Not everyone needs to (or should) shop for a top-name school. You can still find lots of high-quality colleges and universities among the elites.
Gems glisten everywhere. Don’t discount the liberal arts college down the street because it may be able to offer a connection that you can’t find anywhere else.
A Stanford study says “fit” is more important than rankings. I really do believe too many students and families rely on college rankings published by well-known organizations to define quality. The higher the ranking doesn’t mean it’s the best fit for your child. The study found that the “metrics used in these rankings are weighted arbitrarily and are not accurate indicators of a college’s quality or positive outcomes for students.”
Do I even need to write any more?
I chatted with Laurie Kopp Weingarten, president and chief educational consultant at One-Stop College Counseling, and she told me a great story.
“Several years ago I had a straight-A student with strong test scores and interesting extracurricular activities who was a bit lacking in self-confidence. She felt strongly that she should attend a college where she would be the ‘big fish in a little pond’ instead of the ‘little fish in a big pond.’ It was very important to her that she choose an institution where she would be at the top and be recognized as a superstar.
She set her sights on a public university with a 70% acceptance rate. She did apply to other colleges, including those that are much more selective, and was actually accepted into every school she applied to. However, she stuck with her plan to attend the public university.
She SOARED there. She was at the top of her class, where she won all sorts of awards. She is well-known at the school, and they’ve asked her to assume all sorts of leadership roles. She has made mini-promotional films for the school, and now, as a recent alumna, they’ve asked her back to speak multiple times.
In this case, she didn’t feel up to attending a highly selective university where the competition would be fierce. Instead, she decided to choose a school that isn’t overly competitive and where she would stand out. It paid off with lots of internships and job offers, and it built her confidence.”
Yessss! This is exactly what I’m talking about.
Best Reasons to Look for a Non-Selective or Moderately Selective College
Most people think the only reason your child would want to look for a non-selective college is because you couldn’t hack it due to poor academic achievement. Not so. There are lots of great reasons to opt for a less-selective institution.
1. Your Child May Be More Likely to Get In
Obviously, the fact that your child can get in is one of the reasons to apply to non-selective colleges.
How do you find out whether a college is selective or not? Take a look at its admission requirements. Most colleges list their admission requirements, which may look something like this:
Graduate from an accredited high school or equivalent by the time of enrollment.
Rank in the upper half of your high school graduating class.
Have ACT or SAT-I scores high enough to predict probable success. Note: ACT and SAT test scores may not be required if you’re applying for admission right now. Many colleges do not want to place undue hardships on students who cannot take the ACT or SAT due to closed testing locations.
English: Four years, including literature
Math: Two or more years, including algebra, advanced algebra and geometry
Social studies: Three or more years, including American and European history
Sciences: Two or more years of lab science
Foreign language: Two or more years
That may be the extent of a college’s requirements! You can also call an admission counselor for more information about specific college selectivity.
2. Your Child Will Still Take Rigorous Classes
Make no mistake — it’s a challenge to get through organic chemistry at just about any college or university. Lower selectivity institutions definitely offer rigorous coursework.
Just because your child’s valedictorian of her high school class or achieved a 34 ACT doesn’t mean that she won’t feel challenged at a lower selectivity institution.
Some less selective colleges let academically talented students work with faculty on research projects as well.
Students at lower selectivity institutions may also receive more personalized attention from staff.
Some lower selectivity institutions smaller classroom size with hands-on teaching may be more conducive to learning than a large lecture hall format.
You may get to know classmates and faculty closely and form lasting personal or professional relationships.
You child may get more opportunities to work on projects, connect to internships through faculty and gain valuable job experience.
3. Your Family May Experience More Personalization During the Admission Process
Less selective schools must work a little harder for their students. That means you and your child reap the benefits. In other words, highly selective colleges and universities don’t have to work nearly as hard to recruit students — they naturally come to them. That means that less selective institutions must do the hard work of calling, emailing, texting and even engaging students on social media.
You’re more likely to get one-on-one attention from an admission counselor who must carefully work through an application list. As an admission counselor, it was my job to personalize the admission process as much as possible. I would try to learn:
Other schools on their list
Their favorite things (we once sent a box of Wheaties to a student because we knew it was his favorite cereal!)
Connections they’d already made with others at the college
About their families and friends
Anything else I could think of!
