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Finding a Good College Fit

Posted by: Website Administrator on 9/26/2012

There’s a lot of talk about college fit and finding the right college.  But how do you sift through all of the suggestions you receive and the overload of information on the internet and elsewhere to find a group of schools that are a “good fit” for you?  And why is it important to think about fit at all?

A college that’s a good fit is a good match with your needs, priorities, and interests.  Why is this important?  From a personal development perspective, considering fit will help you learn more about yourself and the kind of environment in which you learn best.  College will be your home for four years, so it’s important to really understand the characteristics that suit you best, and know how to find the schools that have them.

Practically speaking, if you don’t think about fit going into the application process, your college list may not yield schools where you’ll be happiest and most successful. 

Finding the right college fit may seem like a daunting task, but really all it takes is dedicating some time to researching yourself, and researching colleges.

Researching yourself.  This isn’t so easy to do because there are no guidebooks or rankings for your values, learning style, and social style.  However, you can do some self-reflection in several ways.  Start with a typical day at school.  Who are your friends?  How are you in the classroom?  What do you talk about at lunch?  What activities are you involved in?  Think about your values.  What’s important to you?  Do you have strong religious or political beliefs?  How close are you with your family?  Are you excited about college more for its own sake, or because of where college will get you in the future?  Write down these key points and keep them in mind as you’re perusing guidebooks, reading websites, and visiting colleges.

Researching colleges.  It’s very easy when researching colleges to get caught up in rankings, name recognition, and average SAT scores.  It’s OK to keep some schools on your list because you’re impressed by these things, but only after you have done in-depth research that goes beyond the college admissions FAQs.  One place to start is with descriptive college guides such as The Insider’s Guide to the Colleges and Fiske Guide to Colleges.  These sources provide detailed written descriptions of hundreds of colleges.   As you read them, pay attention to quotes and details that align with things that are important to you.

You should also do some research through the colleges themselves.  Take virtual tours on their websites, reach out to current students and admissions counselors, and ask open-ended questions about the things that matter to you. For example, instead of asking if you need to join a fraternity to have a social life, you could ask about what students like to do on the weekend.  Open-ended questions may lead to answers that more accurately reflect the reality on campus.  You’ll be able to get a sense of how each college matches (or doesn’t match) your needs and interests.

Ideally, you should like all of the schools on your list: reaches, probables, and likelies.  If you are committed to finding colleges that are a good fit, you should have no trouble finding a range of colleges you’d be happy to attend.  Besides, any extra research and thought you put toward this process will help make your applications that much stronger and will also make it more likely that you’ll end up in the right place in the end.

Categories: College Counseling

Planning to Transfer?

Posted by: Website Administrator on 9/20/2012

There are dozens of reasons a student might want to transfer, and you may find yourself feeling you’re in the wrong place and wanting to make a move.  If you’re planning to transfer – now or in the future – you’ll want to pay attention to your courses to set yourself up for a successful transfer process.

In general, when applying as a transfer student, the further away you are from high school, the less important your high school work and your SAT or ACT scores become.  So if you had a weaker academic record in high school, you’ll want to show the colleges you apply to at least a full semester of strong college coursework, but preferably a full year or more.  In fact, many colleges want you to attend your initial college for 2 years, if possible.  It’s a delicate balance, but generally, you should plan to transfer after your freshman or sophomore year of college.

If you are considering a transfer and wondering what courses to take, you need to examine your reasons for transferring, and the type of school you want to transfer to.  Both your motivation to transfer and the type of school you want to attend should inform your course selection.

Transferring for a change of major.  Many students want to transfer because, over the course of their first year or two in college, they realize that they are interested in a different major than they initially intended.  If the college you currently attend does not have a strong program in that major (or doesn’t offer the major at all), you may wish to transfer to a school with a stronger program.  When you are planning which courses to take, make a point of taking courses that relate to your major area of interest, if they’re available.  That way, when you do apply to transfer, your application will show that you have a history of academic interest and experience in that area.  For instance, if you apply to transfer to a school with a great biology program because you are interested in biology – but haven’t taken any biology courses – your application will appear inconsistent.

