8 Important Questions to Ask Your Child’s School Counselor Right Now

8 Important Questions to Ask Your Child’s School Counselor Right Now

College and career counselors are the unsung heroes of the college search process. They’re forthcoming about community-based scholarships, college prep courses and more. They’ve got a pulse on what’s going on at colleges and universities — because guess who talks to them before and after college visits? That’s right — college representatives! 

This year may be a little different, but going into it, I’d like to see school counselors hop on virtual visits with college admission counselors so they know exactly what’s going on at each college and university. 

Here’s what to a college counselor (also known as your child’s school counselor) this year.

1. Is it possible to work with you virtually?

You may want to jump on a conversation with the school counselor with your student this year. Classes may be a bit jumbled up because of the school schedule or required virtual classes. Eliminating electives like band and ceramics may also create openings (it’s hard to do band and choir over Zoom). The loss of electives can be a real burden for students, so if an alternative option is needed, now’s the time to talk with the school counselor. Try to schedule a meeting before school starts to discuss all the options available to your student. 

However, if you must meet in person, the school may have a specific policy about how to handle in-person meetings, such as social distancing requirements and wearing a mask in a large conference room. Make sure you come with a prepared list of questions!

2. Is my child still on the most robust college prep schedule possible?

Certain classes may only be offered twice a week, other classes may have been cut — it may seem like your child’s schedule is slowly shrinking. Make sure these are on the schedule: 


Colleges like to see four years of English. Any class where your child will study writing and literature is a bonus because just about every career will require your child to write well. Four years of English also enhances your child’s reading, analysis and communication skills.


Colleges also like to see four years of math. Math classes should include at least four of the following six classes (in order):

  • Pre-algebra
  • Algebra
  • Geometry
  • Algebra II or trigonometry
  • Precalculus
  • Calculus


It may be okay to take just three years of laboratory science classes (check specific school requirements) but a fourth year is still a bonus. Make sure your child’s taken the following:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics

Social Studies

Most colleges require at least two years of social studies, including world history and U.S. history. Your child could consider other social science options, including:

  • Government
  • Sociology
  • Geography
  • Psychology

Foreign Language

Many colleges require a minimum of two years of foreign language while in high school. It doesn’t matter which foreign language your child chooses to study.


A small number of colleges require one year of visual or performing arts prior to admission.

Check with the school counselor to be sure your child is checking all the boxes. Pay special attention to the requirements at each college. The last thing you’d want is to let COVID-19 be the reason your child didn’t take a fourth year of English.

3. What’s the latest information you’ve heard from college representatives? (In particular, School X?)

When I visited schools in the fall of 2018, I made sure to talk to the college counselor at every high school I visited. I sat in that counselor’s office and made sure to spend a few minutes highlighting exactly why students should visit our college. I repeated my elevator pitch for the counselor, highlighted the exact programs and majors that were getting a lot of attention and described what the campus was like. I tried to give each counselor a goodie basket and always gave each counselor a bundle of materials to hand out to students.

Every time I visited high schools, I made sure to let counselors know that our college was a great option for the right type of student.

Now, not all admission counselors from colleges spend that much time with school counselors. However, remember that school counselors have their ears open — and still will during the pandemic. Maybe even more so, because they’ll be collecting information about which colleges have changed their requirements, like ACT and SAT testing and more. Be sure to ask this question, because you might learn a nugget of information you can’t get online.

4. When will you hold virtual visits with admission representatives? How will my child get notified?

Since it’s likely that no in-person admission visits will happen this year, encourage your child to attend virtual college rep visits. It’s the next-best thing. Virtual visits are the perfect platform for your child to ask questions. I know it seems like something’s “missing” when your kid can’t meet with reps one-on-one, but what’s more important is asking the right questions. 

Here are a few key questions your child can ask: 

  1. Are there extra scholarships due to the pandemic? 
  2. What the campus is like right now due to COVID-19? Will this continue for the foreseeable future? 
  3. How has the pandemic affected the college process?

Admission reps should be as forthcoming with information as possible — it’s their job.

5. Which colleges do you think will be a good fit for my child?

Again, take advantage of the intel school counselors get from college representatives and ask about the colleges he or she thinks are a good fit for your child. The college counselor hears nuggets of information, such as:

  • All of College X’s students got into medical school last year.
  • College Y may switch to all online offerings next year. 
  • College Z’s exercise science program is really popular.

Obviously, these are random examples but you may learn more through the school counselor than a random online search.

6. Which classes are the best college prep classes the high school has to offer?

Does your child’s high school offer college coursework? Does your student want to take AP classes? If so, your child’s college counselor should be able to suggest some options that would be a good fit. Here are a few great follow-up questions:

  • Is my child ready to take AP courses?
  • How many are available and how many do students typically handle at once?

7. Are you aware of my child’s achievements? 

I personally love this question because it gets to the heart of whether the school counselor really knows your student. It’s important that the college counselor has a firm grasp on your child’s interests, career goals and achievements (both in the classroom and out of the classroom). Obviously, it’s impossible to expect your child’s school counselor to remember extracurricular activities for every student, so that’s where a resume comes in handy. Include:

  • Notable achievements or awards
  • Leadership positions held
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Community involvement
  • Higher-level classes taken and special projects 

Make sure you and your student are as warm and friendly as possible toward the school counselor. Doesn’t it motivate you to work harder when someone brings you cookies for doing a great job? (I’m not saying you need to do that, it’s just a reminder that we’re all going through stress and a little “thank you” goes a long way.)

