A common question high school students ask is, “What do colleges want to see for extracurricular activities?” The answer is, they want to see depth, not breadth.
If your child is in a sport, he or she should try to become a captain by junior or senior year of high school.
If your child is in a club, he or she should try to get elected to a leadership position by junior or senior year.
Community service is pretty much expected these days. Encourage your student to focus his or her service activity into something that is of great interest. For example, this could be working with kids, working with the elderly, working outdoors, volunteering at a local museum, church or community center.
Your student should try to focus on activities outside of school that match his or her passions – this might be art, music, theater, sports, or computers, just to name a few.
Jobs and summer programs in your student’s main area of interest are always looked upon favorably.
Encourage your student to narrow down to just a few activities by junior and year to allow enough time to focus on grades, ACT/SAT tests, college visits, and then the college application process during senior year.
The PSAT/NMSQT test is offered by high schools around the country in October. It is an important test for college-bound high school juniors. If your junior is not already signed up, understand why this test is beneficial and get them signed up soon.
Why Your Junior Should Take the PSAT
Test Prep – The PSAT format is the same as the SAT test. If your student is planning to take the SAT, the PSAT will serve as an initial practice test. With the scores, your student will receive feedback on how to prepare for the SAT. Even if your student is planning to take the ACT instead of the SAT, the experience will be helpful to prepare for a multi-hour test. It will also help in determining which test your student is better suited for. Since the ACT and SAT currently are set up differently, to test somewhat different skill sets, some students will do better on one test vs. the other. As the Princeton Review indicates, it’s all about getting a high score, so a student should stick with the test that gives them the potential to achieve the highest score. Most colleges will accept both tests. For students looking to get into very competitive schools that take either test, I recommend having a high school junior take the PSAT in October, followed by the ACT in either October or December (if your student hasn’t taken it previously). Then analyze the results from both tests to see which one makes more sense to focus on going forward.
Scholarships – The NMSQT component of the PSAT is the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. The test is used to select candidates for the National Merit Scholarship Program. It is a very competitive program and is based on the highest PSAT scores state by state. That means each state has its own cutoff score for eligibility. You can read more about the National Merit Scholarship Program here: National Merit Scholarship Program. There is also the National Achievement Scholarship Program to recognize outstanding African American students and the National Hispanic Recognition Program. Through the National Merit Scholarship Program, students may be eligible for scholarships directly from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, scholarships sponsored by colleges and universities, and scholarships sponsored by corporations. The student guide for the National Merit Scholarship Program lists out all corporations and colleges currently offering scholarships through the program. However, it does not indicate scholarship amounts for each. My Full Scholarship List includes schools that offer full-tuition and full-ride scholarships for finalists and semi-finalists in the national merit programs.
Information – Taking the PSAT will open up several avenues of information for your student. With the test results, your student will receive feedback on strengths and weaknesses and ways to prepare for college. Your student will also receive feedback on suitable majors and careers and a list of colleges to consider. Taking the test puts your student into a data bank that will make them accessible to schools around the country – meaning your student will get information from lots of colleges! This used to mean stacks of college brochures in the mail, but has now turned into tons of emails in your students inbox.
To find out all the details on the PSAT test, visit the College Board’s official PSAT site. Even if your student’s school is not offering the test, the site will help you find a nearby school that is. The test is typically offered both during the school day and on a Saturday, so you should be able to find one that is doable. And finally, the test costs only $14 so it is definitely worth the price for all of the benefits.
High school students in the college search process are encouraged to find the college that is the best “fit.” This is definitely important, but I believe “fit” is not a single concept. There are many different types of “fit” that must be considered.
As a parent going through the college search process with your college-bound kid, encourage your student to consider all of the following types of fit.
Does the school have academic programs that will challenge your student and cover what he/she wants to study?
Is an honors program or honors college something that would be a good fit for your student, keeping in mind that many classes will be taken with a wider non-honors student base?
Would your student be better suited for a very highly selective school where all classes are more like an “honors” curriculum?
If your student is undecided on a major, does the school have a good program to help students explore different content areas and ultimately select the right major for them?
