Monthly Archives: April 2012

College decision month: “So, where’s he going to college?”

There’s the question Mod Squad Dad and I have heard all month. We’re not alone; I’m sure most parents of parents of high school seniors across the country have been asked this by their friends, neighbors, family, colleagues, everyone.

Mod Squad Mia's only question: "Who's feeding me?"

Pete has heard it, too; perhaps more than I imagine.

The context of the college question has changed through the school year. In the fall it seemed more speculative, sometimes jocular, as in “Where’s he want to go to college?” [The world is full of possibilities!]

When we were in the midst of the application season, October through December, the question was often stated more gently, “Where is your son thinking of applying?”

During the past month, when the acceptances are in hand and the decision awaits, the question gained urgency, “So. Where’s he going to college?” Or was that urgency only in my mind?

Pete completed his first applications in mid-October. He received his first decision December 14th and his last decision April 12th. The colleges require a commitment May 1st.


Swopes the parakeet: "College? What's college?"

Perhaps we should have enforced an early deadline for committing to college, as we did with applications. I didn’t have the heart.

Lovely to have the dramatic finish to the month to write about… but it would have been sweeter for Pete to have an easier decision to make.

I should clarify:  this was not one of our most emotionally fraught months related to college. I’m thinking that might have been October, with Pete working on getting through the Common Application interface and getting those first applications out.

April offered three of the four admitted student events and changed opinions on top of the usual crazy schedule of a household with three teens. Both parents had out of town travel after the final decisions were in. Often I wondered when Pete would have time to even think about this.

Fortunately, he didn’t seem bothered by it.

Nor did his siblings, yet they were mostly unaware of the deadline. Sunday morning Mod Squad Linc said, “Really? He has to decide today?” Followed up by Mod Squad Julie’s contribution, “Today? Today he has to make the decision that will impact the rest of his life?”

Meanwhile, neither animal in the household asked him about it at all.

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College decision month: how to choose THE college?

With May 1st — aka National College Decision Day — just a few hours away, what happens if the high school senior can’t decide which college is the one?


Canadian Toonie

In other words, what if the senior is in the same place as Mod Squad Pete… very fortunate to have options and torn between the choices?

Purvi S. Mody, wrote for Student Advisor’s blog,  accepting more than one college is not a good idea.

…you should only submit a deposit and an Intent to Register to one university. The Intent to Register is a contract that your daughter (and you) are signing with one college that she will attend in the Fall. She obviously cannot promise two colleges that she will attend. The May 1st deadline allows students ample time to research their college thoroughly. Chances are that a couple of additional weeks will not make the decision making process any easier.

Katy Hopkins, writing for USNews Education, offered 10 Steps to Picking the Right School. Here are a couple of her suggestions:

Rank your priorities: Make an extended list of pros and cons of college life, from school size to athletic programs, and numerically rank each in order of importance to you, recommends clinical psychologist Jerry Weichman. What factors do you rank as most critical—and which schools seem to excel in those areas?
Delve into departments: College rankings can be one tool in the decision process, but don’t forget that academic prestige can be examined on a smaller scale, too. Research the departments you’d be studying in, says Roth. Is one school better known for your major? Are faculty actively engaged at school and in the field?

Julie and Lindsey Mayfield, the mother and daughter team who blog under Twice the College Advice for US News Education, wrote 6 questions to ask when making a final college decision. Here are a couple of those questions:

What does our high school counselor recommend? The last time your child spoke to the high school counselor may have been much earlier in the decision process. Now that decision time is near and the college choices have been narrowed down, a high school counselor may have some new observations or questions to ask that will help with the decision.

What do those close to me think?Avoid asking for too many opinions. Letting everyone get his or her two cents in about your college choice can confuse much more than it clarifies. Have your college conversations with a small group of close connections, such as your parents and college counselor.

Don’t let everyone’s opinions about your top schools sway your opinion. In the end, your school should be a good fit for you, not your friends.