We made the college search process a personalized experience — and that might just happen if you’re looking into a less selective institution.
4. The College Application Process is Less Strenuous
Chances are, your child won’t have to worry about a complicated application process if he or she is looking at a less selective institution. Here’s a quick overview.
Regular admission means your child can apply to as many colleges as possible. An application submission deadline varies between institutions. Regular admission deadlines typically fall in early January and admission offers get sent out in late March or early April. Your student has until May 1 to either accept or decline admission offers. (Your child may not encounter this type of admission, either.)
When I was an admission counselor, our college used rolling admission. Rolling admission means a college releases admission decisions regularly 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 is in. Colleges that use a rolling admission policy usually notify applicants of admission decisions quickly. (Students learned of an admission decision within two weeks at our college!)
Rolling admission decisions are non-binding. This means that your child will not be required to attend that school and will not need to make a decision until May 1, which is National Candidate Reply Day.
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.
Your child probably won’t encounter these types of admission at lower selectivity institutions:
Early Action (EA), which means your student has the option to submit an application before the regular deadline. Early action plans are not binding, which means that your child is not required to attend.
Early Decision (ED) means your child can submit an application to his or her first-choice college before the regular deadline and get an admission decision earlier than usual. Early decision plans are binding, which means your child must attend that institution.
Single-Choice Early Action or Restrictive Early Action means your child is not required to attend if accepted. However, if using this method, your child may not apply to any other school during the early action period only.
5. Lower Costs
You’ll typically find lower selectivity institutions in areas that also include lower costs of living (not big urban areas). The savings on rent and tuition might be worth it.
Your child may be able to get an academic scholarship. Many colleges give half or full-tuition academic scholarships to students who have a very good high school GPA, ACT or SAT scores and class rank. The most selective colleges will not award your child a merit scholarship.
“We had a student who wanted to study business. Although she was accepted at multiple selective programs, she chose to study at Bentley University (45-50% acceptance rate), where they placed her into the honors program, provided her with a large scholarship, and of course, she received all the perks that came along with the honors program. She loved feeling like she was the top of the class!” says Kopp Weingarten.
Kopp Weingarten also said, “We also had a student who chose a large public university in the Midwest where she could use her AP credits to get advanced standing, basically entering as a sophomore. She graduated in three years, saved tons of money and was accepted into a top-tier Ph.D. program.”
6. College Selectivity is Not a Reliable Indicator of Learning, Job Satisfaction or Well-Being
The Stanford study found no significant relationship between a school’s selectivity and student learning, future job satisfaction or well-being. Furthermore, the study found only modest financial benefits of attending more selective colleges — and that applied to first-generation and other underserved students.
Individual student characteristics (background, major, ambition) may make more of a difference in terms of post-college outcomes than the institutions themselves.
7. Learning Engagement is Most Important
Students’ learning among a campus community may offer the key to positive outcomes after college, according to the Stanford study. For instance:
Students participate in service learning and thrive when they apply what they learn in the classroom to real life settings.
Students are successful when mentors at the college encourage them to pursue personal goals.
Those who are successful after college engage in multi-semester projects.
8. Grades May Be Higher
Your child may be more likely to graduate with honors at a less selective institution.
“When students apply to medical school, the two most important aspects of their applications are their GPA and their MCATs,” says Kopp Weingarten. “We had a student who felt it might be difficult to maintain a high GPA at a highly competitive college where everyone was aiming for ‘A’ grades. He chose to attend a college where he felt he could keep his GPA high due to the lower competition at the school. Due to the fact that he was at the top of their admit pile, he received a huge scholarship and only paid about $10,000 a year for a private college. It worked out for him because he graduated with a near-perfect GPA and was accepted into medical school. He then had the money he saved to put toward paying for medical school.”
Think Carefully About College Selectivity
The main drawback of graduating from a less selective college is brand recognition. However, there are other things to think about, such as whether your child actually ends up graduating. Plus, if your child plans to go to graduate school, nobody cares where he or she goes for an undergraduate education.
Colleges with higher selectivity are also much more likely to graduate students than those with lower selectivity. However, once your child does graduate, there’s little difference in life outcomes, as the Stanford study suggests.
