10 Things NOT To Do at Your Next College Fair


If you’re preparing for a college fair, you’ve probably read countless articles and received endless advice on what to do before, during, and after the fair. Do your research! Go armed with questions! Follow up with colleges you liked! But there’s a flip side to this coin, and that is what not to do. After all, there are a number of things that could unintentionally sabotage your experience or a potential college’s impression of you. Therefore, read on to learn ten things that you should NOT do at your next college fair.

  1. Don’t spend all your time talking to the schools you already like. A college fair is an opportunity to learn about many different colleges all at once. Therefore, don’t miss the opportunity to discover a new school of interest by spending the whole fair talking to schools where you already intend to apply. Definitely stop by those tables, too, but portion out your time wisely. Explore! Discover! But. . . .
  1. Don’t try to talk to every school. When you arrive—or, ideally, before you arrive—look through the list of schools in attendance and try to scope out the ones you think will interest you the most. Plan time for “browsing” schools that are entirely new to you, too, but don’t try to hit up every single table. If you do, you’ll wind up having a lot of brief, superficial conversations that probably won’t help you much in defining your college search.
  1. Don’t ask a college representative to predict your chances of admission. Yes, you should come to a college fair armed with questions for college reps, but skip the ones like, “Is my GPA high enough?” or, “Should I retake the SAT?” The college rep isn’t there to judge your admissibility, they’re there to offer information about the school and help you to determine whether it would be a good fit. Therefore, if you’re dead-set on talking about admissions, stick to questions about the process (e.g., “Are admissions interviews offered?” “How much weight is given to essays or letters of recommendation?”).
  1. Don’t let your parents do all the talking. You’re the one going to college, right? If so, you’re the one who should be asking the questions. And if you’re feeling shy, remember: when you get to campus, you won’t be able to hide behind your parents anymore; therefore, be assertive, and use this opportunity to show college representatives that you’re a mature, well-informed, college-ready adult that they would be proud to admit to their incoming class.
  1. Don’t skip colleges that seem “too hard.” Ideally, you’ll apply to a variety of colleges that range from “safety” to “reach,” with plenty of likely matches in between. Therefore, use the college fair as an opportunity to explore the whole range, not just schools where you feel confident you’ll get in.
  1. Don’t ask questions you can Google in two seconds. This wastes your time and the college rep’s time. Numbers-related questions (their preferred SAT or GPA, student-to-faculty ratios, etc.) can typically be found on the college’s website, so try to ask more experience-related questions, such as: What is student life like? How is the food? What do students especially like or dislike about the campus?
  1. Don’t fill out a card (or scan your barcode) unless you are actually interested. At each table, college representatives will encourage you to fill out a card with your personal information (or to scan your personal barcode). For each card you fill, you can expect a series of pamphlets to arrive at your door soon after, plus emails in your inbox and even, possibly, voicemails on your phone. Therefore, save yourself the headache (and a few trees) and don’t sign up for this onslaught of information unless you are actually interested in the school.

But. . . .

  1. Don’t walk away from a school you like without filling out a card. If you’re already receiving emails and pamphlets from this school, you might assume that they don’t need your information again. However, filling out one of these college fair cards is an expression of interest—something colleges do track. So if you are interested, definitely fill out a card! It can only help your chance of admission.
  1. Don’t disrespect the fair hours. Larger fairs might have security guards who enforce the fair hours, but whether someone is guarding the doorway or not, don’t march inside before the official start time. You might think that entering early makes you look like a go-getter, but the fair starts at a certain time for a reason: the college reps need time to set up! And staying after the fair has ended is just rude. After all, would you want to be held hostage at your job after your shift ends?

And, last but not least . . . .

  1. Don’t forget your manners. Sounds basic, but manners can be easy to forget. Don’t cut in line. Don’t interrupt another student. Don’t talk or text on your phone in the middle of interacting with a college rep. And don’t grab-and-go. Snatching a giveaway and shuffling away like you didn’t see the college rep standing right there is just rude. Don’t do it!

3 Ways High School Guidance Counselors Can Encourage Students To Attend A College Fair

group of students getting suppport from teacher and working on laptop computer at tach classroom

As a high school guidance counselor, you want to prepare college-bound students for the road ahead as best you can. This means helping them to recognize the opportunities available to them, enabling them to complete the coursework and testing required of them, and guiding them through the process of selecting and applying for schools.

One important, early step that students need to take in the college applications process is finding colleges and universities that will be a good match. There are many of ways to do this, from conducting Internet searches to visiting college campuses. As a guidance counselor, you probably have plenty of pamphlets and brochures filling your office, and you might even teach students how to best conduct their college search. But one more way you can help students is to encourage them to attend a college fair.

College fairs provide excellent opportunities for students to survey many schools at once. Therefore, while they may seem intimidating—after all, students need to be assertive in speaking with college representatives and asking questions!—college fairs can be very advantageous to students who are still early in their search. And even if a student already knows precisely where he or she wants to apply, college fairs offer opportunities to make a good impression and demonstrate interest in that college.

Here are three important ways you, as a guidance counselor, can encourage students to attend a college fair.

First: make sure they know!