8. Can I switch to a different school counselor? 

Technically, this isn’t a question you may want to ask your child’s school counselor. However, the question may need to be asked if your child’s school counselor doesn’t seem to fit your family. Does the school counselor push back meetings with your student or not answer your questions thoroughly? Ask for a counselor change — you want to be sure your child is getting the best help possible, especially now that colleges are changing everything.

Ask Great Questions

Your child’s school counselor may be overworked and overwhelmed, but it’s also important to give each other grace during these turbulent times. Take advantage of the precious time you get with the school counselor by getting ready: Prep those questions ahead of time. Write them down, make them a priority and have a great conversation, whether it’s on Zoom or in person.

8 College Admission Types (And the One that Works Best for Your Senior!)

8 College Admission Types (And the One that Works Best for Your Senior!)

It’s time for seniors to get that admission ball rolling, and now’s the time to start. 

One of the things I wish would be easier to understand are the different types of admission available at all schools. (I also wish there was one standard financial aid award that looked the same nationwide.)

I worked in the admission office of my alma mater for 12 years and we had rolling admission. This means that we’d accept applications as they came in, without an application deadline. 

In other words, if you applied in September of senior year, you could get admitted just as easily as if you waited to May of senior year. The perks to rolling admission is that you don’t have to worry about a deadline date. 

However, the downside is that your child doesn’t have a deadline. It’s often easier to make sure your child actually gets the application done when there’s a hard-and-fast deadline. 

There are no right or wrong answers but there are definitely types of admission that match best with your child’s personality. Let’s dive into seven different admission types and figure out which one is best for your student.

Various Types of College Admission

Let’s go over seven common types of college admission practices: Regular admission, rolling admission, 

Regular Admission

Regular admission allows students to apply to as many schools as they would like. There’s an application submission deadline, which will vary between institutions. However, regular admission deadlines typically fall in early January and admission offers are sent out in late March or early April. Your student has until May 1 to either accept or decline the admission offers. Colleges that offer regular admission typically have an early college admission option (detailed below) so make sure you and your student are aware of all the deadline dates!

Best for: Students who want flexibility with their admission decision and don’t want to have to commit to a school early.

Rolling Admission

As I mentioned before, our college participated in rolling admission. Rolling admission means a college releases admission decisions regularly — sometimes daily — instead of sending them all out on one target date. 

An admission committee will only review your child’s application as soon as all required information (such as high school records and test scores) has been received, rather than setting an application deadline and reviewing applications in a batch. Colleges that use a rolling admission policy usually notify applicants of admission decisions quickly.

If you apply earlier, you’ll receive your decision earlier. iming is important when applying to schools with rolling admissions. As classes fill up, fewer spots remain.

The average turnaround time for rolling admissions decisions by colleges is about two to six weeks. Rolling admissions decisions are non-binding, which means that your child will not be required to attend that school. Your child will not need to decide whether to enroll until May 1, often referred to as National Candidate Reply Day. 

Best for: Students who are unhurried throughout the college search process or who want to take their time to compare schools and financial aid awards.

Open Admission 

Open admission means a college accepts any high school graduate (no matter what those grades look like) until all spaces in the incoming class are filled. Two-year community colleges immediately come to mind — most community colleges have a two-year open admission policy. Note that a college with a general open admission policy may have certain admission requirements for specific programs.

Best for: Students who don’t have stellar academic performance, those who want to save money by going the community college route for two years.

Early College Admission

You may have already heard of the terms “early action” and “early decision” and may be a little curious about what they mean, particularly for parents of underclassmen. The tricky thing about some early admission programs is that your child may be required to attend that school. It’s great for the colleges because they get early commitments from students and Let’s go over these types of admission in a little more detail.

Early Action (EA)

Early action means your student has the option to submit an application before the regular deadline. It’s a great way to get an admission decision from a college much earlier than usual. 

One of the most flexible parts of early action plans is that they are not binding, which means that your child is not required to attend that particular college through this type of admission. Some colleges have an early action option called EA II, which involves a later application deadline than the regular EA plan. 

To sum up:

  • Your child can apply to more than one college through early action.
  • A student can commit to that college right away or wait until spring to decide.
  • Your student can also decline the offer.

Best for: Students who have done their homework for the college search. The advantage to early action is that they know they’ve been accepted to college as they apply to other schools during the regular application period. In other words, they want to know they can relax a little bit.

Early Decision (ED)

Early decision means your child can submit an application to his or her first-choice college before the regular deadline. Your student will get an admission decision earlier than usual. Early decision plans are binding. This means your child must enroll in the college immediately if admitted and accept the financial aid award offered. Some colleges have an early decision option called ED II — a later application deadline than a school’s regular ED plan. 

To sum up:

  • Your student can apply to just one early decision college.
  • Your child must go to that college if accepted and if you’re awarded enough financial aid. The decision is binding.
  • The early decision II (ED II) deadline gives your child more time to decide whether to apply early.
  • Your child must withdraw all other applications to other schools if accepted early decision.

Best for: Students who choose to go the early decision route know they want to go to one school and one school only. As a family, you must be comfortable with the financial aid award and know that your student can’t entertain any other offers from other schools.

Single-Choice Early Action or Restrictive Early Action

Single-choice early action, also known as restrictive early action or restricted early action, is another non-binding option. This means your child is not required to attend if accepted. However, if your student applies using this method, your child may not apply to any other school during the early action period only. This type of admission incorporates features of both early action and early decision. To be quite frank, it’s less restrictive than early decision but more restrictive than early action. Whew!