“Sometimes, the most highly selective schools can open the door for a candidate (job or graduate school). But what really matters is how well the student performs at the school they are at. The school doesn’t make the student successful — it’s up to the student to do that on their own,” says Kopp Weingarten.
Tip: Check the financial solvency of institutions your child is interested in (particularly those small private colleges that were already in trouble before the pandemic). Some have already closed. Attending a lower selectivity public school is less of a risk because if those institutions close, students will still be a part of the state system.
Freshmen may not believe their journey starts right now, but it does. Now’s the start of school and there’s no reason to wait!
We’d occasionally get emails or letters from students that would explain their bad grades — loss of an important family member, students’ own illnesses, traumatic event, lack of motivation, switch to a different teacher, lack of maturity, etc.
Colleges do take that information seriously — things happen. However, it’s best not to plant those seeds of doubt.
Anecdotally, in the admission office, we found that a high predictor of college success were students’ grades in high school — more than SAT or ACT scores. The variable that generally reflects the strongest correlation with college academic achievement is the high school GPA, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling.
So, how to prepare for college as a freshman in high school?
Naturally, it’s up to you to have that conversation with your child before school starts.
Grades Matter, Starting Now
You knew that would be the first thing, right? It’s really hard to change the tide of bad grades as a senior and high school academic success paves the way for college success. High school grade point average is still the highest predictor of a student’s likelihood of graduating from a two- or four-year college. Although any single grade is imperfect, when averaged over a high school career, the grade point average is an excellent predictor of how a student will do in college.
Here’s a scenario: Meredith knows she’ll be able to slide through high school because of the community college’s open admission option — that anyone can get in, no matter their grade point average. Meredith believes that she can “take it easy” freshman year because, if all else fails, she can go to the local community college.
Students who don’t do homework end up with 1.2 years less education and 19 percent lower earnings than average.
Students doing 15 hours or more a week of homework attain almost 1.5 more years of education and attain 16 percent higher earnings than average. Isn’t that amazing?!
Steps to Prepare for Freshman Year
Freshman year may look a whole lot different than your child may have envisioned. Here’s what you can do to help your child prepare for college. (Yes! It’s time to have these conversations now!)
Roll with Remote Learning
A few moms I know have their kids all set up with remote learning. Danielle has set up a six-foot long table for her five kids and they all study at the same time, like a one-room schoolhouse. Tracey’s high schooler studies in a common living space — not in his room. Here are a more tips for remote success:
Limit distractions. As much as you can, keep kids away from their phones, Netflix, the refrigerator (“I need snacks ten times a day to study, Mom!”) and more.
Stick to a routine. If your child has a Zoom class at 10, suggest studying for that class at the same time every day. Write out a schedule in advance and align it as closely with your child’s class schedule as possible.
Look at actual textbooks. It’s taxing to look at a screen all day — you may understand if you sit at a computer all day long! Check out blue light-blocking computer glasses if your child has no choice but to stare at a screen all day!
Fix any difficulties with classes. Is your child having trouble with classes due to distance learning? It may be hard to adjust to learning trigonometry online. Find out whether the teacher offers study sessions outside of class and can demonstrate how to do complex math problems or teach Shakespeare individually.
Examine Eighth Grade Experiences
College success is linked to high school preparation — and that starts now. Use eighth grade as a springboard for the conversation. Ask your child:
What worked well in eighth grade?
What do you wish you would have done differently in your classes in eighth grade?
How would you do things differently?
Is there a better way to stay organized this year?
Classes will be more involved this year. How do you think you’ll plan to study?
What do you think is the secret to success?
What classes do you think will be a challenge/not as much as of a challenge? How will you handle each?
Take College Prep Classes
Make sure the plan includes college prep classes:
English: Keep in mind that colleges like to see four years of English.
Math: Colleges also like to see four years of math. Math classes should include at least four of these classes: Pre-algebra, algebra, geometry, algebra II or trigonometry, precalculus and calculus.
Science: Take at least three years of laboratory science classes (check specific school requirements) but a fourth year is still a bonus. Make sure your child plans to take biology, chemistry and physics.
Social studies: Most colleges require at least two years of social studies or social science, including world history and U.S. history, government, sociology, geography or psychology.
Foreign language: Many colleges require a minimum of two years of foreign language while in
Arts: A small number of colleges require at least one year of visual or performing arts.