Look at the mid-range GPA and ACT or SAT scores for the students. Where does your student fit compared to that range? Is he/she comfortable with that position (lowest 25%, mid 50% or highest 25%)?
How will your student fit in with the other students on campus?
Is the school large enough that there are different groupings of like-minded students and the school seems to have something for everyone?
If it is a small school, is the predominant “feel” including culture, attitude, and political leaning a good match for your student?
Consider the socioeconomic background of the student body. Will your student fit in or feel out of place?
Are there clubs and activities that your student is interested in or would he/she be giving up some of his/her favorites to attend there?
Does the school have a particular religious leaning? If so, is that a good match for your student?
Are there opportunities available on campus for your student to worship or join groups that fit his/her spiritual needs (or not feel pressured if he/she doesn’t want this aspect)?
Is the campus physically appealing to your student?
Is the surrounding neighborhood appealing or does it feel unsafe?
Is your student comfortable with the campus size or does it seem too small or too large?
What about the dorms? Do they seem livable?
How long are students required to live on campus and does that meet with your expectations?
Do the classrooms seem conducive to learning or are they old and outdated?
Are there good places on campus to hang out, to study, to work out, etc?
Does it seem like the school has spent too much money trying to visually attract students with the most modern high-tech facilities? Sometimes that can be a sign that “show” is more important to the school than “substance?”
How does your student feel about the school – it may take an overnight visit to gauge this.
Does it feel like a place he or she belongs?
Can your student picture himself/herself living there for four years?
Parents, this is where you really get to weigh in – Is the school a good financial fit for your family?
If the sticker price is not affordable, is your student eligible for some great merit scholarships to bring down the cost?
What about need-based aid? Are you relying on a school to provide this? If so, have you estimated how much the school may offer?
When you are assessing college fit during the college search process, make sure you are considering all of the different kinds of fit and not just whether your student “feels” good about a school. There are so many other pieces to consider in order to make sure it is the right place to spend the next four years.
This past week, we took our oldest daughter back for her second year of college. It was a good drop off. I was glad to have the first year separation over and done as the second year drop off was much easier emotionally. We had survived one year apart, we were ready to do it again. It did scare me that after this year, there are only two more years (potentially) before she is out of school and off on her own. It’s hard to imagine her living and working on her own. I can’t picture what she will be doing, mostly because she has no idea what she wants to do.
Our daughter has not decided what to study yet and she is very stressed out about this as she starts her second year of college. As with most schools, her college requires her to declare a major by the end of her sophomore year. She is worried that she won’t pick a major that will lead her into a good career field – one that pays well and is also something she enjoys.
I read an interesting article this week that questions the value of a student’s field of study, grades, and school selection for potential employers, The Thing Employers Look For When Hiring Recent Graduates. According to the article, even the college major takes a backseat to internships and employment during college. Unfortunately, that will be of little comfort to a student like my daughter who is looking for a “sign” to point her to the right field of study. She has great aptitude and interest in Art History, but is worried that this will not lead her to a successful career.
So what advice do you give to a kid who is afraid of selecting a major and making the wrong choice?
According to Carmen Varejcka-McGee, an academic adviser at the University of Nebraska—Lincoln, in a US News article, “”The tough idea for students today to grasp is that they can choose to study something that they are passionate about, an academic area that they love, without knowing what vocational path that might lead to.” She also says, “Many students get stuck on the idea that they have to have a clear vocational goal in order to choose a major.”
I think this is the key point to get across to your child. Many of the jobs of the future don’t even exist today. Just because a field they are interested in doesn’t look like it will result in a “dream job” doesn’t mean there isn’t one just waiting to be invented. It is often about combining the right mix of skills and experience into something someone never would have thought of doing. Or it’s about using your skills and experience in a position where it wasn’t obvious these skills would even apply.