To sum up:

  • Your student can apply early to only one college, similar to early decision. Everything else in this admission type works the same as early action.
  • Applying to other colleges is still acceptable during the regular admission process.
  • Your child doesn’t have to decide until spring.

Best for: Students going the Ivy League route. This isn’t a common admission type unless your child is applying to a highly competitive school.

Early Evaluation

Admission offices may advise your student in writing of the likelihood of admission — whether it’s likely, possible or unlikely — no earlier than October 1 of your child’s senior year in high school. If a school indicates it’s likely, it’s similar to an acceptance — as long as your child keeps the same academic and personal record reflected in the completed application. The college will send a formal acceptance on the appropriate notification date. 

Let’s say your student is lucky enough to get one or more such written communications. If your child has made a decision to go to one school, he’s encouraged (but not required) to notify all other institutions and to withdraw all other applications. 

Deferred Admission

Permission from a college that has accepted you to postpone enrolling in the college. The postponement is usually for up to one year. Here are the steps to taking a gap year:

  1. Make sure your student applies to college before the gap year.
  2. Get accepted at that college.
  3. Next, your child will need to send an email or letter to the director of admission at that college to explain exactly what he or she plans to do during gap year. Check out the Gap Year Association for college and university policies concerning gap years. Double-check for the most updated policies at your child’s school.
  4. Submit the enrollment deposit. This amount will be different at every school.
  5. Determine the effects deferral will have on your child’s financial aid or scholarships. Many schools will allow you to keep the same financial aid and scholarships but it could change year to year. Check with the admission office at your child’s school.
  6. Have your child find out whether the institution offers some form of gap year fellowship or subsidy program. Yep, it’s possible to get funded for a gap year!
  7. Note that the school has the right to deny your gap year. If that happens, your child has a few options:
    • Your child can decide to attend the college as scheduled and not take the gap year. 
    • Your student could wait and reapply to college until after the gap year. The downside is that your child may not be able to start college for another two years, which could end up making the transition a bit more difficult. Transcripts, test scores and letters of recommendation may also be more difficult to come by.
    • It may make sense to apply to multiple colleges and ask about gap year policies at each one. 

Tips with COVID-19 in Mind

Ask colleges about their admission procedures and whether they’ve changed them in the wake of COVID-19. It can also be a challenge to get all those deadlines organized, so add them to the spreadsheet I’ve created for you and your student!

More tips: 

  1. Make sure you talk to an admission counselor on Zoom or over the phone to make sure you and your child understand all admission processes.
  2. Understand all admission options — many schools have more than one.
  3. Don’t get too comfortable with the flexibility of open and rolling admission. Have your child get those applications in early!

202 Powerful Questions to Ask on a College Tour

202 Powerful Questions to Ask on a College Tour

I loved it when families came for college tours. They were excited, happy and sometimes even nervous. However, some families weren’t sure what questions to ask because everything (everything!) was new to them. 

I compiled a list of must-ask questions to ask on a college tour for admission counselors, financial aid professionals, professors, coaches and more. You may think of others that pertain directly to your child’s situation, but this should give you a great start!

By the way, check out this post if you’re curious about learning how to set up a college visit.

Student Tour Guide Questions

The student tour guide offers the most candid look at what a college is like. Spend as much time as you can with your child and the tour guide and make sure your child asks questions, even if the tour guide probably isn’t going to be your child’s best friend. Yes, the student is groomed to give canned responses to some questions but talking to the tour guide is the best way to get a feel for a college.

  1. What’s your favorite thing about this college?
  2. What’s your least favorite thing about the college you attend?
  3. Where might my child spend a lot of time if he/she is a student here?
  4. Why did you choose this college?
  5. What are the students like?
  6. Which residence hall is your favorite? Where did you live your first year?
  7. Where do you live now? Why did you choose to live there?
  8. What is the food like?
  9. What is your major?
  10. Is this a suitcase college? (Do people go home a lot on the weekends?)
  11. What activities does the college have available for students?
  12. Is it easy to get an internship here? Have you had an internship?
  13. How available are professors? 
  14. How does the college handle communication?
  15. Have you found it difficult to handle the costs of college?
  16. What are your plans for after graduation? Do you plan to go to graduate school? Get a job?
  17. Is it easy to get a work-study job on campus? Why or why not?
  18. Where do first-year students typically get assigned for work-study? Can they request a work-study job?
  19. How have online classes gone due to COVID-19? Has that been a seamless transition?
  20. Are the classes rigorous? Have you found them manageable?
  21. How do you manage classes and athletics? (If the student is an athlete and your child is a prospective athlete as well.)
  22. How many tours did you go on before you chose this college?
  23. Is this college far away from your hometown? How do you manage going home during breaks?
  24. Is it easy to get involved in extracurricular activities?
  25. Was it easy or difficult for you to get accepted into this college? How many other colleges did you apply to?
  26. What do you do for fun and what is the social scene like?
  27. What was the most surprising and difficult thing about adjusting to college life?
Student tour guide questions to ask on a college tour!

Admission Counselor Questions

You can call an admission counselor an “admission counselor” or an “admissions counselor.” What does an admissions counselor do? Check it out before you go on your visit! Generally, this is the person who will help you throughout the college search process. Your child will be assigned an admission counselor based on geography. You can search a map of the United States on any college’s website and find your child’s admission counselor. Here are some great questions to ask your child’s admission counselor. (I spent 12 years in college admission and I loved it when families asked me these questions!) 