Ralph Becker, of Ivy College Prep, wrote for, What to ask before accepting a college admissions offer. His entire column is worth reading, and here are a couple of clips:

What access do students have to required classes? Access to an impacted courses (this means the number of students applying for spots exceeds those available) might be quite limited. If a college’s four-year graduation rate is below 50%, access to key courses might be the problem. You can find graduation rates on College Navigator. A recent sample of various college four-year graduation rates includes: Cal Poly Pomona, 9%; UCLA, 66%; and Harvard University 88%.

How many courses are taught by teaching assistants or graduate students? If you’re attending a major research university, there is a strong chance you’ll be taking courses taught by graduate students. If, on the other hand, you’re heading to a liberal arts college, such as Grinnell or Amherst, you’re going to be taught by faculty.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy writes at College Solutions and for CBS Money Watch. Here are her 10 Ways to Pick a College. See more details on each via the link.

  1. Review the finances.
  2. Check student opinions.
  3. Ask students questions.
  4. Know the difference between a College and a University.
  5. Check a school’s graduation rates.
  6. Research how happy are the freshman.
  7. Check RateMyProfessors ratings.
  8. Know the graduation requirements.
  9. Discover how the school treats AP credits.
  10. Inquire about a Greek presence.

Finally, Cara Ray, on the Great College Advice blog from Montgomery Education Consulting, wrote


Heads or tails?

Seniors, are you ready for May 1? After mentioning a few ways to make the decision, one involving a coin, she said:

My advice? It echoes that of our NACAC 2011 keynote speaker, Jonah Lehrer. Go with your gut.

Go with what your instinct tells you. You’ve visited the campuses, spent the time researching, read all of the brochures, gone on the website hundreds of times and now the time has come to take the next step. Listen to what your gut is telling you and ask yourself, “Will I be happy here?” Is the answer yes? Then sign your name on the dotted line and start getting excited for this new adventure you are about to embark on!

Pete has used a number of these suggestions. After spending much of a cold, rainy Saturday at a track meet, he waded through graduation requirements for the two colleges on his final short list.

Turns out that could be a factor for more highly-motivated AP exam prep. Who knew?

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College decision month: Who should attend an Admitted Student event?

Mod Squad Pete, for one.

Mod Squad Pete, Admitted Student.

I guess I’ll expand on that and say, any admitted student who can.
Here’s why…

1.  The college has loads of information to share about new student timelines, orientation, policies, payments, and much more.

2.  Access to that information — in person — provides the opportunity to ask questions about any confusing details.

3.  No matter how many details are provided in the college website, the people working with first year students tend to be warm and engaging folks who help explain important aspects with memorable stories, whether amusing anecdotes or cautionary tales.

4.  The campus just plain feels different to an admitted student than to a wannabe.

5.  An admitted student who has already made his or her decision will be able to ask very specific questions, visit a dorm they may end up living in, and start making connections with profs.

6.  An undecided admitted student has even more reason to attend and ask questions. Every part of the event provides more data — whether good, bad or neutral — to aid the decision-making.

Early evening, April in DC.

And here’s why it was important for Pete to attend.

While we’ve done what we could to keep open minds about his college short list, we’ve realized that over the past few months, Pete, Mod Squad Dad, and I had all been imagining Pete at one particular school next year.

We all thought it was his favorite. These mostly unspoken, yet shared, thoughts fueled Pete’s mild disinterest in visiting all four admitted day events.

Until the event came for that particular school, and he gathered enough data to decide, perhaps:  it’s not the one.

Which moved him, on or around mid-April, back to an open decision. Hello, flipcharts, hadn’t seen you in a while!

[Reminder to self from a recent post:  Every admitted-student event brings with it the possibility that this is, or isn’t, the college Pete will choose.]

Meanwhile, have you noticed? There are not many days left in April.

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College decision month: 13 things we learned at an admitted-student event.

Washington monument 1

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Earlier this week, Mod Squad Pete and I went on an eight-hour door-to-door journey —  for a sandwich and a two-hour event held in DC and five hours in the car.

