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SAT/ACT Prep and College Counseling: Which Comes First?

Posted by Neal Schwartz on March 11, 2019

Should students wait to start the college counseling process only after they lock-in their best SAT or ACT scores?

I get this question practically every day. What I find curious is that before I get a chance to answer the question, some parents answer it for me. Like many questions, the answer is, “It depends.”

 

 The Case for the Sequential Approach

Most high school juniors are overloaded with their academics, extracurricular activity, and test prep. If they are playing a demanding physical sport or have a lead part in a play, they can be fully absorbed with these activities. They are already overwhelmed/overloaded, and they need to focus on their test prep first. Introducing college discussions before they are ready is just going to bring down their success in these other important areas. So, this approach supports the premise that they should handle the college stuff AFTER they settle on their SAT/ACT scores.

 

 The Case for the Parallel Approach

If students wait until they have all of their test prep scores, they could be pressed into making some key decisions like college visits and college selection in a very tight timeframe. Also, getting them involved in seeing what colleges are looking for has the potential to motivate them to do even better on their SAT/ACT tests.

 

 The Case for the Random Approach

When there is no plan, the results will likely be random. The non-plan results in lots of starts and stops and mis-directions.


Key Considerations: 

Timing:

In addition to deciding on the approach, is planning the timing for each of these:

If they wait too long using the sequential approach, they will wind up in a parallel mode.

If they start too early with the parallel approach, the student may spend more time focusing on schools that are not good or reasonable fits. Also, too much time spent too early could cause them to lose interest in both test prep and college process work.


Maturity:

Depending on when a student starts the process, there is a good chance that the following areas might change:

  • Area of study
  • Type of college
  • College Location


 

 


College Selection/College Visits:


There is tight link between college selection and college visits:

1st- Visit Category Schools – typically HS Freshman and Sophomore years

2nd – Visit Schools from an agreed upon list – typically Junior year

Although I recommend that early in the student’s college process, usually sophomore year, a family should visit “category schools,” (city/country; big/small; liberal arts/technical), the junior year college visits are more deliberate. It becomes clear when you start going through the process, that if you don’t know what colleges are on your list, it is impossible to visit schools. One wasteful trend that I see lately is families who just randomly pick a list of schools and just treat the visits like a family vacation. So, utilizing at least a practice SAT or ACT score is helpful in seeing if a school is reasonable. There are so many tools for college selection that this effort can be overwhelming. Lots of research can point to a school that seems to be a perfect fit, but when the student actually visits, they may scratch the school off the list.

 

Summary:

The answer to when to introduce the college process to your son or daughter really is a judgment call based on their individual schedules, maturity level, and other factors. Basically, it is a personal decision and it is probably best to not follow the path of neighbor, family or school friends, as they are also putting together plans based on their child’s unique factors.


To Do: Suggestions for the Spring:

HS Juniors –
SAT-ACT Prep, Actual SAT-ACT Testing and College Activities Plan


HS Sophs –
College Activities Plan, schedule SAT-ACT Prep for the summer


looking for the best college "Fit" ? :

Whether it is your first time or the 3rd time through the college process, avoiding some key mistakes can help increase the chances that you stay sane and that your son/daughter get their best college fit. 



If you have a high school student and want to get started on the right path, contact us at 914-273-2353, nschwartz@collegeplanningofwestchester.com or visit us at: www.collegeplanningofwestchester.com 

 

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Topics: college admissions, admission advice, college prep, college advice, college process, college visits, college selection

Avoid these 9 college process mistakes

Posted by Neal Schwartz on November 01, 2018

 

Avoid these College Process Mistakes:

 

  1. Over emphasis on the “Main” Essay, leaving the rest of the application unbalanced
  2. Generalizing about all schools, judging from your knowledge of one school
  3. Exploring colleges too early or too late or just "rambling" across the country
  4. “Wasting” your ED choice
  5. Waiting until the last minute to finish before deadlines
  6. Expecting too much from college fairs
  7. Ignoring college visits at local high schools
  8. Visiting a college on one of their open house days
  9. Not realizing that student’s choices may pivot

1) OVER EMPHASIS ON THE “MAIN” ESSAY, LEAVING THE REST OF THE APPLICATION UNBALANCED

Sure, the main essay is probably the most visible way for a student to stand out. Does it flow?  Make sense? Have a point to it? Is it genuine?  Is it too perfect? Does it look like an adult wrote it, with “adult words and views?” After you feel comfortable with your answers to these questions, ask yourself a few more:  Did the same amount of care and quality go into the supplements?  Is there a sensible hierarchy to the activity list; i.e., does the 1 hour per week club in 9th grade start the list? 

The application should be balanced, with all elements and sections showing the same level of quality and attention to detail.


 2) Generalizing about all schools, judging from your knowledge of one school

This is my pet peeve.  The answers to a lot of critical college admission questions for your sons and daughters cannot be generalized. Stop taking advice from parents who went through the process with one kid, at a different time period, and with a different set of schools.  The best answer is that “It depends on the kid.”

