Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Before You Talk to Juniors

By:  Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

Hardly a week has gone by in this young school year without some big announcement that will affect the college plans of this year’s juniors.  In case you’ve been watching the new pictures of Pluto, here’s what school counselors have learned since Labor Day:

  • More details have emerged about the new SAT, which debuts just in time for juniors to take this coming March—but those taking the test won’t get the results for at least six weeks.

  • Juniors filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid will be able to do so in October of their senior year, while this year’s seniors have to wait until January to do so. In addition, juniors will be able to use tax information that’s already been filed with the IRS, making it much easier to apply for federal help for college.

  • A group of colleges that includes some of the most selective US institutions have formed a coalition that will offer its own application for admission next year, a move that will first affect—you guessed it—the juniors.

Even though counselors know better, our first inclination is to look at these changes and scream.  We’re quite certain the new rules, deadlines, and unknowns will shake the college hopes of juniors, who will have to face all of these changes at once, all while making one of the most important decisions of their young lives.

Except the juniors are brand new to this.

Unless something really odd is going on, no junior has ever applied to college before, so any “rules” about applying to college are new to them.  Some of them may have witnessed an older sibling or close friend apply, and developed application strategies based on what those mentors did (or didn’t) do.  But we’ve always had the challenge of bringing younger siblings and their parents into the current world of college admission, and it’s clear next year will be no different.

“But it’s so much change!” you say.  “Surely some of this newness is going to rub off on the students.”

That’s certainly true—later March SAT scores throws off the testing timeline many counselors advocate for students—but that’s a change that will have a much greater impact on the adults who are used to the old rules, not the students who don’t know the old rules.  It’s important to keep this in mind when you communicate with your juniors.  Any news is new news to them, so the tone our message takes is crucial.

This means it’s best not to over-explain. Instead of a detailed description of what the FAFSA changes mean, show them the good:

“Good news!  Starting next year, students will be able to apply for federal financial aid in October, not January- and you can use the information that’s already on file with the IRS.  This is going to make applying for aid much easier.”

This approach keeps the stress off students, letting them feel the greater freedom the FAFSA changes were intended to create.

It’s certainly true that choosing a college will be a big deal to this year’s juniors—but it was going to be a big deal to them even if we were using the same old SAT, FAFSA deadline, and college applications. Choosing a college is important, and it can be life-changing, but it doesn’t have to have a soundtrack by Wagner.  Let the woman in the Viking helmet rest; take a student-centered approach to the changes, and all will be well.

It’s OK for us to freak about what’s new—just not in front of the children. 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you from South Korea-just in time for my Fall junior meetings!