I love October! The Fall Classic. The start of stone crab season. The first crisp morning (theoretically, at least). And the endless virtual pile of the ‘almost perfect’ college applications that I am privileged to review every morning and evening as my students find their voices, dot i’s, cross t’s and eventually press ‘submit.’
October is one of the busiest and most exciting months in the college process. In my practice, we’re seeing our first ‘thick envelopes’ with the coveted ‘yes, we’d love to have you here’ messages begin to roll in. The CSS Profile (the onerous supplemental financial aid application used by many private universities) has gone live — and we’re putting the final touches on our families’ financial plans to assure that we have no Spring surprises. And it’s the first ‘best chance’ for some of your children to make a college connection. And for others, their last.
In the coming weeks, admissions counselors from around the country will invade South Florida, attending various high school college fairs and then culminating on November 1 at the Broward County Convention Center. This free event will feature over 200 colleges and universities from across the nation, and most representatives will be the actual admissions officers who will be reading your student’s application.
You and your student should attend a college fair … even if your child is only in 10th grade and especially if s/he’s in 11th or 12th. Here’s why.
In this incredible age of information where your child is but one click away from filing multiple college applications, the fact remains that the admissions ‘experts’ actually doing the selecting for these said colleges are humans and therefore are capable of making human-like, emotional decisions. Your student enjoys a great advantage if she has an opportunity to actually meet face-to-face with one of these human experts. (Most of the representatives in attendance will actually be reading your child’s application for the first pass). Each application receives about 20 minutes of attention per read, so you see, when an admissions officer can connect the applicant’s name to a face and a voice, it brings depth and dimension to the candidate. I have personally witnessed times where personal contact has converted a borderline candidate to a front-runner and/or a front-runner with a poor financial aid offer to a recipient of an ‘institutional grant’ at the 11th hour.
Now on the flip side: Much is written about how competitive it is to get into college today; but the fact is that competition among schools for good students can be just as fierce. The college fair is your student’s opportunity to be recruited and wooed. The fact is that students cannot visit every college — especially our students who are geographically challenged in that regard. Local college fairs allow students to meet, shake hands, and converse with admissions officers and trusted alumni, as well as the opportunity to gather information and learn about different educational opportunities.
So, what should you do at the Fair? Admissions officers LOVE to meet students who are engaging, asking questions, and inquring about their school. Here’s what I tell my clients about attending a college fair:
1. Students should take initiative, allowing (helicopter) parents to play wing man at best.
2. Have a good attitude – greet people with a smile, a firm hand shake, and with tempered enthusiasm.
3. If you see a school you haven’t heard of, don’t be afraid to approach and inquire further. This may be your diamond in the rough.
4. Be conversational and welcoming. Often these folks are in from out of town. Make them feel welcome by engaging them in conversation about anything that might make them feel comfortable.
5. You should have at least a general idea of your favorite academic subjects so that you can inquire about specific majors of study. Make sure the school offers what you desire academically (regardless of their success on the gridiron or hardwood).
6. Get business cards and send brief, follow up notes (email or letter) to those admissions officers who represent schools where you have interest.
Above all, remember that the admissions process involves people making decisions about other people. In an admissions process that has become increasingly competitive, technology-driven and financially motivated, you DON’T want the admissions committee to first find out about your student when his application arrives at their office. Admissions officers face pressure, they have goals to meet, they compete with other schools, they can be moody, they face disappointment, many are away from home a lot of the time and they just want to be loved. So if you want to improve your chances of receiving that Thick Envelope some day (with a great financial offer to boot), go out there this month and show them some love!
P.S. While personal contact is important, your students’ grades and course selection in school remain the most important determinant of their admissions chances (by a large margin). But when everyone your child is competing with share similar grades and scores, personal relationships can certainly tip the balance in their favor.
P.P.S. October is where it all comes together. Where admissions and funding intersect to create the ultimate college plan. If you have a 10th or 11th grader, it’s time to canvass the college landscape. To learn more about how this whole ‘college thing’ works today… and more importantly, how you can make it work for you, you can also attend one of my free Fall lectures. You can learn more and register on my website: www.CollegePlanningAdvice.com and clicking on the ‘Live Events’ tab to access the registration page.
P.P.P.S Forward this to a friend with high school kids. They’ll thank you for it!