Transferring to a different type of school.  You may want to transfer because you thought you wanted to attend a large research university, but now realize you would be happier at a small liberal arts college.  In this case, you should plan to take courses that are more closely aligned with the mission of a liberal arts college.  In other words, try to take courses that are primarily traditional liberal arts and science courses in the humanities, social sciences, mathematics, and sciences.  If you take too many courses that are overly pre-professional, vocational, or technical, the school you are applying to may question your interest in a liberal arts and science education.


Transferring for more of a challenge. 
If you want to be at a more challenging or competitive school than the one you currently attend, make sure you are challenging yourself in college, much in the same way you hopefully did in high school.  You want to demonstrate through your course selection that you are interested in pursuing a challenging college education.  Some ways you can do this are by taking more intensive courses for your general education requirements.  Take calculus instead of statistics.  Take a lab science instead of nutritional science.  Aim for intensive reading and writing courses instead of “lighter” humanities or social science courses.  That way, even though your college may not be as competitive as you would like, you can at least show that you are seeking the most rigorous education available to you.  And of course, you must do very well in your courses.

Transferring between colleges may seem even more mysterious than applying as a first-year, but some advance planning of your college course selection can go a long way toward strengthening your application.

Categories: College Counseling

How do Colleges Evaluate Transcripts?

Posted by: Website Administrator on 9/18/2012

We all know that colleges care about your grades and academic record when you’re applying to college, but you may be wondering what exactly they’re looking for. 

It’s more than just your GPA.  When evaluating your academic performance “by the numbers,” colleges care about so much more than just your final GPA.  As you know, many high schools have different ways of calculating GPAs, and have different weighting systems.  For that reason, colleges will usually look beyond the weighted GPA to see the actual grades you received in each course. 

They look at the actual courses you’ve taken.  Instead of just looking at your grades, colleges pay very close attention to the specific courses you’ve taken.  You’ll want to challenge yourself as much as you can, without causing your grades to suffer.  Colleges will see if you took regular precalculus in 11th grade instead of an honors, AP, or IB course.  And they will see if you stopped taking French senior year because you only had to take 3 years of foreign language to graduate from your high school.  You want to make sure that any course you take in high school is a course you feel is challenging and worthwhile.

They won’t expect you to take courses that aren’t offered.  Not every high school offers honors, AP, IB, or other advanced options.  That’s OK.  If your school doesn’t have any advanced course options, the colleges you’re applying to won’t penalize you for that.  Your counselor will send a profile of your high school to every college you apply to so they’ll know what course options are available to you.  This means they can also see which courses you didn’t take.

Colleges notice grade trends.  Let’s say you’re getting lots of A’s now, but your grades at the beginning of high school weren’t so great.  Colleges will notice that you have an upward grade trend, and perhaps be more forgiving of your weaker grades earlier on.  Similarly, if your grades were great early in high school, and have gone down in 11th grade, colleges will notice that as well.  If there is a legitimate excuse or reason for your grades to decline, such as an extended illness, it could be worth mentioning in your application. 

If you have a class rank, colleges will look at it.  If your high school uses class rank and reports it on your transcript or in your secondary school report, the colleges you apply to will see it.  That being said, they consider class rank within the context of your school.  If you go to a very small high school, class rank is not going to mean as much.  Similarly, if you go to a very competitive school, they will take that into account when considering your rank.  They will also pay attention to other factors that could affect your rank.  For instance, if you transferred high schools after 10th grade, that could affect your rank – so it is important to provide information about special circumstances to the colleges you’re applying to.

The most important thing to know about how colleges evaluate your academic record is that it is all about holistic review.  Colleges look at your entire academic picture within your particular context.  More important than any one particular aspect of your academic record, colleges care about how all of the academic pieces fit together.            

What's the Deal with Test Optional Schools?

Posted by: Website Administrator on 9/14/2012

There are an increasing number of colleges that are either Test-Optional or Test-Flexible in the college application process.  But what does that mean?  And how will it affect you?  Read on to clear up your confusion about alternative testing policies.

Test-Optional and Test-Flexible are college admissions testing policies that do not have the traditional SAT, SAT Subject Test, or ACT requirements.  These schools deemphasize the use of SAT and ACT scores in making admissions decisions, either by not requiring them at all, or by allowing students to submit other types of test scores, or even graded class assignments.  For a complete list of Test-Optional and Test-Flexible schools, visit Fairtest.org

Test-Optional.  Will not require SAT, SAT Subject Test, or ACT scores from their applicants. However, most Test-Optional colleges will give you the option to submit your scores if you want to. In some cases, a test-optional school will ask that if you choose to not submit your SAT or ACT scores that you submit a graded paper you wrote for school or some other project or credential, instead.