There had been some discussion in this house about whether the event would be worth the trip, especially since it was on a weeknight.

Here’s what we learned. You tell me: was it worth it?

  1. While we thought we’d completed all financial aid forms, turns out there’s a very good reason we had not received any information back from this college. [There’s one more.]
  2. If Pete chooses this college, he needs to reserve housing by June 18.
  3. If Pete chooses this college, he needs to do some major research on the course calendar, select courses, and be ready to register on June 18.
  4. … for both the Fall and Winter semesters.
  5. If you give Pete a pen and a pad of paper with your college logo, at some point during the presentation he will write, “I want to go home.’
  6. Housing choices vary from shared houses with 17 people to high-rises with hundreds and hundreds.
  7. A very nice admissions officer who answers questions as completely as possible is both a good and a bad thing.
  8. If before the event, you’re sitting at the sandwich shop and Pete says, “I’m really looking forward to this,” he’s talking about the food, not the event.
  9. You are much more likely to ask questions at admitted-student events when it’s a college you think is your senior’s favorite.
  10. That ‘answer all the possible questions’ admissions officer? When she’s surrounded by a scrum of parents and students after the presentation, they will have to wait so long for questions to be answered, that when it gets to be their turn and they’ve asked all the questions they had, they will start making up more questions. Really.
  11. Every admitted-student event brings with it the possibility that this is, or isn’t, the college Pete will choose.
  12. Pete follows the same path he did at admissions info sessions:  always chooses the front row.
  13. One way admitted-student events differ from admissions info sessions, according to Pete: “This feels different. You’re no longer trying to decide if you have a better chance than the next person. We’re all in!”

I see a flipchart with pros and cons in our very near future.

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College decision month: Virtual visits?


Mod Squad Pete. And a tee shirt to be named later.

As I wrote earlier, we’re going back to a couple of college campuses this week to attend Admitted Student events, take a second (or third) look around, and ask questions.

One of Mod Squad Pete’s colleges is too far away to revisit. He’s been there twice: 1) prior to his junior year, for the full admissions tour; 2) two months ago for an audition. (He’s been accepted into one program there; awaits word from another). That school has invited Pete to attend a midweek evening event (about 120 miles away, but 600 miles closer than campus).  Here’s what’s on offer:

The event begins with a presentation on everything that  ___ U. has to offer. Topics include: housing, course selection and registration, campus life, work and extracurricular opportunities, and living in ___. Following the presentation, recent graduates will share their  ___ U. stories. The event will wrap up with a Question & Answer period.

Will that event, lasting around 90 minutes, be worth the five-hour round trip? More important to Pete, is it worth missing a track meet?

If this is the school, I’d say yes, especially given the distance. We’ll see.

If this event weren’t available, we could — and yes, even with this event, we may — avail ourselves of virtual tours and social media connections. Throughout the entire admissions process we’ve learned a great deal via blogs and tweets from colleges.

On Smart College Visit, Z. Kelly Queijo offers 8 Easy Steps to Create Your Own Virtual College Visit. Here are a few:

  • College Newspaper. Read it online or even subscribe for a while. You’ll definitely find out more about campus life.
  • College/University Blogs. If not immediately obvious from the school’s web site, use the search tool to find admissions or student blogs. There may even be a college/university president’s blog.
  • College Twitter Accounts. News, admissions, sports, events, professors, student organizations…follow the accounts representing what you think will be important to you if enrolled. You can always unfollow later.

All great ideas.

Meanwhile, our hometown University has been making social connections on Pinterest. See Pinterest 101 Courtesy of the University of Virginia for a glimpse of boards they’ve created to connect with students, alumni and — I’d bet — prospective students.

That’s a much better resource than the Fake [college president] Twitter accounts Jenna Johnson wrote about in the Washington Post!

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College decision month: time to revisit campuses

April 2012

April 2012; calendar by Mod Squad Julie.