The first and arguably most important step in encouraging your students to attend a college fair is to get the word out. After all, if they don’t even know a fair is happening, they can’t possibly want to attend!

The simplest “analog” method of raising student awareness is to post fliers on bulletin boards around the school and to include the details of the fair anywhere else that information is disseminated to students. This can include social media outlets (such as Twitter or Facebook) or via school listservs that are used to inform both students and parents of school news and upcoming events.

Second: incentivize them.

Once they know about the fair, and even if they recognize the benefits of attending it, students can have trouble getting excited about something as intimidating and time-consuming as a college fair. Therefore, it falls upon you, their guidance counselor (and, of course, on parents, teachers, and other mentors in their lives) to incentivize them.

The most appropriate and effective incentive depends upon when the fair is held. If the fair happens during school hours, then the incentive is virtually already built in: getting out of class and/or going off campus for a field trip. However, if the fair happens outside of the school day (in the evening or on a weekend), incentivizing students gets trickier. One idea is to make registration for the fair a competition between homerooms. You could also set up a competition between students to see who can talk to the most representatives. Be wary of offering material incentives, however, because the fact of the matter is that attending a college fair is something that college-bound students should be doing on their own, anyway. If you’ve helped students to understand the importance of choosing a college where they will succeed, as well as the usefulness of a college fair in their selection process, then that knowledge should be incentive enough!

Third: make attendance as easy as possible.

Once students know about the fair and are interested in attending, the final hurdle is getting them to the fair. While many students may have a car or parents who can drive them to the fair, this is certainly not the case for all students. Therefore, if the budget is available, a great solution is to offer to bus students to the fair. (Plus, if you want to go one step further, you can incentivize them to register online for their GoToCollegeFairs barcode by treating that as a “bus pass,” so when they arrive at the fair, they’re ready to go!)

Another, more time-intensive possibility is to organize your own college fair. Depending on the size and resources of your school, this could be an in-house event for only students in your district, or it could involve working with nearby high schools and guidance counselors to recruit colleges and to develop the event. Either way, the payoff is that the colleges will come straight to your doorstep—and no college fair is easier for a student to attend than one in his or her own back yard!

Helpful tip: Encourage your students to create a dedicated email address for the college admissions process.  They will be bombarded with emails from colleges and it’s wise to separate those so they are more manageable.  This is important for them to do even prior to the PSAT or SAT as the College Board does share the student email with colleges.  Having one place for all admissions communications really helps!

Have you successfully encouraged any of your students to attend a college fair? We’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback!


5 Ways to Have More College Options

Before you cross out your “reach schools” and pricey universities, read these 5 ways you can have more options for college.

1. Apply for scholarships in your junior year.

There are millions upon millions of dollars of scholarship money up for grabs each year, yet many students don’t take the opportunity to apply for them. Why? Quite simply: it’s extra work. I get it, you’re busy. You have SATs, AP exams, college apps, sports games, community service and lots of homework and exams.

College is likely the most money you’ll ever spend in your life aside from purchasing a house. Do yourself a favor and get some of the cost down by winning money. Being busy hurts more when you’re at work and know that half your paycheck is going to your student loans.

Find a way, not an excuse. Plus, scholarships may require an essay, which makes students less likely to apply for them. If you plan ahead, you can write a scholarship essay that fits in with your Common App (or other college essay), so you can write one and use it for two separate applications.

2. Apply early.

Some Colleges allow you to apply early to get a decision early. If you have your heart set on a school (make sure you visit it first), then consider applying early decision or early action. Early decision means you plan to attend a school if your application is accepted; early action means you will find out the school’s decision earlier.

Knowing early allows you to make more informed choices. If you get accepted to a school that you plan to attend and know early enough, you can save time and money.

3. Introduce yourself to admission officers.

If an admission officer visits your school, strike up a conversation with him or her. Ask questions, and tell him about your goals and interest in his school. Be mindful during presentations: remain quiet and present and be sure to keep your phone away. Make a solid first impression.

Also, if you are wait-listed at a school, sending a thoughtful e-mail about your interest in the school and what you believe you can offer can go a long way.

4. Write a stellar admission essay.

By your senior year, you can only do so much to raise your GPA and SAT scores. Spend ample amount of time developing an admission essay that tells admission officers about you, the person, rather than you, the student. Check out my other articles for help.

5. Get outstanding letters of recommendation.

There are only two parts of your application where admission officers can’t graph you and compare you with other applicants: your admission essay and your letters of recommendation.

An adult’s perspective on you as a student is a powerful addition to your application, so choose wisely an act early. If you know whom you’d like to write you a letter, aim to ask over the summer or in the beginning of the school year while she has time to craft one. If you can, sit down with the person who will recommend you, and tell her what your goals and aspirations are.

Happy Writing!

This article was written by Jaclyn Corley, the founder of The College Essay Captain, a private tutoring company that develops online courses and runs workshops for the writing components of college admissions. Jaclyn Corley founded her company to be a resource for students, and she has made it her mission to empower thousands of students to tell their stories.

The College Essay Course is available at thecollegeessaycourse.com

15 Tips to Own Your Senior Year of High School

Senioritis is the coined term that is loosely defined as the self-sabotaging disease that inflicts thousands of high school seniors across the country each year. Its symptoms often include a lackadaisical approach to school, the feeling of being overwhelmed with assignments and college applications, and a intense desire for the year to end that can tame even the students with a track record for being overzealous.