There are also two key perspectives with this topic:

  1. Yes, the college site and admission office are the ONLY sources of accurate information. It is not uncommon today to have the schools change what they want at the last minute and not totally synchronize instantaneously with what is shown on common app, coalition app or Naviance.   Things change dynamically through the process.
  2. Colleges are marketing their schools; sometimes what they say on websites and in information sessions maybe more about selling the school than what they can actually deliver.

At the end of the day, seeking college information is akin to shopping for the best computer.  They all may look similar, but they have a wide range of capabilities and features, and what they offer isn’t always what you may expect.


3) exploring colleges too early or too late, or just "rambling" across the country


Visiting schools prior to Junior year should (in my opinion) be done for what I call “Category Schools.” Small, Medium Large; City, Country, Suburban; Technical, Liberal Arts; etc. You can start to narrow down choices by getting a general idea of what type of school you’d prefer.

Rambling visits.  It is not uncommon to find parents who decide to visit a bunch of schools without a thoughtful plan.  Some parents are so excited about this journey with their children that they often turn these trips into a series of short vacations.  But by not following a plan, these trips can get old before their time, and many can be costly. So, the advice here is to definitely visit, but put some real thought into the scheduling.

Late visits often result from busy school and life activities. The irony here is that the point of all the extracurriculars is to impress the colleges, but if there isn’t time to visit schools, calmly, then that may impact the college process and admission results.


4) "Wasting" your ED choice 

 

ED was intended for those students who are completely sure about their college choice and want to lock it in.  Unfortunately, ED has transitioned for many into the vehicle to win the lottery and shoot for the moon to gain acceptance into the most difficult schools.  I highlighted in an earlier blog the dangers and downsides of overshooting the target by over-reaching.  ED should be used for the selection of a reasonable school choice and not as a wildcard.

 

 


5) waiting until the last minute to finish before deadlines

Working with my own kids, I have experienced that 1:30am crunch on the day of the deadline.  There may be a surprise or last minute change in thinking late in the college process.  The problem is that the late night/early morning brain does not function well.  That is not the time to try to answer that difficult supplement essay question.  It may be the time to re-think whether you have to apply “early” rather than submitting something that is sub-par.

 


6) expecting too much from college fairs 

College fairs are held to help brand the college.  Sure, there may be a little time for a brief conversation, but the physical environment and stand-up conversation around the table of literature lends itself to brevity. Usually, college fairs are in the evening for a few hours.  Just getting around to the schools that you are interested in becomes an adventure.  Waiting your turn behind a chatty family just takes time away  from finding out about another college. When it is your turn, introduce yourself, get a name (it could end up being the admission counselor for your area) and after getting your literature and asking your brief questions, give the courtesy of a quick exit to the next family.


7) ignoring college visits at local high schools

 

This is one to really think about; it’s easy.  In conjunction with a college fair or a tour of their “territory,” a college admissions rep will visit high schools.  They could be the one responsible for your county or state.  Don’t underestimate how important it is to meet this rep and introduce yourself. They will take note of who attends those sessions.  The decision-maker doesn’t necessarily just reside in the admissions office on campus. If a student really cares about a particular college, they should show up, especially since all they have to do is walk down the hall. Yet, when I ask our brightest students about whether they went to their in-school college session, I often get a, “Oh no, I guess I should have gone.”   Sometimes you have to “touch all of the bases” to get that homerun.

 


8) visiting a college on one of their open house days

 

Wedged into the few official days off from school, family schedules, winter, spring and summer vacations, students must find the time to visit.  Although I am a big fan of open house days to see more than just an information session, expect to be underwhelmed by some of the basics—especially the tours—during the open house days.  There are just too many people, and the attention you get will be lacking.  See that same school on a less busy day, and you will likely have a totally different experience


 

9) not realizing that student's choices may pivot

 There is so much student development happening during the college process.  Schools that were definitely on the top of the list may fade, while earlier suggestions by parents and counselors that were completely dismissed may become favorites.  Expect as a parent that you will be surprised, shocked, disappointed and thrilled all the way through the journey. For some students, suggestions will only be considered from anyone but their parents. What do their parents know about college anyway?  So, as you scratch your head in total wonder, just buckle up and enjoy the ride.  I thoroughly enjoyed the ride with my kids and was sad when the “bonding” through college tours ended. Finding the right fit is important for sure, but the journey and together time as they grow, change and mature can be some of your best memories.


Summary:

Whether it is your first time or the 3rd time through the college process, avoiding some key mistakes can help increase the chances that you stay sane and that your son/daughter get their best college fit. 



If you have a high school student and want to get started on the right path, contact us at 914-273-2353, nschwartz@collegeplanningofwestchester.com or visit us at: www.collegeplanningofwestchester.com 

 

Read More

Topics: College Essays, College Applications, college admissions, early decision, admission advice, college advice, college open house, college process, college visits, college fairs