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The January “To Do” List

By Robert LeVine

The college admissions process is complicated, even for educational consultants like us. For students and parents, the bridge to college is almost impossible to manage without guidance, either from professionals or school counselors or by scouring the internet.

Now that the new year has arrived, here’s a list of things to consider for January and the coming months.

Right now, seniors and their parents should be looking to see if there are any schools they wish to consider with application deadlines after Jan. 1. Many colleges have later or rolling deadlines, so you might find some gems or safety schools that still have their applications open.

Seniors should already be fully prepared for admissions interviews. Many colleges make interviews available, and “available” means “do it.” While everybody stresses about the importance of “The Essay,” in our experience, admissions interviews are even more important because they occur at a time when the colleges have already started sorting applicants. When the interview report is received by the admissions office, that new information tends to differentiate between students who get in and those who do not. Good interviewing skills – from scheduling to the handshake to the conversation to the follow up – are critical to admissions success.

Parents of seniors should also complete and file their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) and College Scholarship Service (CSS) forms with the colleges. Whether for financial aid or merit aid or external scholarships, these documents will be important to the ultimate “value” choice you will make (and to the admissions offices in making their decisions).

For juniors and their families, now is the time to get serious about college. Many families choose to visit universities in the spring. Please recognize that during a college visit, you are not selecting a college; you are collecting information so that you can select a college later, in April of the senior year (May 1 is the deadline for deposits). It is foolish to “fall in love” with a school in only a few hours, based upon an information session that is nothing more than marketing and a tour that is also nothing more than marketing.

Recognize that a college visit will tell you nothing about the school’s academics or extracurricular activities beyond what you can already find online. So why visit? Because there are things that you cannot see online.

The college experience is not purely academics. Students live on campus, and off, for four years. The majority of time is spent not studying. In making a wise decision about a university, consider not only the academic structure of the school, but also the environments that will influence the student. What is life like on campus? Is there pressure to join a fraternity or sorority? Are the students crazy about intercollegiate sports? Where do students congregate, and are they academically focused, busy with clubs and extracurriculars, or party animals? Are there things off-campus that can add to the education (jobs and internships) or inspire and recharge the student (music, museums, the outdoors, access to other places)?

Juniors should put together a list of their activities and honors. It doesn’t need to be a resume – few universities require resumes – but students will need the list for completing their applications. It’s amazing how often kids forget what they have done.

Of course, juniors need to focus on the SAT or ACT (you do not need to take both) and also the subject tests required by many universities. If you are not satisfied with your current scores (or have not yet taken a test), you better get organized, start studying (perhaps with a tutor), and register for the .test dates that are upcoming in the Spring. You do not want to wait until summer or fall to get your best test results.

Sophomores should now look at their non-academic activities – extracurriculars, athletics, music, hobbies, service – and make sure that they are both deep enough (length of time and height of achievement) and broad enough (geographically) to compete with top applicants from around the world. Try to blend what you do within your school with things you do beyond your school.

What should freshman do? Get good grades and become involved! For ninth-graders, just focus on high school and on the activities you do. Focusing on college can wait a year.

Robert A.G. Levine, president of Selective College Consulting Inc., can be reached at (813) 391-3760, email BobLeVine@SelectiveCC.com or visit www.SelectiveCollegeConsulting.com

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