Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The After Thanksgiving College Talk

By:  Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

Thanksgiving is a time to step back and take in everything you’ve done this school year.  This is especially important with college counseling, where it’s too easy to get caught up in the minutiae of transcripts and letters of recommendation and forget about the reason behind all of that e-documenting—to make sure students have a new school next year where they can continue to learn, live, and challenge themselves.

Thanksgiving gives us a chance to come back to the office after the break and review students’ college lists with the big picture in mind.  The process for this post-Thanksgiving review is easy:

·         Review each senior’s post-high school plans.
·         For those heading to college, review the list of colleges they’ve given you, and make sure there is at least one school that is a likely admit.  For purposes of this review, a Likely school is one where the student’s GPA and test scores are at, or above, the average GPA and test scores of the college, AND the college admits more than 20 percent of their applicants.
·         If the student doesn’t have a Likely college on their list, it’s time to take action.
·         Ditto if the student has a Likely college on their list, but hasn’t yet applied there.

In most cases, the next step is to send a thoughtfully-worded e-mail .  “I had a chance to review your college plans.  You have some wonderful schools on your list, but they are all extremely competitive, and it’s important you add some other schools soon.  Please let me know when you can meet this week.”

By calling the student’s list “extremely competitive”, you aren’t commenting on the student’s qualifications; you’re focusing on the college’s limitations.  They’re going to run out of seats before they run out of great students, and the student needs to make sure they have strong college choices available in the spring.

Even the best-phrased “Let’s Talk” e-mail is going to rattle some students, especially those who know their college list is ambitious, but can’t quite come to terms with the idea that their dream schools may be out of reach.  This is why they may not come see you; it’s also the reason they don’t have any Likely schools in the first place.

This requires a thoughtful approach once they finally make it to your office.  Focusing on the limitations of the college (not the student), try to get the student to talk about the qualities of the demanding colleges they’ve chosen, and suggest Likely colleges that offer the same qualities.  The student likes small classes?  How about the residential college at the local state university?  The student wants to live on campus all four years with the same group of students?  An online college search will show a list of colleges that offer that option. 

Once a few additional colleges are discovered, the student and counselor set a deadline to apply to those colleges, and the student is reminded that, if all goes well, these college options may not even be needed—but if they are, they’ll be available.

To be sure, this work is time consuming, and it is also a little humbling, since this kind of review could mean there’s a student or two with college plans that don’t line up with their goals or abilities.  That’s a tough thing to admit, and a harder thing to discuss, but it’s in the student’s best interests, and ours, to gird up our courage and take action now, while the time still exists to maximize student choices.

That’s something we can all be grateful for.

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