The best advice you can give the child struggling with selecting a major includes the following:
Major in something you really enjoy
Don’t worry about how much money you will make
Apply for internships early in your college career
Meet with professors who teach a class you really love to get their thoughts
Go for supplementary areas that will give you a well-rounded skill base (second majors and/or minors)
Get a job during college that will also round out your base of skills (especially “soft skills“)
Look for other opportunities that will help shape your future – off-campus/study abroad programs, volunteering, summer jobs, on campus leadership, etc.
I am confident that the classes my daughter is taking this year will help her in her final decision. She is taking classes with two professors she really clicked with last year and they sounded more than willing to help her mold her course of study. Selecting a college major isn’t the only key to your student’s future. It’s really important to look for opportunities to build a great skill base that goes beyond just the major field of study.
Today’s post is a guest post from Shanice Miller of DebtFreeCollegeGrad.com. She wants to make sure parents understand the financial differences between the three major types of colleges: private colleges, public colleges and community colleges.
If you have a child that is a freshman, sophomore, junior, or senior in high school, you’re probably starting to think about college and how you’re going to afford it. While some parents have started 529 plans and saved $40,000 or more to put towards their child’s college education, that number might not be enough to cover the child’s college costs. With some colleges costing as much as $60,000 for only a single year, your child’s dream school can quickly turn into a financial nightmare unless the child has a full-ride scholarship.
So how do you prevent your child’s dream school from becoming a financial nightmare and breaking your checking, savings, and retirement accounts? The first step is to understand exactly how much your child’s dream school will cost. You can easily do this by knowing what category your child’s dream school will fall into.
There are 3 different categories of colleges: Private colleges, public colleges, and community colleges.
Private colleges are the most expensive of the 3 types of colleges. However, don’t rule these out just yet. Some private colleges can offer a lot of merit scholarships. Merit scholarships are based solely on the student’s academic achievements like their GPA (grade point averages), SAT scores, and athletic abilities. These scholarships can provide your child with tens of thousands of dollars to attend, which might make the college affordable and the price tag not as steep as you once thought.
According to the College Board, the average cost of attending a private college is about $41,000 per year— this includes room and board costs. Harvard University, Howard University, and Boston College are all examples of private colleges. Let’s look at their total college costs. Harvard University and Boston College cost about $60,000 per year to attend while Howard University costs about $40,000 per year. This means if your child’s dream school is a private school, make sure that you have approximately $164,000 in your budget for all 4 years.
Public colleges are less expensive than private colleges. However, there are two types of public colleges— in-state public colleges and out-of-state public colleges. In-state public colleges are colleges in your state of residence while out-of-state public colleges are colleges that are in any other state besides the state that you reside in.
The College Board averages the cost of in-state public colleges at $18,000 per year and out-of-state public colleges at about $32,000 per year. The University of Houston and the University of California Los Angeles are both public colleges. Let’s look at their total college costs as an in-state resident in comparison to an out-of-state resident. For in-state residents, the University of Houston costs about $18,500 each year while an out-of-state resident would have to pay $27,000. For UCLA (University of California Los Angeles), in-state residents have to pay $28,700 per year while out-of-state residents have to pay $51,600. This means if your child’s dream school is a public in-state college, make sure that you have approximately $72,000 for all four years, but if the child’s dream college is an out-of-state public college, be prepared to pay $128,000.
Community colleges are the least expensive of the three types of colleges; however, tuition costs for community colleges will increase if your child wants to attend a community college that is not in your county of residence or in your state of residence. The College Board estimates community colleges costing $3,264 per year. Part of the reason that community colleges are so affordable is because they do not offer housing options and meal plans. Also, community college programs typically are two year programs where your child can receive an associate’s degree or switch to a 4-year institution where your child can continue his last two years of studies and receive a bachelor’s degree.
Some examples of community colleges are Anne Arundel Community College and Baltimore City Community College. Anne Arundel Community College costs $6,990 while Baltimore City Community College costs $2,460 each year. So if your child’s dream school is a community college, have an average of $6,528 in your budget for her associate’s degree or first two years of college.
As you can see, not all colleges are the same when it comes to the price. Knowing the cost of your child’s dream college can really prevent surprises in your budget and lifestyle.