Cultivate Good Study Habits
It’s best to start freshman year with good study habits so your child is used to implementing them each year of high school.
Here are some tips:
Determine your child’s most productive study hours. Does your child do better in the early morning? Late evening? During study hall? Extracurricular activities might make it tough to be picky, but try to cater to your child’s best hours.
Encourage your child to get plenty of sleep. Teenagers need between nine and nine and a half hours of sleep (in fact, studies show that most teenagers need exactly nine and a quarter hours of sleep!) according to Nationwide Children’s Hospital. The need to study might hinder your child’s sleep cycle but try to hit those nine-and-a-quarter hours as much as possible! It’ll make your child more productive in school and during study time.
Make sure your child has all necessary resources. Does your daughter do better when she’s got a laptop in front of her? A quiet room? Does your son need a special calculator? Does he do well studying in the midst of chaos (at the kitchen table)? Make sure your child’s set up for success wherever that may be.
Help eliminate distractions. Netflix off, phone in quarantine. What other distractions normally bug your child during study hours? The cat running circles in the dining room? The neighbors coming over at the exact same time every night?
Check in. Keep a mental check of what
Know what’s due. Now, this doesn’t mean you have to know every single math problem assigned to your child. Just know in the back of your head
Come up with ways to keep grades up. What went well last year? Did your child’s grades measure up to what you expected? Did your child think he could have done a little better? Make a list of ways (together!)
Talk About College, Starting Now!
Let’s step away from the academic conversation for a second. There’s other stuff to talk about!
Talk About College Money
It’s never too early to have conversations with your child about how much you’ve saved for college. In fact, it’s really important — it will help your child understand his college options. Talk to your child about how much you’ve saved, how much you can help out per month during college and more.
It helps frame the college conversation a little bit more and gets your child ready for what’s ahead. Student loans might be a part of the college cost equation, and the earlier your student knows that, the better.
Here are some topics you might want to consider talking about:
Actual college costs vs. sticker price
Loans and their implications
The importance of scholarships
Your own experience paying for college
The difference between grants, scholarships, loans and more (hint: scholarships and grants are free money!)
In-state versus out-of-state tuition
Talk About College Preference
It’s also not too early to talk about where your child thinks he might “fit” best — community college, private liberal arts college, state university, etc. Describe the differences between each and learn more:
How is a state university different from all other options?
Is a technical school or online institution a better fit?
You may not know the answers to these questions right now, but it’s time to start thinking about them.
Things Could Change in a Heartbeat!
We aren’t sure what’s going to happen during the upcoming school year. If your child’s started out online, maybe it’ll continue for the foreseeable future. Maybe your child’s taking classes in person right now but you know all this could change!
Carefully examine the ways you can help this year get underway successfully — it’s going to take some creativity and maybe even a few pivots, too.
Hello! Here’s a guest post from my friend and colleague, Henry Khederian, who’s also a recent University of Michigan grad. He wrote a post-graduate letter about what he wishes he would have talked to his mom about during the college application process. Henry is a data research content creator at Benzinga. Enjoy!
You’ve guided and supported me through some of the most difficult and challenging decisions in my life.
Whether it was helping me select the best and brightest colors to finger paint when I was 5 or helping me look my best for my last high school prom, I know I can always count on your input!
I’ve had my ups and downs in high school, and you know that better than anyone. When I didn’t make the varsity basketball team, you were there to tell me life goes on and things happen for a reason.
When I went out on my first ice cream date, you did the little things like help me pick out a 10/10 outfit and let me borrow your car.
College is just around the corner, and like a member of Congress needs the counsel of his aids, I want to tackle this thing they call college admissions together.
I Want Your Help — I Really Do!
I’ve heard this thought bounced around on college admissions forums — the only thing harder than a student selecting a school is the parents’ role in steering their child in the right direction.
In other words, this process will not be one of linear progression (thanks, Algebra II, for the lingo). As decisions come in from the universities I apply to, I will face the heartbreak of rejection and the elation of success on this path.
When I falter, I’m not asking you to hold my hand per se, but provide a way forward if my favorite school doesn’t pan out the way I dreamed it would. After all, you will feel my impending acceptances, waitlists and rejection decisions at an emotional magnitude greater than or equal to me, that’s for sure.