Test-Flexible.  Test-Flexible schools are a bit different because they want to see the results of some standardized testing, but it does not have to be the SAT or ACT, per se.  Test-Flexible policies range from allowing students to submit 2 or 3 SAT Subject Test scores instead of the SAT or ACT, to allowing applicants to submit the results of just about any standardized tests (IB or AP scores, for example). Schools will sometimes allow students to submit scores in combination, such as the SAT Critical Reading Section, the AP Calculus exam, and an SAT Subject Test in French.

If you see that some schools on your list are Test-Optional or Test-Flexible, you can use that information to help present yourself in the most favorable light to that school. 

At a Test-Optional school, if your SAT or ACT scores are at the high end of their middle 50% range, or above their middle 50% range, it would probably be to your advantage to submit your test scores.  However, if your scores are on the lower end of their middle 50%, or below their middle 50% range, you may want to consider not submitting them.  No matter what, you’ll want to make sure that the scores you send represent you well, relative to the college’s overall applicant pool.  

At a Test-Flexible school, you want to submit the best scores you have – and you have some flexibility on what to send. Each college’s policy is unique, so it’s important to review each school’s test options, and compare them to your scores. Within the college’s parameters, choose the scores that represent you best. You can always ask your college counselor for help if you’re having trouble deciding.   

Test-Optional and Test-Flexible policies are numerous and complex – and the options are increasing.  So it’s important to always check with the school directly to confirm their testing policy before making any assumptions.  However, if you take the time to educate yourself and read each school’s instructions, you can present yourself (and your testing) in the best possible light.  

College Fairs Near You (And How to Behave Once You're There)

Posted by: Website Administrator on 9/12/2012

College fairs are a great resource for students at all stages of the college application process.  For high school seniors, college fairs are a convenient way to meet admissions counselors at schools you are interested in, and have your pressing questions answered in person.  As a high school junior (or sophomore!), college fairs are a great way for you to learn about several schools all at once. 

Fortunately, many high schools or school districts host their own college fairs.  You should ask your college counselor about any upcoming college fairs this fall, and see if s/he has a list of schools that will be attending so you can arrive prepared. 

If your high school doesn’t have a college fair, or if you want access to a larger group of schools, you could also check out the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) Fall College Fairs.  NACAC offers numerous college fairs around the country throughout the fall, starting September 16 in Birmingham, Alabama through November 7 in Washington, DC.  National College Fairs are huge, often with hundreds of colleges and thousands of students and parents visiting.  They may be crowded, but they offer resources that many smaller college fairs cannot.  For instance, National College Fairs often offer workshops and presentations on admissions and financial aid, in addition to having a Counseling Center on site where you can meet with counselors.

What if there isn’t a National College Fair nearby and your school doesn’t host a fair?  Your counselor may know of some college fairs organized locally by city or region.  You can also reach out to the colleges you are most interested in to find out if they are going to any college fairs in your area.

So, how should you behave at a college fair?  Follow these suggestions and you’ll do just fine.

1)   Look presentable!  No need to dress up, but you should definitely avoid showing up in your gym clothes.  Remember, when a fair is at your school, you are representing your school.  It’s best to leave a positive impression.

2)   Do your research.  If you’re planning to see a particular college, do some preliminary research beforehand so you don’t end up asking questions you could have easily answered on your own through a quick scan of their website.  Some examples of questions to avoid: Do you offer _____ major?  What is the middle 50% range of your SAT or ACT scores?  Where is your school located?  What are your application deadlines?  Admissions representatives prefer questions that get more at the substance and character of the school than their Frequently Asked Questions.

3)   This is not an interview.  A college fair is not your opportunity to chat with your favorite college for 30 minutes while a line of students builds up behind you.  You’ll want to come up to the table, introduce yourself to the representative, ask your question (or two), pick up some materials, and move on.     

4)   Have an open mind.  You probably just want to see a few specific colleges – probably ones you and your parents, friends, and siblings have heard of.  That’s understandable, but we encourage you to be open- minded at college fairs, and learn about some colleges that you may not be as familiar with. 

We know you’re busy this fall, but we hope you will take the time to attend some college fairs and jumpstart your college search.  

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