Yesterday I went on an actual in-person tour of a university: George Mason University. I signed up, attended the information session, and went on the student-guided tour of the campus.
I left feeling irritated. Irritated that my time was wasted. Irritated that my questions went unanswered. Irritated that we didn't see the parts of campus important to me.
So, when I finally returned home I decided to go on GMU's Virtual Campus tour to see what information it could impart that I had missed on my cold stroll. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that GMU's virtual tour was just as anemic as the personal tour. The "virtual" tour was virtually not there: no video, few pictures, lots and lots of text.
What's the point of a virtual tour? To draw in potential students who might too far to visit the camps in person. To answer questions that students might have. To build up excitement in potential students. If your university's virtual tour doesn't do these, then you've failed your viewers.
However, don't fret. There are quite a few companies out there who offer virtual campus tours: ecampustours and Youniversity TV. Only after clicking on Youniversity TV's GMU Virtual Tour did I finally see an actual video with some production quality and content.
Why should I have to search so hard? Why should I have to stray from the university's site to find something resembling content? What does this lack of information say about GMU and other university's who aren't up to speed or up to snuff?
So, if your'e starting your campus search and want to check out virtual tours, be cautious. Some are good. However, some are bad and many are non-existent. I'm not sure which of the two are worse: just not doing it or doing it poorly.
Jay Mathews of The Washington Post had some great advice today for those on the wait list for their favorite college. I thought I'd pass the advice along to you:
There are at least 300 colleges and universities with all the resources of the well-known schools mentioned above. Most of them have wait lists and admit students from them. As the May 1 deadline for making a choice looms, there is a way to increase your chances of being one of those picked. I have been sharing this strategy with the wait-listed children of friends for 20 years. So far it has worked every time.
Accept admission to whatever you consider the best fit among the schools that accepted you. Then tell the one you still want to keep you on its wait list. Ask its admission office for the name of the staffer deputized to communicate with people in your situation, and write a letter.
Tell the admissions officer in the first paragraph that the college is still your first choice, and you want to explain in detail why that is. Give three reasons, spending at least a paragraph on each, why the school matches your dreams. Perhaps the well-respected English department suits your desire to write and teach great literature. Maybe the chemistry department was mentioned often during your summer internship at a local lab.
Then identify three of your personal strengths you think would enhance the school. Perhaps your experience at food drives fits its work in the local community. Maybe your design ideas match what’s happening in the art department. Explain what you and the school can do together. You have shown not only that you want the college, but why. That can have a powerful effect.
A high school junior/senior's most dreaded question: What are you going to study?
For some, the answer is easy: Mechanical engineering! Physical therapy! Writing! As adults, we're so thrilled these kids have a path and relieved their search is over.
For others, the answer is this: [crickets chirping....]
They are interested in lots of things: robotics and ceramics and math and cooking and Spanish and Greek plays... but they're not set on what they want to do forever.
When I meet these students I forgo the "what-do-you-want-to-be-when-you-grow-up?" questions and instead focus on the "what-kind-of-life-do-you-want-to-live?" ones:
Only after they answer these do I then ask: What are you good/bad at? Math, science, language, art? What moves you?
Figuring out the life you want to lead first and then marrying these choices with your skills gives you the chance to create a path that you won't regret when you're 40.
After all deciding you hate working in an office at a desk alone might not be the best career for a computer scientist.
So, next time you start to utter that dreaded question, ask instead: What kind of life do you want to lead? Then listen.
Social media in college and career counseling is a double-edged sword.
“A Zinch survey last year found that 68% of students used social media to research schools, and 38% said they used it as a research tool when deciding where to enroll. This has prompted college and universities to use social media as an informative recruitment tool, with 97% of schools using social media in their online recruitment efforts (up from 37% 10 years ago), according to the National Association for College Admissions Counseling” (Linked In).
This is huge. As a parent of a high-school senior this year, I can tell you that the constant bombardment of social media from universities is in full force: emails, requests for students to follow on Twitter, university mascot decals and cutouts sent to students with the requests to post them to Facebook in unique locations, LinkedIn requests from student ambassadors, to the traditional mail and phone calls. It’s constant and never-ending—and effective.
What’s interesting is that students are very aware of the social media coming in to them helping to encourage decisions (and to parents, encouraging payment methods and campus visits); however, students are less aware that, according to a 2013 Kaplan survey, 30% of college admissions counselors are using social media to look at candidates.
This has two issues: the first is that students should be careful of what their media presence is.
Think back, if you will, to when you were 15. Think of all the photos that you certainly would never have wanted anyone to see. Cringe worthy, right? Also, how did schools contact you? Paper mail to your staid home address “5656 MacArthur Court” or something non-descript like that. Now, everyone has access to all of your embarrassing photos on Facebook, your lifetime Twitterfeed history, and can see your email address. (firstname.lastname@example.org doesn’t seem so smart now, right?)
