College: The Final Frontier.

IMG_20130810_151658_582A few months ago we started an Education of the Nerdy Chick Category because most Nerdy Chicks we know are interested in education, either their own, or that of their children. I’ve always been involved in my children’s educational journeys, and have just completed one of the final legs of my oldest child’s flight to independence: college tours.

So… I thought it might be valuable for some of you to learn from my experience.

During my son’s three week summer break (this is all he had because of a required internship), we planned to take one week to visit colleges in the southeast, where we live. And another week to fly to some colleges farther away. He, like most college-bound students, received a mind-boggling amount of recruitment mail last year. So we sat down with the giant stack of fliers and told him to pick out a few interesting schools from other parts of the country, and we’d talk about the logistics of getting him to those campuses.

That ended up being a very short conversation.  It pretty much started and ended with this declaration: “I want to be able to get in the car and drive home in under six hours.” On this point, he was completely unyielding. So, Ooooookaaaaaayyyyyyyy.  The college search just got a whole lot narrower. With location in mind, we started looking for schools in the southeast with good reputations for academics and undergraduate research. Together, we targeted five schools, went to five campuses, took five campus tours, heard five info sessions, and met with four biology professors and one biology department office manager.

HERE IS WHAT WE LEARNED:  IMG_20130801_133004_807

1.  Colleges/ Universities who stress academics are all looking for students with these traits:

  • Students who have taken the most strenuous courses their high schools have to offer
  • Students who are active in extracurricular activities
  • Students who are passionate about something and act on that passion (amorous passions not included)
  • Application Essays (Several mentioned that you should communicate what you can contribute to campus if you’re selected.)
  • Leadership positions

2. Test scores are important to many schools, but not all. Two of the schools we visited allowed students to opt out of sharing their scores. These schools said they did not want to rule out otherwise good candidates because of a few hours of testing. All schools said they’d chose students who were involved in extracurricular activities in high school with imperfect SAT scores over students with perfect SAT scores, but little else to recommend them. This was interesting to discover, but keep in mind that there are still many schools out there where SAT and/or ACT scores are a crucial admission element!

3. Call the school ahead of time and see if you can meet with a professor in the department of your child is most interested in. We did this at the first school we visited, and it was so helpful, that we called all of the rest of the schools and made the same request. More than anything, I think talking with professors got my son excited about the college experience.

4. Some campuses just don’t feel right. We were on one campus for all of ten minutes when my son insisted it was not for him. We made him stay for the tour anyway, but it didn’t change his mind. And actually, I accept that different places feel differently. I want him to pick a school where he feels comfortable.

5. Applying for Early Decision greatly increases your chances of getting in to the most selective of the schools we visited, but it is a binding commitment.

My son has decided to apply to four of the colleges we visited. His next step is to decide whether or not he feels strongly enough about one over the others to apply for early decision.

Now that I’ve been through this process once, what will I do differently when my younger child starts to look at colleges? Well, a lot! And you can learn from my mistakes. But since I can write a whole separate post about that, I’ll save it for next week!