Shanice Miller is the author of “How to Graduate College Debt-Free with Money in the Bank” and a personal scholarship coach. Learn more about her at DebtFreeCollegeGrad.com.
Today’s post is a guest post from Steve Palley, CEO and co-founder of ApplyMap, a new website that helps high school students decide where to apply to college. He is also an academic and educator at UCLA.
Although most professionals working in the space would never describe it this way, I think that college admissions is the world’s most important numbers game. By and large, admissions officers truly care about the students they evaluate, and if they had unlimited resources they would get to know every applicant personally.
But the bottom line is that admissions offices are bureaucracies that have to process huge amounts of data quickly, reliably, and consistently. That means boiling real people down to a set of numbers.
As a statistician who studies the college admissions process, parents are always asking me how this works. How is it possible to take a complex, multifaceted young person and summarize them so decisively? It all starts with two numbers in particular, high school GPA and standardized test scores–the “hard factors” in a student’s application.
Why are grades and test scores called “hard factors”? One common explanation is that they are somehow more objective than the other parts of the application simply because they’re numerical. But that’s not really true, because context is everything. If you think about it, no two 4.0 GPAs or 2150 SATs are really the same, either within or between schools. They are themselves composite measurements of many different factors.
Furthermore, the “soft factors”–essays, extracurriculars, recommendations, and so on–get numbers too, applicants just don’t know what they are. For instance, admissions officers usually sort personal statements into scored categories based on a rubric, just like SAT essay readers do. The difference is that in the latter case, we know that roughly 1 out of 20 SAT-takers will receive a 780 or greater on the Writing section of the exam. The numbers for the soft factors are every bit as real, but they are hidden behind the walls of the admissions office.
Another difference between “hard” and “soft” factors has to do with the relative importance of each to the admissions decision. Admissions data from the 1600 schools in our database tell us that hard and soft factors weigh about equally into any individual admissions decision in 2014, with a slight edge going to hard factors overall.
But a closer look reveals more complex patterns. Hard factors start to lose their meaning as we move from lower-ranked to higher-ranked schools, because of the self-selecting nature of the students applying to top schools. So many of them have perfect grades and great test scores that the only way to really distinguish one from another is to do a deep dive into the soft factors. There’s a reason why application fees at the top schools have been increasing so rapidly in recent years!
A similar principle comes into play at schools that get enormous numbers of applicants, whether they are prestigious or not. In these cases, the hard factors often are used in a first pass across tens thousands of applicants in order to winnow the pool down to a more manageable number. Once the applicant pool is small enough, the more labor-intensive soft factors can come into play.
The opposite can also be true. In some cases, if a student’s hard factors are good enough, soft factors don’t matter at all. For example, the University of Texas automatically accepts the top 10% of that state’s high school students by class rank, and admission to most California State Universities is governed by a computer program called the eligibility index.
Most parents don’t like the idea of their teens being quantified by admissions professionals because numbers will never be able to capture the full reality of who they are as a person. But I think that admissions offices generally do a good job of making tough decisions based on limited information. With that in mind, the best thing to do as a parent is to embrace the uncertainty of the process as much as you can. Make sure your son or daughter is applying to a balanced list of 8-12 schools, and also be sure to remind them–and yourself!–to relax, joke, and smile. A sense of humor goes a long way during college season.
Are you the parent of a rising high school junior or senior who feels “behind the game” in the college search process?
Are you overwhelmed with college options, college costs and terminology?
Do you need to a quick way to find schools you can afford?
If so, I have a recommendation. My friend in the college advice business, Michelle Kretzschmar, is offering a new online class starting August 14th that will help you build a list of “best fit” and affordable colleges fast! You can even take the introductory lessons for free.
Michelle has created an Excel spreadsheet that contains data on over 1,500 colleges. It is a real time saver in the college search process. Instead of going to a college search website and plugging in criteria to build a list of schools that may be good for your child, Michelle starts with everything and lets you filter and sort as you narrow down what your child needs in a school. The DIY College Rankings spreadsheet is filled with reliable data you can use to find the best college deals.