As an 11th and 12th grade teacher and a college essay advisor for 4 years, I started to notice the patterns of the students who held themselves together–the ones who maintain their grades, their positive attitudes, and their work ethics from their junior to their senior year. I separated these patterns from the students who, despite being on top of their game for the previous 3 consecutive years, lost their momentum.

A lot of adults will say that your junior year of high school will be your most challenging and the most important. They base this off the idea that you may be tackling a number of Advance Placement (AP) courses or a more challenging curriculum. This is also the year that you take the SAT or ACT, and if you’re involved in extra-curricular activities, you may choose to take on leadership roles. For some of you, you may also have an after-school or weekend job.


But, your senior year presents its own challenges. Some of you may still have all of the aforementioned work plus you’re adding college and scholarship applications into the mix. Since it’s your last year of high school, you may also have the desire to be more social, which often conflicts with your busy schedule.

It may be tempting to throw in the towel, and to cut down on your efforts, but your decisions in your senior year can directly influence the rest of your life. Not applying to a school you might excel at may be a temptation if you don’t feel like studying for the SATs again or don’t have enough time to tackle the supplemental essays on their application.

Therefore, I’d like to share some of my observations and advice with you to keep your motivation and momentum, and to help you go after your dreams in the least stressful way possible. This article is especially for students who are planning to apply to college.

1) Figure out what you’re looking for and make a game plan

Who are you? This is a deep question, and you should spend some time answering it.

An easy way to pick a college is go off what other people say about particular schools. “That’s the best community college,” or “that school has a great reputation,” or “I went there, and I loved it!” The problem with this is that, while knowing a school’s reputation is great, that really doesn’t tell you much about how you’ll fit in there.

Are you someone who will drown in the sea of students in massive lecture halls? Or, are you okay with having small classes where you might need to participate more? Do you plan to live on campus, or are you going to commute? If the former is true, how far are you willing to live away from home? If the latter is true, how far will you be willing to travel? Do you want to live in the city, the suburbs, or a rural area? Are there clubs and sports that interest you at the school? Are there majors or programs that peak your interest? How many schools are you going to apply to? What’s the price range of the schools you can afford? Will you work while in school?

This may seem like question overload, but it’s important to make a game plan. Figure out what you’re looking for and why. The more you plan in the beginning, the less complicated the application process will be. You’ll be able to safely say, “this school is one I should apply to while this other one doesn’t meet my criterion.”

2) Research schools early in your junior year

The earlier you begin to research colleges, the better. And, I don’t use the term research lightly. Choosing a college is a big decision, and a lot of thought needs to go into it.

Collect brochures from colleges and go to their website to look through their course offerings. See if professors from the school have videos on YouTube. Watch them. Look through the internship opportunities and affiliations the school may have. Gather data on class size, graduation rates, tuition, clubs, and housing. The more you learn about the school, the more educated decisions you’ll be able to make.

3) Create a binder for your potential options

The best thing I ever did before I interviewed for a teaching job was to create a binder that included all my lesson plans, legal documents, and letters of recommendation. I felt confident walking into the interview because if the interviewer asked me a question, I had evidence with me to back up my answer.

Use the same strategy for your college applications–especially if you’re someone who is particularly disorganized. As soon as you start collecting information on potential schools, organize a binder. You can organize it based off reach/safety schools, commuter/away schools, programs that interest you, application deadlines, or any other way that makes sense to you. Include brochures, print outs from the websites, and notes from your discussions with your parents and guidance counselor.

You should also keep a calendar at the front of your binder to keep track of application deadlines and which type of essays you’ll need for your application.

4) Look for scholarships in your junior year

There are MILLIONS of dollars up for grabs in scholarship money. MILLIONS. And, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to obtain them.

There are plenty of scholarships that you’ll qualify for…simply spend some time looking for them.

Here’s bonus tip #1: look for scholarships that require essays. Why? Well, did you just groan when I implied that you should write an essay? Exactly.

Fewer students apply to scholarships that require essays because they don’t want to write essays. What does this mean? This means that there is less competition.

Bonus tip #2: if you plan this ahead of time, you can usually find a way to write a scholarship essay that doubles as an application essay. I did this and won a $1000 scholarship from Burger King. I didn’t have to write an additional essay–I simply planned ahead.

Student loans are an incredible way to pay for college, but trust me on this: you really don’t want to send a huge chunk of your hard-earned paycheck every month to Sallie Mae. Plus, that $70,000 you borrow turns into a $100,000 payback quite quickly with high interest levels.

Bonus tip#3: add the scholarship info into the binder!

5) Write your admission essays/scholarship essays over the summer

If you’ve kept up with the advice above, you’ll have a basic knowledge of the schools you plan on applying to and the types of essays they require.

College applications get piled onto your workload in your senior year. And if you go into your senior year thinking you’ll have time to relax, you’ll be surprised by how much work you actually have to get done.