It’s my responsibility to write the arduous college essays, recount my high school extracurricular activities and gather transcripts. But more than ever, I could use your wisdom to help me keep my ducks in a row during an incredibly stressful process.
Will you join me on this journey?
I’ve assembled a short list of the ways I believe you can support my success in the college admissions process.
In other words, here’s what I believe I need from you. (This is by no means an exhaustive list, and there’s no question that we could argue points made here, but this is what’s at the forefront of what I need from you as a high school student.)
Read Between the Lines
The ever-daunting question many high school students like me face is how should I handle the college admissions essay process?
Am I left to toss and turn at night, perplexed in the uncertainty that what I’ve written may not be good enough for an esteemed Ivy League admissions board?
Because so many college essays ask you to tell your personal story and journey, who better than to help me map my life experiences up to this point than you, Mom?
Help Me Identify My Strengths and Weaknesses
The concept of blind spots does not only apply to learning how to drive, you know! It can be hard to recall each one of my strengths and weaknesses these past 4 years. Where did I shine in my schoolwork, where did I lack support from my community in the midst of stressors from school?
Here are 3 key examples of questions where the common app asks me to recall my biggest of strengths and weaknesses:
Some students have a background, identity, interest or talent so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, please share your story.
The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback or failure. How did it affect you and what did you learn from the experience?
Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
Absent the need to submit SAT and ACT test scores, essays are more important than ever.
I’m a firm believer that blind spots can only be spotted by the people closest to you. Why else would they be called blind spots if you could determine what they are all on your own?
I need your help with that college application checklist, even if it seems like I don’t appreciate your input.
Give Me Feedback
We’ve sat down together and hashed out so many incredibly active discussions on our life views (and yes, we’ve had arguments). I promise I won’t be mad if you have some critical feedback after I write the first few drafts for my common app essays.
Because I know your feedback can shine a light on my blind spots and is the most golden of all.
In other words, it’s one thing if I visited a hurricane-relief zone for charity work, but why did I decide to take on this role? What are the lasting effects of helping others in need? Anyone can tell their story, but it’s you, Mom, who can best build depth and breadth to the experiences I’ve had. You know me best!
Know that this Year is Stressful
My high school graduating class is facing stress before classes even begin. Due to coronavirus, the end of my “in-person” high school career may be cut short.
If anything, this uncertain timeline for the upcoming school year makes me want to make the most of each day that you and I have together before college arrives.
Because I’m bound to struggle with the logistical learning challenges brought on by COVID-19, I want you to be the first to know that, because you’ve been there for me time and time again, I trust you more than anyone to guide me through the finish line!
Some things never change — like how much I appreciate your support and critical feedback when I need it most.
Thank you for everything, and I know we’ve got this!
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 (kind of like choosing a major) 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 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.
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 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.
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.
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:
Make sure your student applies to college before the gap year.
Get accepted at that college.
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 the 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.
Submit the enrollment deposit. This amount will be different at every school.
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.
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!
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!
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.
Understand all admission options — many schools have more than one.
Don’t get too comfortable with the flexibility of open and rolling admission. Have your child get those applications in early!
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!
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.
What’s your favorite thing about this college?
What’s your least favorite thing about the college you attend?
Where might my child spend a lot of time if he/she is a student here?
Why did you choose this college?
What are the students like?
Which residence hall is your favorite? Where did you live your first year?
Where do you live now? Why did you choose to live there?
What is the food like?
What is your major?
Is this a suitcase college? (Do people go home a lot on the weekends?)
What activities does the college have available for students?
Is it easy to get an internship here? Have you had an internship?
How available are professors?
How does the college handle communication?
Have you found it difficult to handle the costs of college?
What are your plans for after graduation? Do you plan to go to graduate school? Get a job?
Is it easy to get a work-study job on campus? Why or why not?
Where do first-year students typically get assigned for work-study? Can they request a work-study job?
How have online classes gone due to COVID-19? Has that been a seamless transition?
Are the classes rigorous? Have you found them manageable?
How do you manage classes and athletics? (If the student is an athlete and your child is a prospective athlete as well.)
How many tours did you go on before you chose this college?
Is this college far away from your hometown? How do you manage going home during breaks?
Is it easy to get involved in extracurricular activities?
