My husband likes to get up every Saturday morning and watch fishing shows. He’s not even really an avid fisherman; he simply enjoys watching professional fishermen reel in giant, slimy fish. My kids like it, too. They all group around the television and “Ooh” and “Ahh” every time some guy catches a largemouth bass.
Why am I telling you this? Because you may feel like finding the right college is kind of like finding the biggest bass in Lake Okeechobee. Right?
Building relationships with people at colleges can make the “fishing” process seem a little less daunting. It brings more clarity to the college search and helps your child hone in on those “Aha” moments.
Anna Dealy, associate director of advancement communication at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Massachusetts, used to work in enrollment at a private liberal arts college. She says her favorite part of working in admission is building friendships with students and families.
Dealy says it’s important for parents to help students understand that colleges
“It helps for students to know that those of us working in enrollment aren’t scary,” says Dealy. “We want to meet students and want them to succeed. Maybe if they know that from the beginning, they might not think building relationships with admission offices is so foreign and unknown.”
The thing is, you and your high schooler have to work toward building relationships. Plus, your student has to be willing to get on board. (That may feel like reeling in a shark!)
As with most things, it’s better to do it together.
- Add College Contacts with Your Student
- Encourage Your Student to Attend High School College Rep Visits
- Get to Know Alumni
- Go to College Fairs with Your Child
- Give Your Child Opportunities to Get to Know Students
- Meet with Faculty and Staff
- Know Your Student’s Admission Counselor
- Get in Touch for All the Right Reasons
Add College Contacts with Your Student
Make sure you reach out to people during the college search together. It’s really intimidating for your child to have to do it alone, particularly when your high schooler may not be great at getting to know new people. That said, anytime you need to talk with a financial aid officer, set up a college visit, talk scholarships with an admission counselor — whatever it is — put your child on speaker and encourage him or her to make the first move. It’s time to start learning how to interact with anyone now — it’s good life skills training.
Encourage Your Student to Attend High School College Rep Visits
Encourage your kiddo to attend college rep visits at his or her high school. Colleges usually make the rounds at high schools in fall and spring and intermittently during the winter.
It’s a great idea to get to know admission counselors through those visits. Your child’s school counselor or college and career counselor will have a list of dates when colleges will visit.
You may hear that high school teachers prefer that your child stays in class, but this is a great relationship-building opportunity, particularly if your child’s classmates all stay in class! That way, your child will get lots of one-on-one attention, particularly if your student has an eye on a smaller school.
How can you do this together? You might want to request some private time with the admission counselor and your child if you have specific questions. Call the high school and find out whether the college rep can spare some extra time. Or go directly to the source and contact the college rep.
Get to Know Alumni
Even if alumni graduated 20 years ago, they’re still great people to build relationships with because they’re the ultimate cheerleaders. They can be great at explaining the heart and soul of an institution — that usually doesn’t change! (You’ll still hear current students talk about some of the same things that older alumni describe.)
Alumni may also do interviews with your student as a required or optional part of a school’s admission process. In that case, you can help your child set up the interview, but it’s best if you stay home. You can help your child dress for success, practice interview tips and make sure your child follows up after the meeting. This is just one area where you’ll have to sit on the sidelines!
Go to College Fairs with Your Child
College fairs are a great way to learn more about what colleges offer. Go to a college fair with your child so he or she doesn’t have to go it alone. The school counselor at your child’s high school should have a list of local and regional college fairs you can attend. National college fairs can also offer a great opportunity for you and your son or daughter to communicate with a college representative together — these fairs are usually packed.
Come with a list of specific questions about campus culture but leave the questions about class size at home. You can find that online.
Oh, and make sure your child asks the first few questions!
Give Your Child Opportunities to Get to Know Students
Obviously, the students are the life and soul of a college or university. The best place to get to know them is during college visits on campus. Encourage your child to talk to the students during these visits. This can be such a challenging thing for a high schooler! They might feel like they’re kindergarteners all over again.
Prep your student ahead of time for what to expect. There’s nothing worse for a college student tour guide than trying to give a tour to a family who’s too timid to ask questions or make conversation. It’s also tough on the tour guide when parents dominate the conversation — FYI!
Beyond the college visit, are there students around your community who attend the colleges your child is interested in? They can clue them in on a lot — campus culture, tips for navigating the first year, the best residence halls, where to go for resources, programs, etc. It’s fun for your student to hear all this from a student perspective and it’s instructive because you also get away from all the college marketing hoopla. College students can be completely real and help your child get the scoop on it all.
Meet with Faculty and Staff
Meeting with faculty and staff is one of those things that can make a kid die a thousand deaths, as you probably already know. Talking to a financial aid guru, faculty member or other staff member can be terrifying for a 17-year-old high school student. This is one of those times when your child may never say, “Mom, I need you,” but he does!
“Faculty members can really give students that level of comfort that someone in enrollment might not know about the details in the area of study and success stories. Faculty are huge resources of finding the right fit. That’s what it’s all about for students — finding the right fit,” Dealy says.
Getting to know faculty and staff may even help college professionals “look out” for you during the college search. Here’s an example. When I worked in the admission office, a professor decided to collect money from other faculty and staff to offer up scholarships for deserving students. He amassed an impressive amount — enough to offer students an extra $1,000 to their aid awards.
He asked admission counselors for the names of who they thought deserved the scholarships the most. I very vividly remember him asking me about the students in my territory.
Naturally, the students who knew our admission counselors best received the scholarships because they’d gone through the trouble of building relationships with them. Obviously, this is a super-specific example and doesn’t happen at every college, but do you see how there could be far-reaching benefits for students and families?
Know Your Student’s Admission Counselor
Getting to know admission and financial aid is a good place to start, says Dealy.
“Based on the people I’ve met in the enrollment industry, we want to be resources and advocates, help students thrive, help them find the right fit and go out in the world and be successful. We believe that all students can do that and we want to help them along on their journeys,” Dealy says.
Get in Touch for All the Right Reasons
So here’s the other thing. When you’re “fishing,” you want to be sure you’re fostering genuine relationships with
It’s got to be genuine and sincere, because, if anything, you’re teaching your child how to be a really nice person. The best relationships are reciprocal friendships — each party gets something out of it. Yes, college representatives are “hitting goals” by getting your child to attend their colleges. But most really, really want to recruit graduates — students who will enroll, love the experience and graduate to be proud alumni.