Therefore, at the bare minimum, begin your admission essays over the summer. Learn how to write them: either take a course, hire an advisor, or do a self-study. One of the easiest ways to ruin your college applications is to take the college essay too lightly. It’s likely you’ve never learned how to write for a college admission audience or how to write a personal narrative. The more competitive the school, the more important it will be to have a stellar admission essay.

6) Get a job, internship, or volunteer position over the summer

The more experience you have to put on your activity list, the more appealing you’ll be to admission officers. Plus, a little extra cash is always a plus.

Maintaining a steady job shows that you have a work ethic. An internship shows that you are willing to learn from others. A volunteer position shows that you will be helpful on campus. Spend your summer making money, learning a skill, or helping others. You’ll not only benefit from experienced gained, you also might make connections to people who may help you with future opportunities.

7) Get to know your guidance counselor

I’ve worked with and befriended many college guidance counselors, and they really want you to end up in a school that is a great fit for you. However, it’s hard to guide a student when you don’t really know much about him outside of his GPA and standardized test scores.

Do yourself a favor, and begin a conversation with your guidance counselor. Send him or her an email that tells them a bit about your future goals and your current interests, and ask a question. Make an appointment to meet your counselor in your junior year when he or she isn’t overwhelmed with helping seniors.

The more your counselor knows you, the more he or she can help you make good decisions for your future. In addition, many colleges require a letter of recommendation from a guidance counselor. The more she knows about you, the better your letter will be.

8) Attend college nights and college fairs

Your school set these up for a reason. The more you learn about the college application process, the better off you are.

College fairs typically have admission officers who come to tell you a little more about their schools and who can answer any questions you may have about the process and how they judge candidates. Introduce yourself to the admission officers from the schools you are applying to, briefly tell them about your interest in their school, and ask a question that they haven’t already answered.

It may also benefit you to frequent college fairs or panels if several are offered at your school. Proximity is power, and if you have several positive interactions with the admission officer from your dream school, you may have a higher chance of being remembered when they get to your application.

9) Talk about finances with your parents

Unless your family is particularly well-off and has made the decision to pay for your college tuition in full, it’s likely that you’ll need to plan for how you’ll pay for college.

Attend financial aid night with your parents to learn about government grants and student loans. Ask questions and keep detailed notes in your binders.

An open line of communication with your parents is often the best way to tackle finances. If you’re going away to school, it’s likely that you’ll have to live on campus as per school policy for at least your freshman year. Consider how much it will cost to live off campus and to skip the school’s meal plan in the subsequent years to save yourself some money.

Think ahead: is it likely you’ll go to graduate school? Who will pay your loans if you don’t secure a job right away? How much will your loans cost each month when you graduate? Where will you live after college? Are there ways to make money during college to help pay your tuition?

The earlier you have these conversations, the better.

10) Keep an organized calendar of deadlines

Although I mentioned this above under the binder heading, I think it’s important enough to deserve its own category.

Do not rely on anyone except yourself to stay on top of your applications. No one is going to sit over your shoulders in college to direct you or to keep you organized, so start to transition to independence now.

Make a detailed calendar of school application deadlines, college nights, financial aid nights, and college guidance appointments. Schedule in time to revise your essays, write your activity list, and to fill out your online applications.

This is also really good practice for college. In college, each of your professors will provide you with a syllabus of assignments, topics, and test dates, and it will be your job to organize your time accordingly.

11) Visit schools when you can

If you have the opportunity to visit a college campus, do so. Brochures can only give you so much information, and they are tailored to get students to apply. That means that a lot of (if not most of) the pictures are staged to appeal to potential applicants.

When I visited college campuses, I knocked off one of the schools from my list because I didn’t find the students to be particularly welcoming. The campus was cold, literally and figuratively.

When I visited Binghamton University in New York, my top choice, I felt at home. I envisioned myself there, and it helped me to feel more confident about my choice to go there.

Lastly, take a tour and then do your own tour. The tour guides will feature the best parts about the campus, and they will be able to give you insights since they are students themselves. However, they are also trained to show the positive aspects of the school–just like the brochures. If you have time, take a walk through the campus, drive or walk around off-campus to see what surrounds the college, take a look at off-campus housing options, and eat at one of the dining halls (Bonus tip: if the campus uses a meal plan, chances are, you’ll pay more if you’re paying with cash or credit. Offer to pay a student in cash in exchange for him placing your meal on his meal plan. Many students will gladly accept this!)

12) Seek advice from trusted sources

Parents, friends, and family members will love to give you advice on your college applications, but tread carefully. Well-meaning advice can also be misleading advice.

Talk to admission officers, guidance counselors, or college-planning/essay advisors for the insider’s scoop. Learn from those who’ve done this before and keep notes of their advice.

You can also reach out to current students at the universities you wish to apply to, students who aren’t invested in getting you to go there (i.e. tour guides). Ask them what they like about the campus, the classes, and dorm life. Ask them what they don’t like, or if they would have made a different decision knowing what they know now. Their answers may surprise you, and they also may help you.

13) Be mindful of your stress levels and find appropriate ways to address them

College applications are stressful–if you let them be. The more you organize your time and stick to a predictable schedule, the less likely you are to feel that dreaded overwhelming feeling.