Was it easy or difficult for you to get accepted into this college? How many other colleges did you apply to?
What do you do for fun and what is the social scene like?
What was the most surprising and difficult thing about adjusting to college life?
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
What’s the application process?
What is the admission process, from start to finish, and what should my child expect after an application?
What ACT/SAT scores does my child need to attend your college? Is it optional?
Do you superscore test results (take the best score of each subject test on multiple ACT or SAT dates)?
Can my child self-report my standardized test scores?
Should my child aim for a certain grade point average? What are the requirements?
Does my child need to submit an essay or letters of recommendation? If so, what are the requirements?
Are there any other admission requirements we need to be aware of? What types of supporting materials does my child need to provide?
Does my child need to do an interview with an alumnus or college staff member to be admitted?
Are there different admission requirements for various departments or majors?
How can my child make his or her application stand out?
What are the most important admission factors at your college or university?
Do you accept the Common Application, the Coalition Application or the Universal College Application or do you have your own application?
What types of deadlines do you have for your applications?
Do you charge an application fee? How do we pay it?
Can we get a waiver for the application fee if the fee is a hardship for our family?
Do you have an applicant portal my child will need to use?
What are your recommendations for teacher evaluations, if required?
What does your ideal applicant look like?
How do you look at extracurricular activities and work experience in the admission process?
If my child applies early decision or early action to another college or university, can he or she apply to another college?
Do you defer admission to some students? If so, why, and what can my child do to be admitted?
Can my child defer admission once admitted?
Is the rigor of my high school taken into consideration when my child applies?
Who will read my child’s application?
Will it help my child to take advanced, accelerated or honors courses?
Can my child add/remove something from his application once it’s submitted?
How does my child track the status of her application?
Does your college ever rescind an admission offer?
If my child is rejected Early Decision, can he apply Regular Decision?
Does my child need to submit mid-year reports of her grades?
Are my child’s chances for admission to your university’s graduate school greater if she attends your university as an undergraduate?
How should my child submit transcripts from any college courses?
Are admission requirements different if my child is homeschooled?
Will my child’s financial aid award be different if she applies for admission under Early Decision, Early Action, etc.?
When do application decisions become available?
Is there a maximum number of students admitted from a particular country, region or school?
How should my child submit standardized test scores?
How do you determine which credits transfer?
Is admission competitive? How competitive?
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:
Which visit days should my child attend throughout the year?
How do we arrange an on-campus overnight visit?
What’s the best way to arrange future visits in general?
What does a visit schedule look like if my child chooses to arrange future visits?
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?
Do you have competitive academic scholarships my child can interview for (and come back to campus another time)?
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).
Do professors have an open-door policy? How accessible are they?
Are teaching assistants or professors the ones who teach the classes?
What is the average class size?
What is the student to faculty ratio?
Can you tell me about the [insert name] major? What are your most popular majors and classes?
How are classes selected?
Are there required first-year classes?
My child’s favorite subject in school is [insert favorite subject]. How can that translate to a major here?
How rigorous are classes here?
Tell me about academic support services here.
Does your college provide services if my child has a disability?
What is your graduation rate?
How many students go on to graduate school or become employed after graduation?
How many students get jobs in their majors or a related field?
What types of internships are available for students?
Is it possible to do research as an undergraduate student?
Is your school on the semester or quarter system?
Does your school offer pre-professional majors?
Are tutors available?
Demographics, Social Life and Other Activities
What types of clubs and organizations can my child get involved in?
What are the most popular clubs and organizations?
What’s the social life like on campus? What do students do for extracurricular activities?
What would you change about this college or university?
Do students usually attend sporting events, theatre events or more?
Is it possible for my child to start his or her own club or organization? What is the process to do that?
How many students study abroad? Is it a popular thing to do? How is study abroad structured here?
Is it easy to manage a collegiate athletic career and academics? How do coaches approach academics and athletics here?
What security measures are in place at your institution?
Is on-campus housing guaranteed?
Is my child required to live on campus?
How does the meal system work?
Is it easy to find a student job on or near campus?
How is housing assigned?
Can my child live on campus during school breaks?
How safe is the campus and the surrounding neighborhood?
What is the percentage of students of color on campus?
What is the percentage of students who live on campus?