Admission Requirements and Process

  1. What’s the application process?
  2. What is the admission process, from start to finish, and what should my child expect after an application?
  3. What ACT/SAT scores does my child need to attend your college? Is it optional?
  4. Do you superscore test results (take the best score of each subject test on multiple ACT or SAT dates)?
  5. Can my child self-report my standardized test scores?
  6. Should my child aim for a certain grade point average? What are the requirements?
  7. Does my child need to submit an essay or letters of recommendation? If so, what are the requirements?
  8. Are there any other admission requirements we need to be aware of? What types of supporting materials does my child need to provide?
  9. Does my child need to do an interview with an alumnus or college staff member to be admitted?
  10. Are there different admission requirements for various departments or majors?
  11. How can my child make his or her application stand out?
  12. What are the most important admission factors at your college or university?
  13. Do you accept the Common Application, the Coalition Application or the Universal College Application or do you have your own application?
  14. What types of deadlines do you have for your applications?
  15. Do you charge an application fee? How do we pay it?
  16. Can we get a waiver for the application fee if the fee is a hardship for our family?
  17. Do you have an applicant portal my child will need to use?
  18. What are your recommendations for teacher evaluations, if required?
  19. What does your ideal applicant look like?
  20. How do you look at extracurricular activities and work experience in the admission process?
  21. If my child applies early decision or early action to another college or university, can he or she apply to another college?
  22. Do you defer admission to some students? If so, why, and what can my child do to be admitted?
  23. Can my child defer admission once admitted?
  24. Is the rigor of my high school taken into consideration when my child applies?
  25. Who will read my child’s application?
  26. Will it help my child to take advanced, accelerated or honors courses?
  27. Can my child add/remove something from his application once it’s submitted?
  28. How does my child track the status of her application?
  29. Does your college ever rescind an admission offer?
  30. If my child is rejected Early Decision, can he apply Regular Decision?
  31. Does my child need to submit mid-year reports of her grades?
  32. Are my child’s chances for admission to your university’s graduate school greater if she attends your university as an undergraduate?
  33. How should my child submit transcripts from any college courses?
  34. Are admission requirements different if my child is homeschooled?
  35. Will my child’s financial aid award be different if she applies for admission under Early Decision, Early Action, etc.?
  36. When do application decisions become available?
  37. Is there a maximum number of students admitted from a particular country, region or school?
  38. How should my child submit standardized test scores?
  39. How do you determine which credits transfer?
  40. Is admission competitive? How competitive?
Admission counselor questions to ask on a college tour!

Future Visit Details

You may want to come back! In that case, check with the admission counselor you’re talking to so you can find out which options are best. Check out my ultimate guide to Here are few questions you could ask:

  1. Which visit days should my child attend throughout the year?
  2. How do we arrange an on-campus overnight visit?
  3. What’s the best way to arrange future visits in general?
  4. What does a visit schedule look like if my child chooses to arrange future visits?
  5. In your opinion, is it best to do a group visit day if we choose to visit again or is it best to do a personal campus visit?
  6. Do you have competitive academic scholarships my child can interview for (and come back to campus another time)?
Visit questions to ask on a college tour!

Academic Details

Why not ask the admission office about academics? Admission counselors can offer a candid overview of academics at the college they’re working at because what do they do all day long? They talk to current students who work in the admission office (and also hear their complaints and what they celebrate).

  1. Do professors have an open-door policy? How accessible are they?
  2. Are teaching assistants or professors the ones who teach the classes?
  3. What is the average class size?
  4. What is the student to faculty ratio?
  5. Can you tell me about the [insert name] major? What are your most popular majors and classes?
  6. How are classes selected?
  7. Are there required first-year classes?
  8. My child’s favorite subject in school is [insert favorite subject]. How can that translate to a major here?
  9. How rigorous are classes here?
  10. Tell me about academic support services here.
  11. Does your college provide services if my child has a disability?
  12. What is your graduation rate?
  13. How many students go on to graduate school or become employed after graduation?
  14. How many students get jobs in their majors or a related field?
  15. What types of internships are available for students?
  16. Is it possible to do research as an undergraduate student?
  17. Is your school on the semester or quarter system?
  18. Does your school offer pre-professional majors?
  19. Are tutors available?
Academic questions to ask on a college tour for the admission office!

Demographics, Social Life and Other Activities

  1. What types of clubs and organizations can my child get involved in?
  2. What are the most popular clubs and organizations?
  3. What’s the social life like on campus? What do students do for extracurricular activities?
  4. What would you change about this college or university?
  5. Do students usually attend sporting events, theatre events or more?
  6. Is it possible for my child to start his or her own club or organization? What is the process to do that?
  7. How many students study abroad? Is it a popular thing to do? How is study abroad structured here?
  8. Is it easy to manage a collegiate athletic career and academics? How do coaches approach academics and athletics here?
  9. What security measures are in place at your institution?
  10. Is on-campus housing guaranteed?
  11. Is my child required to live on campus?
  12. How does the meal system work?
  13. Is it easy to find a student job on or near campus?
  14. How is housing assigned?
  15. Can my child live on campus during school breaks?
  16. How safe is the campus and the surrounding neighborhood?
  17. What is the percentage of students of color on campus?
  18. What is the percentage of students who live on campus?
  19. Can you tell me the male-to-female ratio on campus?
  20. How does parking on campus work?
  21. Where are students who go to your school from?
  22. How does your college or university accommodate students with food allergies?
  23. What role do parents play in your community?
  24. What is your freshman retention rate?
Other questions to ask on a college tour for the admission office!