Be mindful of your stress levels during your junior and senior year. Take breaks when you need to–go for a walk, listen to an inspiring Ted Talk on motivation, visualize yourself finishing your applications, meditate, journal, work on a fun project. Learn how you relax and how you alleviate stress.

14) Make time for your friends and for fun–be present

On that same note, make sure you have some fun in your senior year. Hang out with your friends in non-school related activities. Find a balance between your school and social life. If you organize your time well, you’ll be ahead of the game, and you’ll find you have more weekends to socialize because you got things done early.

You may not realize it now, but your senior year will go by quickly and before you know it, you’ll be graduating college wondering where the time went. Spend time appreciating the present moment, and spend time appreciating your friendships. Many relationships dwindle when friends go on to different colleges, so cherish the memories you’re making now.

15) Apply early when possible and let go when you send you applications in

Do you have a school in mind that you definitely want to attend? Consider applying early.

Early action or early decision will help you know where you stand at your dream schools sooner rather than later. They also give you the incentive to get your applications done early, which leaves you more time for other activities.

Lastly, let go, once you click the send button. Do your best with your applications and trust that you’ll end up exactly where you’re meant to be.

Also, don’t take “maybe” as a final answer. If you’re wait-listed at a school you’d really like to attend, meet with a guidance counselor to craft a letter to the admission officer expressing that you’re still very interested. This helps to separate you from the other wait-listed candidates. Should you get rejected from your dream school, you can also look into transferring. Spend a year at a different school, and find out what grades you need to transfer. It might give you more motivation to do exceptionally well, and if you choose to attend a community college, you may also be able to transfer a lot of credits and save yourself money!

Happy Writing!

This article was written by Jaclyn Corley, the founder of The College Essay Captain, a private tutoring company that develops online courses and runs workshops for the writing components of college admissions. Jaclyn Corley founded her company to be a resource for students, and she has made it her mission to empower thousands of students to tell their stories.

The College Essay Course is available at thecollegeessaycourse.com

Turning the Social Media Tables: Students Use Facebook, Instagram to Choose Colleges

shutterstock_174838673Back when social media first appeared on the Internet scene, students everywhere were advised to carefully examine and “clean up” their accounts, because college admissions officers now had unprecedented access to their personal—yet very public—lives.

Now, however, students have begun to turn the tables. Because of course college websites look professional and the green manicured lawns presented on shiny pamphlets look appealing. And yes, colleges can present picturesque, carefully refined “official” social media accounts. However, they have little—if any—control over what students on campus post, and for a savvy social media high schooler, these posts can offer a gold mine of information.

In one case, Time magazine reported on a student who used Instagram to “visit” college campuses by proxy. He easily found the schools’ official account, but then discovered that by clicking on the photos’ geotagged location, he could see all pictures tagged in that area; therefore, he was able to look through accounts of students who attended that school (so long as those accounts were public) and see the school through their eyes.

“It’s like having a tour of the school by a real student who isn’t paid to show you the school and tell you the things the admissions office wants you to hear,” he said. “It’s like you’re getting a tiny slice of that college and it’s real and raw.”

Other, more word-based social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and even the anonymous YikYak allow for online conversations with school officials and the students enrolled there. According to The 2014 Social Admissions Report, 67% of students who were polled said that social media conversations influenced their decision on where to enroll.

Some colleges are getting smart and realizing that there are also ways to go beyond the glossy brochure and connect with students via platforms they like better. For instance, several schools turned to YouTube. Yale made a whimsical music video “That’s Why I Chose Yale” (which, incidentally, has been viewed more than 1.5 million times); University of Rochester created an acapella rap parody “Remember oUR Name”; and Cleveland Institute of Art introduced viewers to their school through a very persuasive medium for an art school: illustration.

In spite of these shifts in the admissions landscape, social media is not the end-all be-all for students choosing where to attend college. For instance a recent survey by Chegg Enrollment Services revealed that when receiving communications from colleges on their phones, 20% of students would prefer to receive a phone call, compared with the 2% predicted by admissions officers. (Interestingly, 65% of students would prefer to be contacted by email—proving that “traditional” marketing communications are not dead . . . even if they’re now accessed via smartphones instead of desktop computers.)

The bottom line for students is this: social media offers new ways to get around traditional college marketing and get the “inside scoop” on schools before ever stepping foot on campus. And for colleges: time to start thinking beyond the glossy mailer, because your future clients already have.

“Next Steps” to Take After Attending a College Fair

shutterstock_469602389So you attended a college fair. Great! You learned about some schools, hopefully discovered a new one or crossed a “possible” one off your list, and made some fantastic connections with college reps. However, now you’re home, brain abuzz with “dining hall” this and “extracurricular” that. You’re swimming in pamphlets and wondering how to move forward.

Wonder no more! Here are several useful, tangible “next steps” to take after you leave a college fair.

First, identify which of the colleges were your favorites. Set their materials aside, and get rid of the rest. No sense in hanging onto pamphlets you’ll never look at again!

Then, organize the material from the colleges you are considering. An easy way to do this is in a binder, with one tab per college. If you don’t want to hole-punch the pamphlets themselves, add two-pocket folders and slip the materials in there.

Review the information you’ve collected. What questions do you still have about each school? Write these down and add them to your binder.

