Hello and welcome back to my College Admissions Series. When we last left off, I spoke about why journalism is my chosen career path. In this installment, we’ll get into the real nitty-gritty of College Admissions in what I found to be the most difficult phase: information sessions.
What makes these info sessions so difficult is that they are all relatively similar. All schools use similar language and approaches to promote their school, because, in general and in reality, they all tend to be rather similar at first glance. It is likely that most of a student’s college prospects will be in a certain caliber of quality, economy, and specialty. What makes the schools strikingly different, I soon learned, is their locations, attitudes, and specific programs in one’s area of interest – but that’s for the next installment.
The main use, then, for information sessions, is to make sure that all of these colleges are in your caliber, and this may mean some tough and thought-provoking conversations. First of all, it’s best to start with a list of absolute necessities. Try to avoid things like specific location unless you are completely sure that this is a priority for you.
For instance, my list included (at some point or another) the following:
- Must have a journalism major
- Must have an on-campus school newspaper
- Must help with internships in my field
- Preferably east of the Mississippi and north of the Mason-Dixon line.
It seems rather short, but through the college visiting process, I learned that the most major component of a must-have was, in fact, the attitude of the campus and the student-body, but those things can’t show up on a list in definitive form. What the information sessions are good for is to determine if visiting this school will be worth it. In other words, why visit a school on a grand trip only to find out you couldn’t study what you wanted in a way that works for you.
After thinking critically about this fact, College I (the small, liberal arts college in a rural setting with no journalism major) was removed from the running without attending any information sessions.
The more difficult conversations surrounding college, however, come not from what you want in a college, but from what a college wants in a student.
These things include GPA and testing requirements or suggestions, general academic level of the school (competitiveness included), and, of course, finances. Most colleges today approach admissions holistically, so scores and grades are no longer deal-breakers. However, if you plan to apply to a school that likes 3.9s and 2200s with lack-luster scores and report cards, you must be sure that something else in your application will be convincing. This forces a student – myself included – to confront his or her shortcomings, whatever they are. For example, I know that I am a B / B+ student, and I also know that my academic program has lacked Honors and AP level courses, because my school does not offer “Honors” and I chose not to take any of the very limited AP offerings. While I am confident in my SAT and ACT scores, and very confident in my resume, it was important that I realized I was not an A+ student, and that an incredibly competitive school was maybe not the best for me.
This is where a student needs to confront the sad fact that though the top of the top (“name school”) may be the dream, a just-as-quality, not as prestigious school may be the reality.
Through this process, however, that will not become such a bad thing. Because although it may come as an early shock, the leveling of schools into your probable ability range opens your eyes to the fact that “prestige” is nothing compared to a good fit. What I have found and what you will find is that all schools have something to offer, and some (by financial means or otherwise) have more state-of-the-art or larger offerings. However, every school shines with what it can do, because most if not all schools are committed to the happiness, learning, and advancement of their students. This is important to realize.
After this discussion, I levelled my remaining colleges into reach schools, safety schools, and schools at my level (a.k.a. “probables”). And while leveling is good, realizing what those levels mean is much better. Even if you love them all, not all of your schools can be reaches. Not all of them should be safeties. What this leveling forced me to do was determine which combination gave me the best chances while maintaining a list of places I would like to go. All of this should be discussed with your guidance or college counselor, who has experience in this area. He or she can ensure that your list matches what you will realistically be able to get into.
From this process, I determined the following:
- University B (large, semi-rural, dedicated journalism school), University G (medium-sized, urban, familiar, considered “dream school”), University J (medium-sized, suburban, known for journalism), and University K (medium-large, urban) were reach schools.
- University A (medium-sized, urban), University C (large, rural), University E (medium-sized, semi-urban, had attended summer program), College F (small, urban, familiar),and College H (medium-sized, rural) were probable/ideal-level schools.
- University D (medium-sized, suburban), and University L (medium-sized, suburban) were safety schools.
By far the most difficult conversation your family may have in this process is finances. For some, money is no object, but for many it can be a deciding factor more brutal than any other. I knew that my family was comfortable, but not wealthy. We can definitely afford college, but I should strive for as many scholarships, grants, and loans as I can. (This will be discussed further in another piece.) In terms of college, not very many of my choices broke the bank, although University J came close, as did University K. For this reason and because of its very competitive applicant pool that did not totally match my ability, University K was removed from my list.
This, though is where the probables and safeties come into their own. It is with these schools (and the safeties) that I have the best chance of some form of academic scholarship, and that is why all of these schools should be ones I could definitely enjoy going to (and they are). This conversation about money will vary from family to family, and, if necessary, should include your guidance counselor or a financial adviser, either from school or even from the colleges to which you are applying.
And, to get to the point, all of these facets will be discussed at the information session. They will no-doubt provide a list of majors and programs, and (usually at the end of the requisite slideshow) the tuition amount. They will also list their baseline requirements or suggestions for grades and scores, as well as any requisites for specific programs (e.g. auditions, research, et cetera). Also, the presentation will let you begin to think about location, as they tend to show many pictures of campus.
Finally, from the Admissions representative and any students they might bring along or Skype to, students can get a feel for the attitude. One info session from University L gave me a bad impression of the school that lasted into the visit, so it is important to pay attention, even if they seem to blend together (which they will).
With any luck, your list will shape up nicely, but it’s important to understand that reality can be a tough nut to crack.
More on school attitude/mindset in Part Four, when I’ll discuss college visits I took. For now, have any college guess? Place your bets on A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, J, L: ______ and stay tuned!
This is Part Three of a series on college admissions. Please read the list of colleges in Part One for further explanation.