As an independent counselor I have turned social media to my advantage for my students. Here’s what I counsel:
What not to do: DrinkyWinky@email.com
What to do: Register for a plain email address for college correspondence (CathyGanley@email.com).
What’s smart to do: I have my savvier students register for college-specific email address (CathyGanleyStandford@email.com) and then port them all into one account. Now when colleges correspond with Cathy Ganley “Cathy Ganley” they will see that she’s so in love with Stanford that she even chose it for her email address.
Also, Email heads of departments and ask for personal interviews. Ask questions beforehand. Send thank you follow-ups. Ask for any help they might be able to give in the college admissions process. A personal relationship is never a bad thing. They know you want to get in; however, you should know that they want good, strong, engaged students. Email is a way to show this—in a technology most are not familiar with.
What not to do: Post anything you’d have to explain when you’re running for office.
What to do: Lock down your privacy settings. Make sure no one can see your photos, no one can see your friends, never ever post something that might embarrass you when you’re being considered for the Supreme Court, and make sure your settings alert you when some tags you in any post or photo.
What’s smart to do: Post pictures of yourself doing volunteer work, community service, participating in athletics, news clippings, links to your resume, links to LinkedIn. Be sure to change your privacy settings for those posts so others can see them.
What not to do: The basics. Avoid immature rants and Tweets.
What to do: Stay off Twitter unless you have something you really want to say about a personal project. Tweets are forever; they store them at the Library of Congress—they’re that kind of forever.
What’s smart to do: Highlight accomplishments. Ask insightful questions about your major. Praise programs. Thank a university for the tour.
4. Linked In
What not to do: Avoid mentioning those really sketchy jobs you’ve had. (I’m amazed when my students list their illegal stuff as jobs.)
What to do: Connect with professionals when possible.
What’s smart to do: Connect with heads of departments after you meet with them. Update it as often as possible as this is when university alumni might see you and put in a call.
What not to do: Avoid embarrassing stuff.
What to do: Post resumes, portfolios, accomplishments, links to performance, etc.
What’s smart to do: Apply for a QR code and put it on your correspondence and the like. Savvy professors will admire that you’re so up to speed while the less savvy will admire that you’re so far ahead of the(ir) game.
If college counselors are going to watch what you’re doing, you need to be careful what you show. However, you can make this work to your advantage too by showing them only what you want them to see.
So, your daughter comes home and says those dreaded words you and your husband never thought you'd hear from one of your darling children: "Mom. Dad. I want to study Industrial Design."
The horror! Mom's a biology tech. Dad's a computer scientist. No words could be more foreign unless she said she wanted to study International Relations or Musical Theater. What is this degree? Where does one go to study this? What skills do you need for admission? Does any school in our state offer such a degree? Where are good schools for this? You'd have her covered if she went into a STEM field, but this?
Don't panic. There are some steps you and your daughtecan take get a handle on this decision.
The search is more than just rifling through some college books or consulting with one expert or resource. You need to really spread it around to figure out what's the best fit for you. Talk to everyone (counselors, department heads, former students) and search multiple references (Fiske, College Data, Naviance, Google, departmental websites, university tours) to winnow down your search. Be organized. Be fearless. Be yourself. Good luck!
I must admit something to you all: I've never been a big fan of podcasts. Perhaps that's because I come from a generation who created reports on IBM Selectrics (with changeable font balls) coupled with craftily cut pictures from my grandparents' lifetime stash of National Geographics. I prefer text and pictures, allowing myself the leisurely stroll through written material--stopping and starting as I see fit.
For me, podcasts are the musical theater of the internet: some substance, lots of bling. When they're done well, you get greatness: Phantom, Cats. When they're not, well, you get Xanadu.
However, I'm trying to hear past the "look-at-me!" call of Podcasts to find the value they might offer. While they're still not my favorite medium, I'm beginning to recognize their place in college admissions.
I just listened to a podcast on The College-Bound Chronicles about the new SATs and appreciated the insights Lian Dolan (mother) and Dr. Nancy Berk (author College Bound and Gagged) had about how the changes might affect the first class to take them in spring 2016. After I slipped on my noise-canceling headphones and clicked play, I found myself quickly clicking some of the links they mentioned, SAT Prep for ADHD children, and thinking about when the new test materials might come out (April 1, 2014).
Did I leave armed with new knowledge? Sure, if by "armed" you mean outfitted with new weapons the power of squirt guns. However, I did appreciate that I was able to listen while still multi-tasking away in other applications. Plus, I must grudgingly admit I did learn some new information. However, I bet I could have learned that in print too by checking out CollegeBoard today.
Will podcasts change my life? Maybe, if I let them. In my attempt to be a little more open-minded and more current than cutting and gluing from magazines, I'll start downloading some and listening to them in the car. Maybe then I won't mind the intrusion. Stop me though if you hear me singing along.