Continue to research your colleges of interest. Look for answers to your questions online, and if you didn’t already sign up for their mailing list at the fair, be sure to do that either online or by mail.

After conducting your own research, contact the college representative you spoke to at the fair. If you didn’t already, be sure to thank them for their time at the fair. Then, ask any outstanding questions you still have. (But make absolutely sure the answer is not available on the school website!)

If you like, ask to be connected with a current student or alumnus. Explain that you’d like to chat with them in order to get a better sense of what sorts of students attend the school, and what your experience might e like if you choose to attend.

Finally, start planning your campus visits!

The Coalition: Is It Truly a Better Alternative to the Common App?

shutterstock_242098309When it debuted in 1975, the Common Application—or “Common App”—started a process that would ultimately revolutionize the college application. No more filling in repetitive fields over and over and over. No more writing entirely separate personal statements. Granted, not all schools accepted this application, and many required customized essays in addition to those included in the Common App, but students could now submit more applications to more schools, more easily.

This year, for the 2016-2017 application season, there’s a new game in town. A game that offers an alternative to the Common App. A game that claims to make elite and prestigious colleges more accessible. A game that has a long, extremely descriptive name. This year, the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success—“the Coalition”—has stepped up to challenge the Common App.

The Coalition developed out of two key frustrations with the Common App. The first is the riskiness of “putting all the application [eggs] in one basket,” so to speak. In 2013, the Common Application performed an update that resulted in major glitches, causing major delays and setbacks for admissions offices nationwide. The second is the fact that students must scramble to gather their application materials within a compressed time period, often leading to an incomplete picture of applicants’ strengths and accomplishments.

The Coalition offers two solutions to these frustrations: first, it simply provides another choice, outside the Common App, for applying to multiple schools at once. Second, it not only permits, but encourages students to begin thinking about and assembling college admissions materials as early as freshman year.

As with anything in higher education, there are supporters and critics of the Coalition. Supporters applaud the program’s mission to make the college application process more accessible to students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Critics, however, worry that the Coalition will merely increase the number of applications submitted to its members—elite schools with already low acceptance rates—and lower their acceptance rates even further.

Below are a few basic facts about this brand new college application program, along with arguments from each side of the debate. Whoever is right or wrong may not matter right away, however, since only 60 of the 90+ Coalition member institutions will be using the application for the 2016-2017 application cycle (many of which will also accept the Common App).

Fact: students can begin the process of applying to college in 9th grade.

Supporters say: Opening the application process early on can make the process more manageable and give students a better shot at developing a complete, well-rounded application. By thinking about college admissions (where they might want to go, what they might want to study) and taking preliminary steps toward developing their application already in 9th grade, students can avoid a sudden panic attack come junior year. Additionally, encouraging students to think about college early on can make them more mindful of their academic and extracurricular record over a longer period of time—which is precisely what colleges will be looking at.

Critics say: The Coalition pushes students to start thinking about college admissions already at age 14. These are students who have just gotten to high school, and already they are expected to be thinking about college. This draws out the stress of the application process—which can begin already in 10th grade, with the PSATs—yet another year.

Fact: More nontraditional items (i.e., items other than prescribed essays or letters of recommendation) will be permitted in the application

Supporters say: Permitting alternative application materials enables students to highlight their strengths, no matter what those strengths are. For instance, a student might be an incredible actress but a mediocre writer. Using the Coalition, she can submit a video that better represents her talents and passions than an essay ever could.

Critics say: Now that students can submit a whole array of materials, expectations are higher than ever before. To be a competitive applicant, you now not only need to write a stellar essay and score well on a standardized test, but you probably also need to make a video, or draw a picture, or include a recording of yourself singing the national anthem with a mouth full of marshmallows. Anything to stand out. And who is going to guide students to generate these top-notch portfolios? Likely, a whole new industry will be born, and better-off students will once again have the advantage, because they’ll have the resources to put together a sleek, refined package with the help and guidance of paid professionals.

Fact: Students can invite parents, counselors, recommenders, and others to collaborate on the materials in their Locker and application.

Supporters say: A student’s asking for and receiving help from mentors is right in line with how we collaborate in this digital era. Collaborative applications such as Dropbox or Google Drive are already standard practice, so by participating in this collaborative process, students tap into a familiar skillset that will be useful (and necessary) later in their lives.

Critics say: Once again, the upper class wins out. Wealthier students can afford better collaborators, who will help them to assemble better portfolios. Yet, even for students at large, there is the risk of “too many hands on deck.” This can result in a student’s feeling even more overwhelmed by the already-stressful application process, or worse: the application may essentially not be student’s own.


Navigating the Endless Possibilities of a Gap Year

A college degree can be the stepping-stone to wider, more satisfying career choices and higher earning potential. At least, that’s the parental party line these days, backed by data from the US Census Bureau. The message is that going to college is mandatory in American culture. Everyone is suppose to go to college, right?

But what if you aren’t ready? What of you need to take a breath between your senior year of high school and your freshman year of college? What if you just need time to figure things out?

That’s where the Gap Year comes into play.