Financial Aid Professional Questions

You might want to meet with a financial aid professional as well — and that’s a great move. However, if you can’t get an appointment with someone in the financial aid office, admission counselors are well-versed in most financial aid topics and should be able to walk you through an award letter or answer basic questions about scholarships and loans. Here are some questions you may want to ask: 

  1. What is the tuition, room, board and fees at this school?
  2. How much does tuition increase each year? Do scholarships increase to match the change?
  3. What scholarships can my child qualify for? How does my child qualify for them?
  4. Are there any merit-based scholarships available at your school?
  5. Can my child receive grants? If so, what are the requirements?
  6. How do loans work and how should we apply for them?
  7. Can you explain in detail how a financial aid award is set up?
  8. What amount will my child receive, using your school’s net price calculator or a financial aid estimator?
  9. What are the interview or audition requirements for certain scholarships?
  10. Can my child apply for talent-based scholarships?
  11. What will happen if our family’s financial aid situation changes while my child is at your school?
  12. Will my child qualify for work-study? How does work-study work here?
  13. Does my child need to report outside scholarships? Will merit-based scholarships be “taken away” if my child receives a large outside scholarship?
  14. Where should we send checks for outside scholarships?
  15. Do we need to complete a CSS Profile?
  16. How will we know if the FAFSA has been submitted correctly?
  17. When will my child receive the financial aid award?
  18. What is the deadline for applying for financial aid?
  19. My child is undocumented. Is my child still eligible for financial aid?
  20. How does financial aid work if my child studies abroad?
  21. Can veterans or children of veterans receive financial aid at your school?
  22. Can we apply for financial aid in future years if we do not apply the first year?
  23. Will you help me file the FAFSA in person?
  24. What kind of need-based aid can my child get?
  25. How is work-study awarded?
  26. How will the financial aid office help our family break down the costs?
  27. What does the average student receive in financial aid from your school?
  28. Are there other extra expenses we’ll need to be prepared for, like activity fees, biology lab fees, etc.? Can you give us a list of those additional expenses?
Financial aid questions to ask on a college tour for the financial aid office!

Faculty Member Questions

Many colleges and universities will grant you time with professors — you just have to ask. It can be intimidating for your student to meet with a faculty member but it’s well worth it! After all, your student may have that professor for classes. A professor can change the trajectory of a your student’s career and life. Here are some questions you and your child can ask: 

  1. Which classes do you teach?
  2. What is your favorite class to teach? Why?
  3. Why do you teach here?
  4. What is your teaching style?
  5. How often do terminal degreed professors teach the classes?
  6. What are your top expectations at the beginning of any semester?
  7. Do you help students with connections for internships and jobs after graduation?
  8. Are undergraduates able to get research opportunities?
  9. How do you measure success in your classroom?
  10. What does a typical syllabus look like in one of your classes?
  11. How does advising work? What’s the process to put together a student schedule?
  12. When are your office hours? Is it easy for students to get their questions answered?
  13. What is your average class size? For introductory classes? For advanced classes?
  14. What are your most successful students doing now?
  15. How do you communicate with students? 
  16. Do you put an emphasis on interactive or group work or put an emphasis on lectures?
  17. How do you choose the textbooks a student will use during the semester? 
  18. Do you consider yourself to be approachable?
  19. What should my child do if he or she is having trouble in your class?
  20. Do you have teaching assistants (TAs)?
  21. Are there any supplemental instruction (SI) sessions my student can go to during any given semester?
  22. How have you handled online learning during COVID-19? 
  23. How much time do your students spend studying and completing assignments during the week?
  24. Are your classes reading and writing intensive?
  25. What types of issues do students bring to you during office hours?
  26. Is there a capstone project or internship requirement for your program?
  27. What does a typical path to graduation look like? What exact classes are required?
  28. How long does it take the average student to graduate? Four years? Five years or more?
  29. What is the academic community like in your department or program?
  30. What resources are available to me?
  31. Is service learning or similar opportunities for hands-on learning a priority in your classes?
  32. Do you help students determine their career path or calling?
  33. Do your students make connections between their academic studies and activities outside of class? Can you give us an example?
  34. How do you work with students who choose to study abroad? Is there a best time during the academic program?
  35. What other majors and minors do students usually combine with this major?
  36. Do you do any other research or other projects that can affect what you teach here?
  37. What are students surprised to learn when they’re in your class?
  38. What do you do when students realize your major isn’t a fit?
Questions to ask on a college tour for a faculty member!

Coach Questions

You want to be sure that a college is a good fit for your child athletically if your child is an athlete — but make sure it’s a great fit academically and socially as well. Note that you’ll want to ask the admission office questions about grades, admission, SAT, ACT, academic scholarships, etc. — coaches should not answer admission questions. 

A quick tip: Don’t bring up athletic scholarships right away — a coach wants you to demonstrate a team commitment first. Here are some questions you and your child may want to ask a coach.

  1. Why do you coach? What is your coaching philosophy?
  2. What are the holes in your program that my child can help fulfill?
  3. How do you recruit?
  4. What are you looking for in the right recruit?
  5. Can you describe your program’s values?
  6. What does a typical day look like for a player during the season?
  7. How about the off-season program? What are the expectations?
  8. How do you encourage your players academically?
  9. What are the academic requirements for your program?
  10. What do your players do during their free time?
  11. Can you tell me your team’s total GPA and graduation rate?
  12. Do the players typically live together on campus?
  13. Is it easy for players to catch up after missed class time for games and meets? How do they usually do that?
  14. My child wants to major in X. Is it possible to major in this and still play for your program?
  15. How much of an impact do you see my child making on the team right away? Later on?
  16. What does my child need to do to be evaluated by your staff?
  17. Can you tell me more about your assistant coaches? What are their philosophies?
  18. When does your coaching contract end? Do you see yourself here another four years?
  19. How would you describe the team chemistry?
  20. What are the current strengths and weaknesses of your team?
Questions to ask on a college tour for coaches!

