May 31, 2018
Before we start today’s episode about the most important step in the college application and admissions process, we want to let you know that we are headed into our final season of USACollegeChat. Well, I wouldn’t rule out coming back on Netflix or something by popular demand from our listening audience, but we are at least going to need to go on hiatus for a while. Maybe we will be like Game of Thrones (which I have never seen) where there can be a year between seasons. I am headed out to Phoenix and leaving my beloved New York City for a work-related commitment for a year or so, and Marie and I will have to figure out when it makes sense to bring back USACollegeChat, given our other commitments. But don’t be sad. We have a blockbuster set of summer episodes coming up for you, starting with today’s episode.
This episode is going to describe your upcoming summer homework. We know it is summer vacation for only some of you, with others of you (like our fellow New Yorkers) still having to wait almost a month. But those of you who live where school is already closed, you can get a head start. Now, this homework is really for your upcoming high school senior, but our guess is that you parents will get dragged into it quite a bit. And our further guess is that most of you will want to be dragged into it.
As we were planning out what to talk with you about this summer, we thought first of all the thought-provoking articles we have been reading about this and that and the other in higher education. Then, we realized that those are intellectually interesting to those of us who spend our lives thinking about higher education, but that they are likely far less urgent to those of you who have a kid headed to college, you hope, in a year. And so, we switched our plans and decided to do a series of summer assignments to help you take what we believe is the most important step in the college application and admissions process.
I am sure that people might argue about what that step is. There are many other podcasts and Facebook groups and private consultants that focus on many different parts of the process--like how to write a great essay or how to finance a college education or how to get into an Ivy League school. Some of them even charge a lot of money to do what they do, and we are sure that some of them do a good job. But our focus for you this summer is more important than any of theirs. Let us explain why.
You might think this is obvious; but, if it is, there are a lot of families out there not doing the obvious. The most important step in the college application and admissions process is getting enough colleges on your list of options in the first place. That’s it. Just get enough colleges on your list so that you have enough options to consider. Most students do not do this--even students who have college-educated parents and even students who attend great high schools that send most of their students to college.
A corollary to that, by the way, is to get enough of the right colleges on your list. But that can’t happen if the first step doesn’t happen. So, for now, we are back to just get enough colleges on your list so that you have enough options to consider. Let’s tell you how to do that.
Several years ago, we wrote a book for parents: How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students. It was a discussion guide for you to use to talk with your kids about whatever deal breakers each of you had when thinking about colleges to put on the list. The book was a map of the college world, which is like a foreign land for many parents. We thought that it would be especially helpful for those parents who did not attend college themselves or who attended college in their home countries outside the U.S. But, it turned out to be helpful to all kinds of parents. The book is still useful and still available at Amazon, so take a look, if you think it would be useful for you.
Then, we wrote a book last year for high school students themselves. It is titled How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students. It is a workbook--as in homeWORK all summer for high school students getting ready to fill out college applications next fall. The workbook is designed to help students (and you parents) figure out the best colleges for your kid to apply to--because figuring out where to apply is the most important step of this whole process, as we have said before. I can’t emphasize enough how strongly we believe that. If your kid chooses colleges to apply to wisely and with enthusiasm and if those colleges meet with your approval as well, then the choice of where to attend later on is a lot easier and more satisfying. But you have to get enough colleges on the list to begin with—and we have discovered that most of you and your kids don’t know how to do that.
Although the workbook could be used by younger high school students trying to get a jump on the college search process, here is what we said to your soon-to-be-senior in our workbook’s introduction:
Since 2014, we have been talking to your parents in our weekly podcast, USACollegeChat. The truth is that we have given them more information about colleges than anyone could probably use.
We took them on a virtual tour of colleges nationwide and profiled many public and private colleges in every region of the country to try to get them—and, of course, you—to look outside your family’s geographic comfort zone when considering where you should apply.
When we put together that virtual college tour, we realized something very important: There are a lot of colleges out there, and it is impossible to keep up with what is going on at most of them.
We also realized what your biggest problem is (well, yours and theirs, actually): You don’t know anything about most colleges. We have been doing this for a couple of decades, and there was a lot of stuff we didn’t know either, as it turned out. So, how do you solve that problem?
The simple answer is just to ask a guidance counselor at your high school. You would think that guidance counselors would know quite a bit about lots of colleges and that they could pass that information on to you. Here’s why that usually doesn’t work.
Let’s start with public high schools. As you probably already know, most public high schools don’t have guidance counselors who are dedicated to working only on college counseling. That means that your guidance counselors, with caseloads in the hundreds, have to help students with college applications while dealing simultaneously with students who might be in serious personal or academic trouble. That’s an overwhelming job, and that is exactly why most high school guidance counselors cannot help you enough when it comes to exploring many college options, narrowing them down, and finally choosing the perfect colleges to put on your list.
Some public high schools—and even more private schools—have designated one of the school’s guidance counselors as a college counselor, specializing in college placement and perhaps financial aid and devoting all of his or her time to helping students undertake and complete their college searches. If your school has a college counselor like that, you are lucky indeed. Of course, searching through hundreds of colleges to find the right ones for you and then working through those college applications (including all of the essays) is the work of a lot of hours—at least 20 hours and really closer to 40 hours, we would say. Does your counselor have that much time to spend with you? Unfortunately, probably not, even if you attend a private school.
What if you are homeschooled? Without the help of a school guidance counselor or college counselor—even for a very limited amount of time—you might feel more at a loss than your friends who attend public or private schools. Should you expect your parents to know everything you need to know about a wide array of college choices? No, you shouldn’t. Respecting your parents’ opinions about colleges is certainly important, even crucial. But it is not likely that they are experts on the many, many colleges here in the U.S. (and abroad).
All high school students need to get help from somewhere or someone. We believe that this workbook is a good way to get some. That’s why we are talking to you now. We want you to have a way to find out the information you need about many colleges so that you will be in the best possible position to compare those colleges and then to make the right decision about where to apply and, eventually, about where to attend. While you will undoubtedly want and need some adult advice in thinking through the many options, what you need first is information—and a lot of it.
If you already have a list of colleges you are interested in, you will need information about each one of those. But, just as important, you will need information about colleges that are not yet on your list—including colleges that you have never considered because you didn’t know they existed. That’s not your fault now, but it will be if you don’t take steps to correct it. So, let’s get started.
We are not kidding. Most kids and most parents just don’t know enough to choose colleges. The only solution to that is to get information. And the only way I know to get information is to do some work--that is, the homework we designed for your kids in our workbook.
But, before your kid actually starts gathering detailed information about colleges, it is important to expand that list of options, as we have just said. We call this the LLCO in the book--that is, your kid’s “long list of college options.”
In our workbook, you might say that homework assignment #1 is to expand the LLCO. Until your kid’s LLCO is created, the real homework cannot begin! So, go to Amazon and grab a copy of How To Explore Your College Options: A Workbook for High School Students. It’s the best $9.95 you will ever spend. Tell your kid to get ready to work. We start next week by telling him or her how to put together that LLCO.
So, can you do the work with us each week without buying the workbook? You can indeed. But it will be easier to hold your kid accountable with the workbook. And accountable he or she will need to be in order for both of you to get through the next six months! Remember, the work starts next week.