But First, Defer Enrollment

online-classesWhile a gap year can do a lot of good things for you, it can also be an easy way to fall off track if your eventual goal is to earn a college degree. You can avoid the “what now?” situation many gappers find themselves in by applying to college just as you normally would if you had no intention of “gapping.” Then, once you’ve received your acceptance letter, confirm that you will attend, and then send a letter to the college’s director of admissions and outline what you plan to do on your gap year. Your letter will be evaluated by the admissions committee and ultimately granted or denied. This general process varies by school, so be sure to get specific details ahead of time. (And also details about financial aid! Because even if you’re offered financial assistance with your initial acceptance, you aren’t necessarily guaranteed that same package when you return a year later.)

Now, in order to write that letter to the director of admissions, you need to determine what you will do (and why) during your gap here. Here are some ideas:

Adulting 101

Get a job, get an apartment, pay bills, feed yourself. Sounds simple, but you will be surprised what you can learn from taking twelve months to act as a non-student grown-up. You will learn to recognize the value of a paycheck, negotiate the murky waters of landlord/tenant relations, and feel the power of shopping with a grocery list in hand. Plus, learning how to live within a budget and how credit scores work will help you not only in your post-college life but also during those college years. You’ll be the one suggesting that maybe you and your roommates don’t need to order a third pizza that week, and perhaps that three-day weekend in Tampa isn’t the smartest financial choice.

In fact, a Gap Year is a great time to educate yourself on financial information and skills you will need for years to come. A quick Google search will cough up a plethora of websites such as Mint.com that offer advice on budgeting, wealth building, and ways to improve your credit scores. Adulting 101 for your 365 can put you ahead of your peers financially, and make that potentially crushing amount of school debt feel manageable when it’s time to graduate.

Be a Do-Gooder

While America graduates more than 60% of high school students straight into college, the Gap Year has become more common—common enough that an industry has sprung up around it to help Gappers figure out what to do with their 365 days sans lectures, homework, or quad life. Gap year fairs and organizations such as GO Overseas link students with travel and volunteer programs across the world, making what to do with the next year of your life a click away. But beware: although many of these programs are both exciting and enriching, they can also cost thousands of dollars. Therefore, you may not only wind up volunteering your time for free, but you’ll also be paying the program to participate.

Fortunately, you can also work for free for free. If altruism is your Gap Year goal, the American Red Cross, United Way, and Volunteer Match can hook you up for volunteer opportunities in your community. And if your are politically minded, several organizations would gladly sign you on to help spread their messages.

A year of volunteering can bolster your resume and give you real world experience for a variety of skills. Whether you are volunteering at a retirement home, working with special needs adults, or volunteering for a cause, you will gain all sorts of valuable experiences, from event planning to community organizing.

Learn a Skill . . . or Five

A year away from writing term papers and pulling all-nighters for exams offers a nice chunk of time to hone a skill or throw yourself into a hobby. You could opt to indulge completely in fun stuff like racking up experience points in League of Legends or learning all of the dance routines in Beyoncé videos by heart. In the long run, however, you’re probably better off developing a skill or hobby that will upgrade your life.

In self-teaching, online learning is your friend—your free friend. Khan Academy offers courses in everything from algebra to art history, giving you a chance to “try out” a major before you declare one. Coursera.org, OpenCulture.com, and AcademicEarth.org also offer free courses from top-tier universities, so why not learn Python or the nuances of digital photography? Learn a new language, start a blog, or build a robot. A hobby might turn into a passion, and that passion can ultimately direct your college career—and the rest of your life.

No matter what your reasons are for taking a break from the rigors of school, be sure to use your time wisely and set realistic goals. And make sure you have a roadmap for where you’re headed when that Gap Year is over, because the last thing you want is for Gap Year to turn into Gap Decade.


FAFSA Deadline Change: A Positive Move or Adding More Chaos to the Mix?

If this headline caught your attention, you probably already know about the FAFSA deadline change. However, for those who don’t, here are the facts:

  • This year, for the first time, students are permitted to submit their Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, on October 1st. This is the result of FAFSA allowing students to submit PPY (prior-prior year) tax information, rather than the current year data that was previously required.
  • The new October 1st date is three months earlier than the previous deadline to apply for aid.

savings, finances, economy and home concept - close up of man with calculator counting money and making notes at home

Why the change?

The deadline was pushed back in order to achieve two objectives: one, to give students more time to go through the process of applying for financial aid, and two, to enable schools to put together financial aid packages earlier so that students can make more informed decisions about where to attend based on how much financial aid they’ll receive.

However, there are a few problems with this grand vision. If students actually take those “extra” three months (between the old deadline and the new deadline) to put together their FAFSA, they’ll be at a disadvantage for receiving first-come first-served financial aid money available at many institutions. On the flip side, even if students do submit their forms at the earliest possible moment, schools may not be prepared to dole out financial aid packages earlier than before. Those that do will likely be forced to tack on a lot of caveats, because so many factors that influence financial aid are not yet finalized on their end. As attested by W. Kent Barnds, EVP of enrollment, communications, and planning at Augustana College, “We in college admissions will have to enter the unknown territory of fulfilling the expectations of students who believe this will provide them earlier information about net price—when, in fact, that will not be a universal outcome because not all colleges will be equipped to provide earlier awards.”