Can you tell me the male-to-female ratio on campus?
How does parking on campus work?
Where are students who go to your school from?
How does your college or university accommodate students with food allergies?
What role do parents play in your community?
What is your freshman retention rate?
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:
What is the tuition, room, board and fees at this school?
How much does tuition increase each year? Do scholarships increase to match the change?
What scholarships can my child qualify for? How does my child qualify for them?
Are there any merit-based scholarships available at your school?
Can my child receive grants? If so, what are the requirements?
How do loans work and how should we apply for them?
Can you explain in detail how a financial aid award is set up?
What amount will my child receive, using your school’s net price calculator or a financial aid estimator?
What are the interview or audition requirements for certain scholarships?
Can my child apply for talent-based scholarships?
What will happen if our family’s financial aid situation changes while my child is at your school?
Will my child qualify for work-study? How does work-study work here?
Does my child need to report outside scholarships? Will merit-based scholarships be “taken away” if my child receives a large outside scholarship?
Where should we send checks for outside scholarships?
Do we need to complete a CSS Profile?
How will we know if the FAFSA has been submitted correctly?
When will my child receive the financial aid award?
What is the deadline for applying for financial aid?
My child is undocumented. Is my child still eligible for financial aid?
How does financial aid work if my child studies abroad?
Can veterans or children of veterans receive financial aid at your school?
Can we apply for financial aid in future years if we do not apply the first year?
Will you help me file the FAFSA in person?
What kind of need-based aid can my child get?
How is work-study awarded?
How will the financial aid office help our family break down the costs?
What does the average student receive in financial aid from your school?
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?
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:
Which classes do you teach?
What is your favorite class to teach? Why?
Why do you teach here?
What is your teaching style?
How often do terminal degreed professors teach the classes?
What are your top expectations at the beginning of any semester?
Do you help students with connections for internships and jobs after graduation?
Are undergraduates able to get research opportunities?
How do you measure success in your classroom?
What does a typical syllabus look like in one of your classes?
How does advising work? What’s the process to put together a student schedule?
When are your office hours? Is it easy for students to get their questions answered?
What is your average class size? For introductory classes? For advanced classes?
What are your most successful students doing now?
How do you communicate with students?
Do you put an emphasis on interactive or group work or put an emphasis on lectures?
How do you choose the textbooks a student will use during the semester?
Do you consider yourself to be approachable?
What should my child do if he or she is having trouble in your class?
Do you have teaching assistants (TAs)?
Are there any supplemental instruction (SI) sessions my student can go to during any given semester?
How have you handled online learning during COVID-19?
How much time do your students spend studying and completing assignments during the week?
Are your classes reading and writing intensive?
What types of issues do students bring to you during office hours?
Is there a capstone project or internship requirement for your program?
What does a typical path to graduation look like? What exact classes are required?
How long does it take the average student to graduate? Four years? Five years or more?
What is the academic community like in your department or program?
What resources are available to me?
Is service learning or similar opportunities for hands-on learning a priority in your classes?
Do you help students determine their career path or calling?
Do your students make connections between their academic studies and activities outside of class? Can you give us an example?
How do you work with students who choose to study abroad? Is there a best time during the academic program?
What other majors and minors do students usually combine with this major?
Do you do any other research or other projects that can affect what you teach here?
What are students surprised to learn when they’re in your class?
What do you do when students realize your major isn’t a fit?
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.
Why do you coach? What is your coaching philosophy?
What are the holes in your program that my child can help fulfill?
How do you recruit?
What are you looking for in the right recruit?
Can you describe your program’s values?
What does a typical day look like for a player during the season?
How about the off-season program? What are the expectations?
How do you encourage your players academically?
What are the academic requirements for your program?
What do your players do during their free time?
Can you tell me your team’s total GPA and graduation rate?
Do the players typically live together on campus?
Is it easy for players to catch up after missed class time for games and meets? How do they usually do that?
My child wants to major in X. Is it possible to major in this and still play for your program?
How much of an impact do you see my child making on the team right away? Later on?
What does my child need to do to be evaluated by your staff?
Can you tell me more about your assistant coaches? What are their philosophies?
When does your coaching contract end? Do you see yourself here another four years?
How would you describe the team chemistry?
What are the current strengths and weaknesses of your team?
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!