the right fit for a student can be a long and time-consuming process. Starting early can relieve some of the stress, and will likely result in a better choice. Marjorie Hansen Shaevitz's Huffington Post blog "Seven Steps to Putting Together a Great College List," got us thinking about this issue. We reached out to a few Philadelphia area college admissions consultants for their thoughts on building a robust (but manageable) college list.

Here are some of their suggestions:

1. Self-reflection should be the first step, and should continue throughout the entire college search process, Tina Gregor, founder and owner of College Pursuit advises. "A student needs to understand more about what she wants and who she is before she can decide where she wants to spend the next four years of her life," she says.
  
2. Gregor recommends students make a list that divides college characteristics into the following categories: non-negotiable, preferred, very important, and not relevant. Sometimes "non-negotiable" items are based on incorrect assumptions. For example, a student may believe he must attend a public university since the cost will be less. Parents may have different views, which is why Gregor encourages families to complete the exercise separately. Students may consider many factors during this initial review, such as geography, weather, college size, religious affiliation, social life, academic programs, sports, affordability, and special needs, according to Hannah Bookbinder, a college admissions consultant and academic coach for Academic Ally.

3.  Students and their families need to budget ample time for researching colleges. Making lists to track progress and likes/dislikes is a good way to stay organized. Golda Steier, an independent college admissions consultant and owner of Precision Admission in Doylestown, provides her students with a worksheet to guide them through the process. In addition, a number of online resources are available to help.  

Helpful websites:  
  Compare a large number of schools based on student GPA and test scores: The College Board's 'big future' College Search is a great tool for generating a large list of schools based on specific criteria.
  College websites: Look at how the school is divided into colleges, majors, programs and clubs, Steier recommends.
  Student reviews: Steier agrees with Hansen Shaevitz that collegeprowler.com and unigo.com are the best sites to research student reviews of the different colleges.
  Graduation rates: Researching graduation rates, "especially today with the cost of college, is a smart thing to do," Steier says. "It's a good measure of quality, especially relative to selectivity. Low graduation rates or a high transfer-out rate should be a red flag." To determine rates visit collegeresults.org.

  Financial estimations: Use the College Board's Expected Family Contribution (EFC) Calculator and the Net Price Calculators on college websites to determine the costs, Steier and Hansen Shaevitz both recommend.
  Interesting lists: Collegexpress.com is a fun site to browse. This website generates unique lists such as "Colleges that embrace your nerddom with open arms" and "Colleges with great equestrian programs."
  Specific data for each school: Collegedata.com may not be as exciting, but can be a helpful resource for information on cost, admissions, and demographics. 

4. It's necessary to dedicate time for additional self-reflection. "Consider if this research supports your own needs for education," said Hannah Bookbinder. "Too often students get caught in the trap of what everyone else is doing--where their friends are applying, the name brand schools, Ivies, and upper-tier schools--without taking into consideration exactly how these schools may, or may not, meet their own needs."  

5. Create a list of schools to visit, starting close to home. Visiting nearby colleges with different characteristics (small/medium/large, urban/rural, etc.) can help a student get a sense of the size, setting, and student body at each school. This will help the student define his/her preferences and narrow down the number of schools that a student may want to travel to visit, thereby saving both time and money, Steier suggests.   

All three consultants we interviewed for this story agree with Hansen Shaevitz's recommendation: "Depending on your family financial resources, visit as many colleges on your list as you can." For information on questions to ask when you visit colleges, see the A+ article on Questions to Ask During College Tours.

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