Get Your Questions Answered

I’ve included a lot of questions on this list! You’ll keep yourself pretty busy if you ask every single one of these questions on your college visit. However, note a few, write them down, take this link with you on a visit. Maybe this list will also inspire your own questions on your visit!

Handy Summer Checklist for Rising Juniors

Handy Summer Checklist for Rising Juniors

It’s July, and while it might seem like it’s a great time to catch up on Netflix, go to the pool and work at a summer job, why not get a jump start on college? 

(I knoooow, convincing your high schooler might be a different story.) It’s even more important to start thinking about college now because we don’t know what college visits will look like for next year. Lots of colleges have closed up shop but many are still open for visitors. Take a quick peek at the list of schools open and closed to visitors from the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC)

I reached out to a mom friend of mine who has a rising junior and asked her what her concerns are right now. She said, “Coronavirus has changed things. What should we do right now to get ready for college? It’s a little frustrating.”

I hear ya.

Here’s a quick list of items your child can consider doing (after lounging by the pool and taking lots of sips of fizzy lemonade, of course):

  • Get ready for the PSAT test and ACT or SAT tests (if required)
  • Start doing college visits (either in-person or virtual visits)
  • Consider the activities on that resume — and whether there are gaps
  • Put together a robust schedule of classes
  • Start a college list
  • Develop relationships with admission counselors

Now, one of the most important things you can do during this time as a parent is to make the college search exciting. The last thing you want to do is scare your child off before this process even begins!

Here’s how to help your child launch the college search this summer, even though things might not be (totally) normal.

Ready to tackle your rising junior's to-do list? Here's what you can do!

Get Ready for the PSAT, ACT or SAT Tests

You can find some great test prep resources for PSAT, SAT and ACT. Check out Amazon or your local bookstore. You can even check out the local library for these editions, though your child won’t be able to write in anything from the library, of course!

First, let’s define PSAT, ACT and SAT — it’s easy to confuse PSAT and SAT in particular. 

  • PSAT: The PSAT’s formal name is the Preliminary SAT, also known as the PSAT/NMSQT (National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test). It’s a great way to practice for the SAT exam. You can only take the PSAT once per year, and many students take the test in 10th and 11th grade.
  • ACT: The ACT is a standardized test used for college admission administered by the nonprofit organization, ACT. The ACT test covers four separate academic sections: English, mathematics, reading and science reasoning. Your child can also add an optional writing test. The 2020-2021 ACT costs $55 without writing and $70 with writing.
  • SAT: The SAT is a standardized test also used for college admission. It’s administered by the nonprofit organization The College Board. The SAT test covers 20 SAT Subject Tests in five general subject areas: English, history, languages, mathematics and science with an optional essay portion. The current SAT costs $52 without writing and $68 with the essay option.

Before your child cracks open some study books, check with the colleges your high schooler plans to apply to. Find out whether the college requires the ACT or SAT. Lots of colleges have waived the SAT and ACT for this year’s incoming class — and many are doing away with standardized testing altogether. 

That doesn’t mean throwing test prep out the window or sidestepping a school that still requires it. It might be important to take it, particularly if a school shows up on your child’s radar this year or next and that requires the ACT or SAT. 

Make a College Spreadsheet

I developed a very simple, easy-to-use College Money Tips College Visit spreadsheet. You can use this spreadsheet to keep track of the schools your child wants to visit on the left, and as you get knee-deep into visits later on this fall, use it to record things like application deadlines and more. 

I believe one of the most important parts of the spreadsheet is the Heart/Gut Test. The former college president at my alma mater coined the Heart/Gut Test to talk to families during visit days and scholarship weekends. Sometimes you just know whether a college is a good match — parents usually feel it, too. There’s a section in the spreadsheet that references how a college felt. You can use this spreadsheet yourself or share it with your student.

Get the spreadsheet below — you’ll also get my free college money tips guide!

Complete Virtual or In-Person Visits

Visiting. Hmmm… It’s a bit of a head-scratcher right now, isn’t it? I understand — virtual summer visits aren’t really ideal. But guess what? There were already several disadvantages about summer visits, anyway. Truth be told, nothing beats a college visit during the fall. Crunching through leaves, watching students hurry to classes — it’s simply the best atmosphere.

Here’s one example of why I believe summer visits aren’t the best: You typically only see staged residence hall rooms. In fact, I was the one in charge of that when I worked in admission! I’d send two or three summer student workers to three of our residence halls to stage rooms using donated items from Bed, Bath and Beyond! It was tons of fun to decorate the rooms but the staged room always seemed… fake and empty, not homey. Here are some other reasons summer visits are less than ideal:

  • Fewer students live on campus during the summer, so you don’t get the “real” feel of what a college is like. 
  • Tour guides are usually the only students you can really interact with.
  • Normally, fewer classes are in session anyway, so you’d have limited opportunities to sit in on classes. 
  • Many buildings remain closed to tours.
  • Professors and department chairs are not around to chat with during the summer.

So, my point is, if you have to do a virtual visit right now, sure, you’re at a disadvantage because you can’t see the campus in person — but summer visits were disadvantageous anyway.