You can purchase the DIY College Rankings spreadsheet for $42 and I believe it will be a tremendous time saver in your college search process. For just an additional $57 ($99 total cost with coupon code WENDY50), you can take Michelle’s online class for four weeks along with the spreadsheet. You will learn the following, and more:
How to calculate your Expected Family Contribution
What types of financial aid are offered to help you afford college
What schools will offer the most need-based aid
Where to find merit aid
How to determine schools that are the best fit for your student
How to use the DIY College Rankings spreadsheet effectively
Michelle is offering you this special price for her class starting August 14, 2014 when you sign up using the coupon code WENDY50. I don’t get paid for promoting her class, I just believe in her materials and extensive knowledge on how to find the best college deals.
There are so many resources available to parents and students during the college search process that it can become very overwhelming. One of the main reasons I started My Kid’s College Choice is to point parents and students in the right direction to find the best college search resources.
The College Search Resources You Should Be Using and Why
A college search spreadsheet to track your potential schools – This helps you stay organized when it comes to schools to visit, schools to apply to and more. Use my free college search spreadsheet template or create your own.
FAFSA4caster – Make sure you know what your expected family contribution is estimated to be. The FAFSA4caster gives you an initial idea of what colleges will expect you to pay out of pocket for your kid’s college education.
College websites – Explore the websites for your student’s potential schools to narrow down whether a school is really a viable option. You can find information on merit scholarships, admission criteria, statistics on who usually gets admitted, college visit options, majors offered and more. Make sure to look for the school’s net price calculator so you can see what this school may offer in financial aid based on your student’s circumstances. The best net price calculators also estimate merit aid based on your student’s GPA and test scores.
As a parent navigating through the college search process, the key things you need to know are:
What schools might be right for my student?
How much is college going to cost me?
What will it take for my student to be admitted?
The right college search resources can help you answer those questions. Then you need a place to keep track of all those answers. That’s where the college search spreadsheet comes in.
If you stick to these basic college search resources, and maybe throw in a few articles/opinions on what to look for in a college, it can make the college search process much easier to navigate.
The majority of full-ride scholarships and full-tuition scholarships offered directly by colleges are competitive, meaning they aren’t automatically offered to all students meeting certain GPA and ACT/SAT criteria. On my Full Scholarship List, almost 300 of the current 440 scholarships listed are competitive. So, how does a student have a chance competing for full-ride scholarships? There is no sure thing, no “absolutely how to win a scholarship tip.” If anyone tells you that there is, they are just trying to sell you something. However, there are some common sense, important steps that will increase your student’s chances.
Tips on Competing for Full-Ride Scholarships:
Communication – The beauty of competing for full-ride scholarships offered by schools, instead of private scholarships is that the student has a chance to establish a relationship with the school first. The people reviewing scholarship applications may or may not be the same ones granting admissions, but applicants are building a personal file with the school. “Demonstrated interest” may go a long way in the scholarship process. This means the student should be in touch with the admissions office early and often to express his or her interest in the school and interest in any scholarships offered. A question like “What can I do to increase my chances for merit scholarships?” is a great one to start with. Many of the full-ride scholarships require admissions counselors to invite prospective students to compete. The more a counselor knows about a particular student and his or her interest in the school and the competition, the more likely that student will be invited (assuming he or she meets all qualifications) to compete for full-ride scholarships.
Scholarship Qualifications – Your student will have a much better chance at winning full-ride scholarships, or any other scholarships, when he or she exceeds the basic scholarship qualifications. If the scholarship qualifications include a specific minimum ACT or SAT score, scores above the minimum will naturally look more impressive. If the scholarship qualifications include “demonstration of leadership skills,” the depth of experience will be much more important than the breadth. Many articles have been written regarding what college admissions offices look for in extracurricular activities. The consensus is quality over quantity. With leadership, the schools are looking for students who really made a difference. If your student doesn’t have a great defining experience to talk about, he or she may not be qualified for a full-ride scholarship looking for more than just a great GPA and test score. There will be a lot of students who meet or exceed basic scholarship qualifications. The students who stand out from the crowd will be the ones who win.
