After a year plus-long process of preparing for the SAT and ACT—numerous visits to U.S. News & World Report’s ranking site, writing and rewriting the application essay, and securing letters of recommendation from the teachers who know her best—my daughter made her choice of what college to attend.
In the fall, she will be part of the class of 2021 at one of the most selective liberal arts colleges in the United States. She will be relocating to a beautiful part of the country, which couldn’t be more different culturally and geographically than her native home in New York City.
While the decision was hers and hers alone, I was grateful to be trusted part the admissions process that was full of fun and introspection. Here is a little bit about our college admissions journey to help you on your own:
The College Admissions Starting Line
In our experience, the hardest part of the college admissions process was taking the first step—deciding where to apply. There are literally thousands of colleges in the United States. As soon as she got her PSAT scores back, the recruiting began. Dozens upon dozens of brochures from colleges all over the country, some of which were unknown to us, began arriving in our mailbox.
After some discussion with her guidance counselor and me, my daughter made an unexpected decision—she decided NOT to apply to “reach schools” (schools where admission was possible but highly unlikely). Instead, she decided to apply to colleges where she was likely to be admitted, which reduced her stress levels (and mine) enormously. All were terrific schools, some public, some private. And she only applied to five schools, an anomaly at a time when some college applicants apply to twice that number.
Healthy Boundaries for Parents
I know what some of you may be thinking, “Why didn’t you push her to apply to more schools? Why not encourage her to apply to harder schools?” Here’s why I did what I did: My daugther has always been an independent young woman. And for college admissions, I wanted to let her lead the process.
This was the first life decision for which she was totally accountable. I was there to help de-stress the process, not aggravate it. But I do recognize that every family and parent-child relationship is different, and every parent should take the approach that works best for their child.
Navigating Campus Visits
We visited all the schools to which she applied, road tripping from the farthest reaches of New England to the tranquility of the rural South. While location also mattered—all schools were situated in small towns—it ultimately come down to those which best fit her desire to get a strong liberal arts education. We also visited them again after she was accepted. (More on that in a minute.)
First, I think campus tours can be an important part of the admissions process, though most schools give online virtual tours these days. Colleges’ websites and social media channels make it easier (and cheaper) to help answer your questions about a particular school. They also help you narrow down your choices about which school is right for you.
One thing I also noted is that not all campus visits are created equal. Some schools did a much better job than others. Some campus tours, for example, had extremely enthusiastic, engaging guides while others were only subpar. Remember, schools bear just as much of the burden to impress you, and you should hold them to that.
Here is one piece of advice for parents and prospective students on campus tours—if paying for college is a major concern, take time to visit the school’s financial aid office. Get to know someone in charge, someone who makes decisions. In a year’s time, they will be going through thousands of applications and appeals. It may be to your advantage for them to have a name with a request for aid.
Admitted Students’ Day
Given the choice of spending your time and resources between campus tours as an interested student vs visiting the school as part of admitted students day, I strongly encourage parents and students to pick the later. On Admitted Students’ Day, you get a better sense of the exact students that you will be studying with and living with for the next four years. Campus tours, on the other hand, only include students who may or may not even apply to that particular school.
Caution: Admitted Students Day is where colleges make the hard sell. They know decision day is just weeks away and these prospective students have multiple options. They want to make sure they get the best of the deal. They put on the best production possible to woo you. This is where students and parents (who actually have their own day of activities planned by the school) should ask the hard questions.
For students, questions might include:
- Will this particular college help me grow as a person and get to where I want to be professionally?
- What makes this school a better match for me than the other schools that have accepted me?
- Will this school really make these “the best four years of my life?”
For parents, questions might include:
- Will I be able to send my child here without he/she and I being up to our eyeballs in debt after a few years?
- Will teachers and administrators help make sure she succeeds academically?
- Besides academics, what makes this school special?
Embrace New Beginnings
At the end of the process, my daughter chose the college that was not only the best choice for her personally, but also the one that she believed would challenge her both academically and as a young adult. She told me, “Mom, I’d rather be here and be pushed.” Needless to say, I am incredibly proud of her ambition and decision.
As the college admissions process comes to an end, we now embark upon a new phase of our mother-daughter relationship. Even though she will soon be hundreds of miles away, and I will only likely see her on holidays and semester breaks, I am confident she made the right choice.
I can’t wait to see what the future holds and to watch all her efforts pay off.