Kristine Mears gets it. As an independent educational consultant (IEC) and owner of Mears College Consulting LLC, Mears knows first-hand that the college application process can seem overwhelming. And there’s a reason why. Applying to college is not the same as it was 20 years ago. “In 1992, just over 54 percent of high school graduates went to college. Now that number is approximately 66 percent, an increase of 22 percent in just over 20 years,” says Mears. “There is also a huge increase in selectivity. With more students funneling in, colleges are now able to be more selective in who they choose to admit.” But Mears isn’t flinching. And she doesn’t think you should be either. “Applying to college can be stressful because it is a competitive process,” says Mears, who specializes in assisting local families with the college admissions process. “But with over 3000 four-year institutions in the United States, there really is a school for everyone. The key is to make the process manageable by coming up with a plan that highlights exactly what should be accomplished over each of the four years of high school.”
Drawing the Road Map
The college planning process should ideally begin during the early years of high school – and yes, that means even as early as freshman year, when possible. But let’s face it. During those first two years, before the dreaded junior year becomes a reality, college is more of an abstract idea for many, just floating in the background. The typical underclassman is more likely to be focused on adjusting to a new environment, juggling an increased course load and a budding social life. Even so, it is not uncommon for school guidance counselors to reach out and let students know they are available to talk about course selection and other areas that can have an impact on college choices later on. And while it may seem premature to encourage your young student to seek out the chance to connect with the guidance counselor, Mears suggests doing just that. “Developing that relationship, even if it’s just saying ‘hello”, helps the counselor put a name with a face,” says Mears. And why exactly is this important? Your child’s guidance counselor will be a resource throughout the college application process. This is the person that will send in the transcripts, write the recommendations, submit secondary school reports and make sure your child meets graduation requirements. “If you think of college planning as a road map, with specific stops along the way, making this introduction is a great early step for a student to take the lead and show interest in the situation,” says Mears.
Check List FreshmanYear Map out a plan of the courses you will take each year in high school. Begin to familiarize yourself with college entrance requirements.
Engage in sports, clubs, community service or other activities that interest you. Begin a running list of activities, awards and recognitions. “This will be useful when completing college applications or a resume,” says Mears.
If vacationing, tour a college campus near your destination. A tour can provide insight on what you find appealing in a school (small or large, public or private, urban or rural). Testing: Take the PSAT or Aspire if offered.
SophomoreYear Continue to pursue clubs, sports, and community service opportunities that interest you and continue your running list of activities, awards and recognitions.
Begin researching and comparing colleges. If you are not able to visit a school in person, make use of virtual tours. “While not a replacement for an actual visit, a virtual tour is an excellent way to get information,” says Mears.
Consider taking a career interest inventory such as the Self Directed Search or the Do What You Are assessment. Testing: Take the PSAT or Aspire if offered in the fall. For students who began early test prep, consider taking the ACT or SAT for baseline. Your college list: Begin your college list with no more than 20 schools.
JuniorYear Continue to pursue clubs, sports and community service opportunities that interest you, and continue your running list of activities, awards and recognitions midtownmag.com | 85