Now, if you have the chance to set up a visit for your child, should you do it? Of course! And if you want to do a virtual visit, here are the perks of virtual visits right now:

  • You’ll get to see what every part of the campus looks like, even areas closed down during the summer, like the dining hall.
  • You don’t have to worry about finding a parking spot, fighting traffic and driving or flying to get there. You can watch from anywhere!
  • It’s less nerve-wracking. If I had a dime for every nervous parent and student that used to walk into the admission office…
  • You don’t have to worry about the weather. (There’s nothing worse than visiting a campus in the pouring rain or driving sleet or snow!)

Hear me say this: If you have the chance to do an in-person visit this summer, do it. We don’t know what the fall will look like, and being in person on a college visit is better than not doing a college visit at all. Sometimes you just have to take what you can get.

Call the admission office at schools your child is interested in. Ask about: 

  • Tours
  • Talking with an admission counselor
  • Scheduling a meeting with a coach
  • Communicating with a professor

Learn more about how to set up a college visit with my handy guide.

The nice thing about being a rising junior is that your student still has time. Do what you can now and know that there’s still another year ahead to go on visits.

Learn More About College Requirements and Scholarships

It’s never too early to start searching for scholarships and helping your child learn everything you possibly can about colleges. 

Now, this might seem like a bunch of boring research to your child. (Here’s how to handle it if your child wants you to do all the work.)

There’s no reason your child can’t start applying for scholarships. It’s a myth that seniors are the only ones who can submit scholarship applications. Research a scholarship that’s promising and have your child apply. Why not?

Summer is a great time to learn more about colleges! High school juniors have a busy upcoming year — lots of extracurricular activities, tough classes, standardized tests and more. Help your student learn as much as possible right now.

Talk About College Money

Talking about money might not be your favorite subject. Your kiddo may not be interested in talking about it at all.

The conversation doesn’t have to last for hours! Grab a quick snippet of time to chat about:

  • College costs in general
  • How much money you think you might be able to contribute toward college costs
  • How much your child must contribute to college costs
  • An explanation of loans and how they work
  • How scholarships and grants help offset the cost of college and why it’s important to make them a priority

Those are just a few topics that can jumpstart your conversation. Make sure to have the whole family involved — and leave plenty of time for more conversations later on. 

It’s okay to hit the pause button if your child doesn’t want to talk. You still have time to have lots of conversations!

Make it Fun, Make it Exciting

It might seem like there’s lots to do! Now’s the time to get started. Don’t forget to make it fun! Include rewards whenever possible. Go out to eat at a restaurant of your child’s choice after your child completes a really gnarly scholarship application or treat your daughter to Starbucks — and have the money talk there.

How will you get some heavy research out of the way together so the upcoming year is smooth sailing for you and your rising junior?

How (and Why!) You Should Help Your Child Take a Gap Year After High School

How (and Why!) You Should Help Your Child Take a Gap Year After High School

Joan Halawi said, “A common misconception in modern American society is that education can only happen within four walls of a classroom.”

Oh, wow. How true is that? It certainly makes the case for heavily considering a gap year.

A gap year — a year off from college to gain perspective and develop occupational skills — is a great option if your child needs an extra year of growth. Taking a gap year is popular in Europe. I remember asking, “Gap year? What’s that?” when I studied in England and heard that almost all people take one. I literally had no idea what it meant.

I originally thought it was such a bad idea to take a gap year or deferral between high school and college. The worry is that a student might never go to college at all. However, in the context of COVID-19, my thoughts have shifted, particularly if you have a high-risk student or a high achiever who wants to spend the year diving deep into something significant.

A gap year can be a great opportunity for your child to slow down and consider what he or she wants out of life (don’t we all need that?!). Your child may want to work (and save money for college), tap into rich experiences, grow more introspective and/or develop new skills. 

Here are a couple of examples: 

Katie is nervous about going off to college during the coronavirus pandemic. She’s not sure that the college she’s planning to attend has the best policy regarding campus safety and she’d rather take some time off from college to see how the school she’s planning to attend will handle the virus. She’s also always wanted to spend time composing and developing her piano skills. She really wants to continue lessons with her current teacher. 

Jake, on the other hand, isn’t sure what he wants his major to be. He hasn’t applied for college yet and he’s going to take a year to “find himself” and determine what he wants his future to look like. In the meantime, he’s going to work at his dad’s accounting firm to decide whether he’s interested in taking over the business someday (though he’s really doubtful). He’s also going to hike and do some backcountry camping in Alaska next summer with a friend (his ultimate passion!).

A deferral is when a student decides to delay his or her start date by a semester or two. It’s different from a gap year, which is a full-year deferral and often involves enrichment, fellowship or other such program.

Here’s how to help your child take a gap year or deferral — successfully.

Should you help your child take a gap year after high school? Yes! During COVID-19, it could be the right way to do things.

1. Help your child understand what he or she will do during gap year.

First of all, why does your child want to take a gap year? A gap year or deferral should involve accomplishing specific tasks or doing something with purpose.  

There are lots of ways to use a gap year or deferral. Is there something your child wants to study on his own? Does she want to start a new venture? Get some work hours under her belt so she has more money for college? Here’s a great list of things your student can do during a gap year or deferral:

  • Learn a new language
  • Complete independent research on a topic
  • Launch an entrepreneurial adventure
  • Make money and save for college
  • Learn how to invest
  • Attack a project that’s been sitting on the backburner (restore a Model T, write a book, etc.)
  • Write, compose, practice whatever skills your child wants to tackle
  • Learn new problem-solving skills
  • Travel
  • Complete an experiential learning program/hands-on learning program
  • Do an internship 
  • Volunteer
  • Do a mission trip (or several)

Needless to say, it’s important to make it clear to your child that taking a gap year isn’t an excuse to sit around playing video games for a year. 

