The College Search Begins Early,
Includes Entire Family
(ARA) - When it comes to getting into the college of your choice,
the early bird truly gets the collegiate worm. Due to the growing
selectivity of private colleges, waiting until the junior year to
begin the search, application and financial aid processes can be too
That selectivity has its advantages, says Ken
Faffler, director of recruitment and admissions at Northwestern
College in St. Paul, Minn. “Not only are colleges articulating what
kind of student they want, they are standing by it. As a result, the
quality of students and academics increases, which produces a better
Faffler has seen the college admissions process
advance considerably over the last 15 years. “Many colleges now use
a point system based on high school course pattern, leadership,
extracurricular activities, references and legacy.”
Another advancement is the global experience of
prospective students. “It used to be college was the student’s first
venture into the world,” Faffler says. “But the world has gotten
smaller and travel is common. Seeing international service and
mission experiences on applications is almost normal.”
The financial aid process has also evolved. In
addition to the traditional government and institutional aid, there
are many other financial aid sources: parents’ workplaces, military,
community and neighborhood programs, civic organizations, etc.
“Researching financial aid is easy thanks to the
Internet, such as Fastweb.com,” he says. “You don’t need a
consultant to do the research; it’s at your fingertips.”
The Student’s Search
Emily Carlson, a senior at Northwestern College,
thought about college for years and had her choices narrowed down by
the end of her junior year. “Keep horizons wide, but don’t have too
many options,” she recommends.
Beginning the search in the freshman year is not
too early. Even if the student hasn’t thought about college, it’s a
good idea to chat with the guidance counselor about how to get the
most out of high school. Get involved in extracurricular activities
to help define interests, talents and skills. Look into Advanced
Placement (AP) courses to earn college credit.
By the sophomore year, students need to explore
colleges and begin the testing process. Check out college fairs.
Take the PLAN (pre-ACT) and PSAT (pre-SAT). Carlson opted to take
the ACT three times, which helped her learn the test process. “Don’t
freak out about a poor score the first time,” Carlson adds. “Focus
on how to take the test, not specific topics.”
During the junior year, students can retake the
PSAT to improve scores. Take the ACT and/or SAT, then decide which
schools to send the scores.
“When you receive the scores, meet with the
guidance counselor to see what schools and scholarships you qualify
for,” Faffler says. “Then visit the colleges you’re most interested
“Don’t skimp on the campus visits,” Carlson
advises. “Ask a lot of questions of students, tour guides, staff and
“College visit events have changed in recent
years,” Faffler says. “The formal hard-sell visit days talking to
professors, taking tours and attending seminars on admissions and
financial aid are disappearing. The focus is now on the informal
soft-sell experience-based event where prospective students are
among college students and experience college life.”
Carlson cautions prospective students to look
beyond the promotional perspective found in the viewbooks and
brochures. “Go beyond the photos of smiling students on green lawns
surrounded by stately brick buildings. Find out what it’s like seven
days a week in the cafeteria, classrooms, library and residences.”
By fall of the senior year students need to
narrow the college list to no more than five, then complete
applications. “Write drafts of application essays and have your
parents and a teacher edit them,” Faffler suggests, “Send in early
admission applications; many are due as early as November.”
If seniors aren’t happy with their ACT/SAT
scores, retake them. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
application should be completed as soon after Jan. 1 as possible.
When acceptance letters start coming, students must decide which
school to attend and notify the other schools by May 1.
The Parents’ Search
Faffler, Carlson and her parents, Gary and
Cynthia Carlson, strongly encourage parental involvement in the
college search. “Parents want and need to be involved. Keep them in
the loop,” Carlson says. “After all, your education is their
The Carlsons offer the following advice.
1. Talk with parents in the neighborhood, school,
church, work, social or sport activities about what they are doing
2. Talk to the school guidance counselor; they
specialize in helping parents with higher education advice. Those
who home-school can talk to the counselor at a public school.
3. Make sure PSEO, AP and “accelerated” classes
transfer to potential colleges so your child’s time and your money
4. Go to college/financial aid prep classes
offered at church, work, a library community center, etc.
5. Discuss financial options with a financial
advisor at your bank or place of business.
6. Visit college Web sites to learn about the
school’s culture, philosophy, policies, etc.
7. Take advantage of college visit days and
parent days to check out the dorms and classes. Prepare a list of
questions so you won’t forget anything.
8. Network with parents or students who have gone
to the college your child is interested in. There is nothing better
than talking to people who have experienced the college firsthand.
9. Set aside a certain amount of money for your
child’s education. Begin as early as possible -- in the cradle! --
and add to it as often and regularly as possible.
Courtesy of ARA Content