I paid close attention to college news last year at this time, thinking about April of Mod Squad Pete’s senior year.

After months of working on applications, and weeks-to-months of waiting to hear, April 1 typically launches the very short season for making the college decision. Which college to choose? How to make that decision? Once again, Pete’s deadline looms:  Decisions and housing deposits are due May 1st.

I inserted “typically” above for these exceptions:

  • Early Decision applicants agreed long ago to attend if accepted.
  • Some Early Action applications may have accepted college offers already.
  • A few decisions, such as the final one Pete awaits, may not have been sent.

Pete’s final decision involves hearing back from an audition, which I wrote about here. He was told he’d hear early April, so let’s see, that should be any day now, right?

In the meantime, the four colleges that have offered admittance to Pete have invited him to come take another look. He revisited one campus in March, including participating in an interview for a scholarship.

He will connect with the other three colleges in the next eight days, including two Admitted-Student campus events and one Admitted-Student off-campus event (for students at a distance from the campus).

Making the decision to attend these was not a given. Pete’s interested, to be sure, yet he’s also busy with track practices and meets, a part-time job, a heavy academic load, and — have I mentioned this before? — countless hours perfecting dub-step mixes, skateboard tricks, and piano improv bits.

We’ve encouraged him to visit, ask questions, and listen to their pitches. Meanwhile, with help from these writers, I’m trying to compile our list of questions:

1.  Z. Kelly Queijo’s Smart College Visit website offers travel widgets and campus guides that many parents and students will find useful. Recently, Kelly wrote “Questions to ask on the Admitted Student Capmus Visit.” [Kelly also asked me to contribute a question or two.] Here are a few of the questions to ask the college; Kelly also includes questions for the student to ask him/herself:

Academics (will it work for me?)

  1. What happens if I change my major?
  2. How will I obtain credit for AP, IB and/or college level courses completed?
  3. What leadership opportunities does the honors program offer?
  4. Are there internship or study abroad opportunities for my major?
  5. Here is what I’m interested in studying… Can I put together this sort of interdisciplinary program here?

2.  On EdWeek’s College Bound blog, Caralee Adams writes “What to Look for When Revisiting a College Campus This Month.” She provides excellent advice; I’d recommend reading the entire post. Here are a couple of clips:

“…This time, figure out if you can actually fit in there,” she says.

Eat in the cafeteria. Find out how often you would meet with your adviser. Look into whether you would get home on breaks by car, bus, or train. Pay attention to the housing options and consider if you will be comfortable in a room for four. “These kids are used to having their own rooms, cars, and bathroom. The conveniences of home are very different,” says Poznanski.

On the transition from supplicant to recruit:

Sarah McGinty, an independent educational consultant in Boston and author of “The College Application Essay” published by the College Board, says on a second visit, the student has moved from the supplicant role to someone with up to $200,000 to spend. And it’s time to ask seriously: Is this where I want to spend my money?

All schools have libraries, student centers, and study-abroad programs, but it often comes down to a feeling of whether the campus is somewhere the students can make friends. “It translates into something quite unquantifiable,” she says. “In the end, it’s an emotional decision, not a logical one.”

3.  US News & World Report‘s Education blog periodically offers posts from the mother-daughter team of Julie and Lindsey Mayfield via Twice the College Advice. Their “Ask 4 Questions About College Resources” includes these:

  1. How will you help my child adjust to college?
  2. What specifically does your career center to do help students find jobs?
  3. What sets your college apart from others like it?
  4. What are some of the resources this university offers to freshmen?

4.  Also from US News & World Report‘s Education blog, Katy Hopkins writes, 10 Steps to Picking the Right School, including:

3.  Go back to school. While you should have gotten a feel for college life during an initial campus visit, take another trip to schools and bring 10 to 15 detailed questions, says Bob Roth, author of College Success: Advice for Parents of High School Students. Don’t leave with any questions unanswered.

There’s our mission, Pete:  No questions unanswered. No stone unturned. [And, please, no dub-step for the road-trips!]

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