Explore those deeper reasons for wanting to take a gap year together, because any college is going to want to hear why your child’s planning to do a gap year or plans to defer enrollment. Your child is going to need to have a very focused, careful answer.

2. Explain how a gap year might be challenging.

It’s important to convey to your child that since most other kids your child’s age aren’t taking a gap year (at least, in the U.S.) he or she might feel like a fish out of water. How will your child feel when his friends are going off to college? How will your child feel when high school friends are posting about fun times at their respective schools and he’s tinkering with science experiments in the basement or working the late shift at the grocery store?

If he’s got entrepreneurial ambitions, how will he feel if his business isn’t going as well as he thought it would? (Protecting that young confidence can be important.)

A gap year might not be the shiny offering that your child thought it was — and it’s important to share with your child that it might be difficult. Adapting to change might be a great thing to talk about prior to this major decision.

However, it could be the best thing ever. Sometimes change can be monumental! 

There’s evidence that a gap year has specific reported outcomes. A gap year, and in some cases, deferred enrollment, can: 

  • Boost a resume. Who can deny how an internship as a page at the Capitol or implementing a program for the homeless can look amazing on the ol’ resume?
  • Lead to increased job satisfaction. A gap year with real-world experience can clue your child into what he wants to do for the rest of his life (or even what he doesn’t want to do). Our college president always used to tell students at visit days that an internship where you learn exactly what you don’t want to do is just as valuable as an internship that you love.
  • Increase confidence and maturity. Learning how to get along in the world at a young age can make your child feel like he’s got the world at his feet. 
  • Allow time for personal reflection and growth.
  • Help develop communication skills.
  • Increase a student’s desire to learn about various people and cultures.

However, the experience might not end up getting your child all of those things, and that’s okay. It might just be meh — but it might still be a good learning experience.

3. Get admitted, then defer enrollment.

Where is your student in the search process? As a rising senior, your child may be planning to take a gap year after this year.

It’s a great idea to work to get admitted to college starting now. Determine when a college’s applications are due, whether standardized tests are needed and more.

How to Communicate to Admission Offices About Gap Year or Deferred Enrollment

Your child will need to make a good case for a gap year decision. A gap year or deferred enrollment won’t hurt your child’s admission prospects at all as long as your child thinks carefully about how the experience will intentionally help him grow. Here are the steps your child will need to take:

  1. Make sure your student applies to college before the gap year.
  2. Get accepted at that college.
  3. Next, your child will need to send an email or letter to the director of admission at that college to explain exactly what he or she plans to do during gap year. Check out the Gap Year Association for college and university policies concerning gap years. Double-check for the most updated policies at your child’s school.
  4. Submit the enrollment deposit. This amount will be different at every school.
  5. Determine the effects deferral will have on your child’s financial aid or scholarships. Every school is different! Many schools will allow you to keep the same financial aid and scholarships but it could change year to year. Check with the admission office at your child’s school.
  6. Have your child find out whether the institution offers some form of gap year fellowship or subsidy program. Yep, it’s possible to get funded for a gap year!
  7. Note that the school has the right to deny your gap year. If that happens, your child has a few options:
    • Your child can decide to attend the college as scheduled and not take the gap year. 
    • Your student could wait and reapply to college until after the gap year. The downside is that your child may not be able to start college for another two years, which could end up making the transition a bit more difficult. Transcripts, test scores and letters of recommendation may also be more difficult to come by.
    • It may make sense to apply to multiple colleges and ask about gap year policies at each one. 

The process for deferring enrollment is largely the same. Just make sure you ask careful questions about deferment policies at each school where your child has applied.

4. Set targets way before (and during) gap year.

Stephen Kellogg said it best: “The moment you put a deadline on a dream, it becomes a goal.”

Wouldn’t it be fantastic if your child started to launch those dreams during gap year? Why not now? 

You know a year dedicated to watching Netflix won’t help your student, so it’s time to put some specific goals in writing organized by target date. For example, let’s say your daughter wants to take a stab at freelance writing during a deferment. She may want to consult with a freelance writer and map out the year in a nutshell:

  • September: Talk to three freelance writers about their craft. Learn to write a good pitch and send five pitches per day.
  • October: Create a website and social media channels for advertising freelance skills. Pitch to marketing agencies.
  • November: Write successful stories based on pitch results. Continue to pitch.

… and so on. Whatever those goals may be, make sure your child writes them down and has someone who will hold her accountable to those goals. Maybe it’s you and maybe it’s better if it’s someone else.

5. Make sure certain skills aren’t lost.

Your child may be planning to be a math major in college, but what happens if she isn’t taking math classes during gap year? Those calculus skills could slip right through your kid’s fingertips. It’s a great idea to add a benchmark to keep with those skills in some way.

However, know that your student may not be able to take classes, enroll in a degree-granting program at another institution or apply to other colleges during gap year or deferment. Your child could lose his spot in the class if he does. Ask about institutional policies concerning gap year or deferment.

Is it Too Late to Ask for a Gap Year for this Fall?

The only thing you can do is ask. In some cases, the door’s still wide open! Here’s an example: Dickinson College’s gap year or deferral program request is due via its online form by July 20. There’s still time!

Whether your child has ambitious dreams to transform the world or just wants to earn some money before she spends four years in a lecture hall, being out in the real world can be a transformational experience.

I’ve changed my opinion about gap year. I think it can be a great option for driven students who know they’ll be going off to college! Heavily consider pros and cons, goals and what your student wants to achieve prior to opting for a gap year or deferment. Make sure your child will head off to college after a year. The worst thing that could happen is that your child decides never to go at all.

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