If you are a college-bound high school senior, regardless of grades and standardized test scores, you have likely received at least one brochure or letter from a college that is interested in receiving your application—to the point where the admissions office will even let you complete it on their Web site, for free. These marketing messages come from college admissions offices that are quite anxious, not only for your application, but also to fill the incoming freshman class as quickly as possible,
If you’re a high school senior, should you take these messages seriously, or ignore them? It depends on how far along you have gone on your journey to college.
Each year I meet parents and high school seniors who have their heart set on a particular school, and often for good reason. It might be the state university of their home state, or a neighboring one. It might also be a college where friends or siblings are already enrolled. When admissions are realistic, and the college offers an opportunity to apply Early Action or Rolling Admissions, I advise them to go for it. Why should such a high senior spend more time on the journey than s/he has to?
But others are undecided on a school, maybe an academic direction.
Is it worthwhile to follow-up on these aggressive marketing messages?
Here are four questions that you might want to answer on your own before committing the time to apply.
Does the school offer a program that you want, in a location that you would like to go to college? Most colleges have an alumni base that it quite regional. If the college is in a less familiar part of the country, you might not want to bother applying.
Can you give up a day to visit the school? If the answer to the first question is ‘yes’, take the campus tour, attend the information session. Use your time afterwards to talk to students who are already there, and check out the surrounding community. Your goal is not to “get into a college,” but to find a school where you will likely stay and be happy to earn a degree.
Can you contact alumni in your area? Stop by the alumni relations office, or contact them by e-mail or phone after you visit, and ask if you could get the names of some recent graduates who live near you. Most colleges will have alumni who are willing to volunteer information about their undergraduate experience, and share the bad as well as the good about the school. If an alumni relations office cannot do this for you, there is reason to be concerned, especially if the college is a small one that is aggressively seeking new students.
What is the freshman retention rate for the school? When a college loses more than a fifth of a freshman class there is cause for concern. There are legitimate reasons for lower retention rates. Some schools are quite specialized in their academic programs; others cost more in the second year than some freshmen and their families expected. But people leave colleges for many legitimate reasons: academic difficulties, home sickness and more. If the retention rate is below 80 percent, ask why, and get a satisfactory answer. If you don’t get it, pass on the school.
Every high school senior should take the time to get the answers to these four questions before following through on an application to a school that practices aggressive marketing. S/he and their parents should be more thoroughly sold on the potential of a school before showing more serious interest.
Need help in preparing your college lists, or in comparing schools? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 609-406-0062.
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