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Score at the Top Blog

Choosing a College: The “Hunt” Starts Earlier!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Let’s be specific—Florida-specific: in our experience, the families who start the college preparation process early reap the rewards of their careful, early “search.” Many of the hundreds of students whom we have assisted over the years have set their sights on universities ranging from Florida’s State University System (SUS) colleges to out-of-state private institutions. For the highly rated Florida institutions, such as FSU, UCF and UF, the competition is fierce, and the admissions process often clouded by myth and ungrounded expectations. What’s true for these Florida schools is no less true for competitive universities around the country. From Elon to Earlham, Williams to Washington University, Harvard to Harvey-Mudd, the beat grows stronger. So, it’s growing more common to find families approaching us during a student’s sophomore year, because they want expert advice to help shape their children’s academic and extracurricular endeavors as well as maximum knowledge of the college-admissions process. Essentially, they want a full toolkit before assembling and finalizing their college plans. There’s definitely more to be gained by starting earlier in the “game” than at a later date.

Most public schools in Broward and Palm Beach Counties in Florida provide a modicum of assistance at some point in the junior year. Sometimes that attention that the school counselors parcel out to the hundreds of juniors is less than adequate. Even in private schools where guidance-to-student ratios may be ostensibly smaller, counselors typically don’t begin the college-planning process until the junior year. We sadly share the news with you that we have had a significant number of parents and/or students contact us in the summer just before their senior year looking for guidance, having done limited college research and having received little or no information about steps to take, tests to take, campuses to visit. That’s not good. Look northward, to where a growing group of top private schools in New York City (Léman Manhattan and Avenues, to name two newer such schools), begin their college counseling in the 9th grade, as a matter of course.

Now let’s take a broader view of the college landscape. With over 3,000 undergraduate institutions to choose from, do you want to keep your field of vision on Florida alone, or do you want to expand the realm of possibilities? Do you want to rely on your own intuition to select courses and extracurricular activities? For just this kind of mission, wouldn’t it be better to get invaluable professional advice garnered by someone who has for decades crisscrossed the country visiting college campuses and observing student culture, who knows what it takes to get into the full range of our nation’s universities – and who can help you reach those goals?

There’s an extra bonus to starting the process earlier rather than later: an experienced college planner could lay out to the student and her family very specific steps to achieve an education goal: admission to a college that fits the student like a glove. Those steps include course choices throughout high school, suggested extracurricular options and summer programs to enrich a student’s life, development of an activity résumé to showcase accomplishments, and—not least by any means—moral support so that the student won’t be caught short in the college-admissions process. Imagine! In short order, a younger high school student begins to think ahead, “think” college. That can have some interesting effects on a student’s outlook. Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood wrote that teenagers “live from now to now.” That may be OK in their daily lives, but that’s not reasonable when it comes to a possibly daunting college search and application process. Look ahead. Plan ahead. Can we help? Yes!

So when does the search begin? We’ve started with a few eighth graders, with a greater number of high school freshmen, and with lots of sophomores. At the very latest, a family should seriously plan at the start of the critical junior year. That way, we, along with parents and students, can keep careful track of the process, adjust the path, consider and modify guiding principles as needed.

Be reasonable. Consider a timeline for your college selection process that makes sense—and success.

-Barry Mallis