What I've learned about the college process (reposted from a January post):
Luddites of the world, technology wants to be your friend during the college admissions process.
Here are a few ways that embracing technology can help you or your child enhance the college application process.
Luddites: 1000-page books full of SAT practice tests and vocabulary words.
Techno-savvy: Khan Academy, College Board, Kaplan all have free online practice SAT tests.
Luddites: Books full of college descriptions, SAT/GPA scores, lists of majors, and cost formulas followed by phone calls and trips to each prospective college to help winnow down the choices.
Techno-savvy: Naviance, College Data and other college search sites demystify your choices and allow you to search by the criteria you want. Additionally, every college site has a Net Price Calculator to give you real numbers to help you plan.
Luddites: Typed or handwritten college applications. Need I say more?
Techno-savvy: The Common App and other colleges' online applications let you enter your repeating data once--and only once--leaving you time for crafting the perfect essay.
SAT/ACT Scores, Transcripts, and Letters of Recommendation
Luddites: One word: stamps!
Techno-savvy: Teachers and transcript officials can zap your requests to your schools in no time through email or Naviance.
Luddites: Multiple multi-day trips and walking tours of universities.
Techno-savvy: Online tours, smartphone apps, and question/answer sessions.
Luddites: If I need you in March, I'll just look for you in your lawn chair by the mail box. Tell your postal carrier I said hello while you're waiting for the fat envelopes.
Techno-savvy: While you still have to wait, hitting refresh on the college's Application Status page is certainly easier.
Financial Aid Forms
Luddites: Fill them out by hand and then mail to each school.
Techno-savvy: FAFSA and CSS allow you to do this process once and then distribute to every school you're interested in.
Change can be Tough...
I know for some the transition to technology is difficult. However, your college counselors are here to help.
What technology will do is get better information to you and colleges faster, which will help ease the entire process. We can talk with you about your college preferences, direct you to websites, help you understand the electronic admissions process, email you up-to-date deadlines and information, direct you to scholarship searches, and help you with your financial aid forms. We can get information from you via email (although the phone or face-to-face is great too) and we can get information to you as well via Facebook, Twitter, email, e-newsletters and the like.
So, if even for this process alone you come out into the light of the computer screen, please do. When your child leaves home successfully for college, you can turn the light back off. I'll even buy you a pack of stamps for your trouble.
Today's Washington Post has an interesting article about the value of applying for numerous scholarships. Vikaya Powell from TC Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia, wanted to ensure she could pay for college, despite her single mother losing her job. So, with help from her college counselor, Vikaya winnowed down all the scholarship choices (speak Klingon? Handy with Duct Tape? Know all about Fire Sprinklers?) to about 36 for which she applied.
While she hasn't heard back yet with awards, she is hopeful. After all, said one multiple scholarship winner, "The “common thread” among those who do win a lot of scholarship money is that they pursue as many opportunities as they can."
I know from personal experience that this scatter-shot approach works. I've had one student apply for over 50 scholarships to win $12,000 so far, with over 75% of the scholarships not announced.
For our scholarship links, click here.
An Update on the State of Counselors and College Admission Training
By: Patrick O'Connor Ph.D
It’s been a little over two years since The Chronicle of Higher Education published a column on the lack of training counselors receive in college admission counseling. The piece concluded with a call to policy makers to determine how counselor readiness could be improved in college admission counseling, since less than 10 percent of all counselor training programs in the US offered any preparation in this area (you can see the entire article at http://chronicle.com/blogs/headcount/college-counseling-could-be-better-just-ask-your-school-counselor/29545).
The column has inspired a great deal of discussion and seed-planting. Informally, dozens of school counselors have reached out to the colleges that trained them and offered to teach a college counseling class as an elective. Formally, counselor educators and school counselors have joined together to create the Transforming School Counseling and College Access Interest Network. The group meets regularly online to determine how to improve training in college counseling.
At the same time, mounting evidence suggests progress could continue to be too small, and too glacial. College Board’s second survey of school counselors showed little change in counselors’ perceptions of professional readiness in college counseling. This sentiment was echoed in the recent book Top Student, Top School, where valedictorians from urban schools gave a scathing assessment of their counselors when it came to college advising.
If counselors are aware of the paucity of training, and students keenly feel the impact of this void, what can be done to make sure another two years and six million high school graduates don’t pass by without meaningful change in the availability of quality college advising? These steps would lend crucial momentum to the effort:
Two years have shown an increase in interest in more training in college advising, along with six million reminders why better training is more important than ever. It’s time for the conversations to shift into action; the opportunity is nigh, and the stakes have never been higher.
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Labels: Admissions, Counselor Training
Tuesday, February 18, 2014Top Ten Trends in College Admissions (with a few bonus references on Michigan)
By: Patrick O'Connor Ph.D
A College Counselor who asks and answers the tough questions.