Preparation - In researching full-ride scholarships for the Full Scholarship List, I found two ways students are competing for these scholarships. Some schools just use the admissions application or require a separate scholarship application and select the winners from there. For this type of competition, the student needs to nail the essay or personal statement and establish great communication with the school. If the school offers admissions interviews, even if they are optional, students interested in scholarships should schedule one. Other schools invite students to an in-person competition. This is the student’s chance to really stand out. Most in-person competitions require at least an interview and many also have a writing component. Your student should make the following preparations for in-person scholarship competitions:
Know what to expect- if you didn’t get materials explaining what is involved in the competition, ask. Things to know include – time limit for essay writing and potential types of topics, how many people will be interviewing you, are they one candidate at a time interviews. You may not be given all the answers, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. It shows that you are really interested in doing a good job.
Dress like you are going on an important job interview – neat and polished clothing and shoes, conservative hair and makeup, and well-manicured nails are in order for most colleges. A parent, counselor, teacher or other adult mentor should be able to help you look your best.
Practice the art of essay writing – this is the time to put those five-paragraph essay skills from high school to practice. A proper intro paragraph with a good “hook,” well-formed transitions and a solid conclusion will be important. Practice writing on a variety of topics with a time limit.
Practice interview skills – Read up on what makes a good interview, how to answer questions well and how to appear poised and professional. Do some mock interviewing with a parent, friend or mentor so you are ready for the real thing.
There are many full-ride scholarships out there and most of them are competitive. Don’t let your student shy away from these for fear of competing. Think of it like a really important job interview. At the very least, it will be great practice for similar opportunities your student will face in the future.
Top students all of the country will be competing for opportunities like the ones I have listed on my Full Scholarship List. If you don’t know how to find these opportunities, I have done the work for you by compiling almost 300 competitive full-ride scholarships and full-tuition scholarships on my list. I’m sure there are more out there and I am constantly adding new ones as I find them. If you don’t have a copy of the Full Scholarship List, you can use the link above to order your copy.
Last week I talked about what rising high school seniors should be doing over the summer to prep for college applications in the fall. This week, I am focusing on what rising high school juniors should do over the summer to further the college search process.
Rising high school juniors are entering a critical point in the college search process where prep work should happen for the college application process. Staying on track junior year avoids scramble senior year and will help your future high school senior focus on college applications and scholarship applications.
Some of the key college search activities for junior year are:
PSAT test and ACT or SAT tests
High school activity/award resume building
Getting great grades
Creating a college list
Developing teacher and mentor relationships
These are the things your rising high school junior can be doing this summer to prepare for these activities:
Test Prep – There are great and inexpensive test prep resources for PSAT, SAT and ACT. If your student plans on taking the ACT, check out my list of ACT Prep Resources. Similar resources exist for PSAT and SAT. For PSAT, you may just want to pick up a PSAT Prep Guide. Amazon or your local bookstore will have several good options.
Start the College List – I offer a great free tool for keeping track of the colleges your students wants to visit and/or explore further, College Search Spreadsheet. One first step for the college search spreadsheet is to decide what information you want to track for each school. You can edit the columns on the spreadsheet to include these things.
College Visits – This summer is a good time for initial college visits. Read The Summer College Visit for more information on the pros and cons of doing summer visits. In addition, it’s a good time to look up visit days for the schools that are on your initial college list. You can find these visit days on the college’s website. Add these to your college search spreadsheet and start blocking off your calendar to accommodate them.
College Search Homework – Summer is a great time to read up on preparing for college applications. The more your student understands what the expectations are, the less stressful it will be later on. A book that I found tremendously helpful is B+ Grades, A+ College Application. It is meant to be read by students, but will be very helpful for parents as well. Parents, also check out my Start Here page for tips on what to read to be well-informed.
High school juniors will have a very busy and exciting year – lots of extra-curricular activities, difficult classes, standardized tests, college visits, and more. Help your student stay organized now and be ready for a great year by doing some summer college search preparation.