In the end, the earlier deadline is likely to result in just as much if not more uncertainty and stress than before—and to add insult to injury, earlier in the school year, as well. Summer and fall have traditionally been the seasons to finalize college lists and submit applications for admission, leaving financial aid submissions until January, when the FAFSA was first previously available. Now, every part of this getting-admitted-to-college process will start in the fall—on top of the start to students’ senior year.

So if results of this deadline change aren’t idyllic for students, what about schools? Does this benefit them at all?

If students actually used those extra three months to prepare their applications and waited to submit their FAFSA forms until the traditional application time, schools would be fine. Which, in a word, means that no, schools are not benefitting from this change.

Now that students can submit their financial aid applications earlier, schools are being pressured to send financial aid offer letters earlier. After all, this was one of the objectives for pushing back the deadline: to help students make more informed decisions about where they choose to attend college. However, the factors that affect the amount of financial aid schools can offer often haven’t yet been decided. For instance, the maximum Federal Pell Grant for 2017–18 won’t be known until early 2017; state grants may not yet be approved by the legislature; and tuition for the coming academic year is probably not yet finalized (many schools don’t set tuition until the spring). All of these uncertainties result in more work for schools, as they attempt to estimate and then revise incomplete financial aid offers. And let’s not forget: all of this must now be done during a time when schools would previously have focused on recruiting their next freshman classes!

Another blow to recruiting comes from the first-come first-served nature of financial aid. By pushing back the timeline and responding to pressure by doling out financial aid offers earlier and earlier, colleges risk promising all of their financial aid money before reviewing every application they receive. As a result, they may loose students who were more academically deserving of financial aid—and would have been a greater boon for the school—but who did not get their applications in until later in the year, after financial aid has already been promised to other students.

One claimed benefit for institutions is that they will receive more accurate student financial data because the prior-prior year tax data will have to have been completed for that year’s income tax return. However, the potential drawback to using prior-prior year data is that while it is more complete, students’ financial situations may have changed dramatically in those last two years. Thus, while the financial data may be more complete, it may actually be less accurate.

One thing is for sure: this earlier financial aid deadline will push back the entire process, and not just for students and for college financial aid offices. Marketing will need to come earlier, starting in earnest already in students’ junior year. The same holds true for recruitment. College fairs will shift to spring and summertime, college visits will happen earlier . . . everything will move backwards, except for the student’s final decision. While every other deadline can be pushed back, colleges cannot force students to accept their admissions offers any earlier. So, in the end, students may now need to rush to apply to college more than ever before, but they should have considerably more time to make their final decisions.

10 Ways to Recruit International Students


Recruiting students from around the world can be a truly challenging endeavor. With colleges nationwide looking to increase international enrollment, the pressure on college recruiters is higher than ever to succeed in a venture that is full of complications and nuances. The are barriers can be as simple as compatible technology and as complex as deeply rooted cultural differences.

Below are ten ways to recruit international students. This list is by no means exhaustive, but if you’re scrounging for new ideas, it does offer a good place to start.

Category 1: Armchair Recruiting

  1. Online materials (emails, websites, social media)
    This is the first and most obvious channel to use when recruiting international students. You’re in one country, they’re in another. Postage will cost an arm and a leg, and there is the issue of materials getting lost or taking too long to arrive. The Internet, alternatively, is instant! All they have to do is access a computer, tablet, or phone with Internet service, and all of your materials will be immediately available for consumption.

One thing to be wary about when using online materials as your main source of communication, however, is the native language barrier. Not so much for the students, whose grasp of English will be determined by a language proficiency test later on, anyway, but for their the true decision-makers: the parents. One way around this, outside of offering translations of all of your materials (which can be time-consuming and costly), is to rely heavily on pictures and graphs. As they say, a picture can be worth a thousand words!

One other consideration, when utilizing online materials for recruitment, is the social media platforms you intend to use. Be very certain that the platform you’ve chosen will work for your market! For instance, Facebook is blocked in China; you should use Renren instead. Likewise, Twitter, while available in China, is not a favorite social media site; instead, Sina Weibo is considered “the Twitter of China.”

  1. Print materials
    Print materials can be very effective way to get in front of prospective international students and parents, especially in places where Internet access is less widely available. Advertising in local publications is one way to get noticed, or you can distribute materials to local high schools. In the latter case, you’ll want to distribute these materials with an eye toward building relationships with counselors, administrators, and teachers who can be influential in guiding students in their college search process. Appeal to these people, and they’ll be your best international advocates.
  1. Webinars

In addition to being a great channel through which you can share information, webinars offer another relationship-building tool. There are live human beings on either end of the interaction, communicating in real time, so you can offer useful Q&A sessions. Another idea is to involve faculty from the target students’ culture. Doing so can not only offer a source of familiarity, but it also gives students and parents the opportunity to speak in their native language, which can be especially useful for parents.

  1. Agreements with government-sponsored programs
    In many foreign countries, governments encourage students to study abroad in the United States and often offer scholarship programs to enable them to do this. (One example is the Science Without Borders program in Brazil.) This is an advantage for you, but for a student to enroll at your institution through one of these programs, the institution must be on that program’s approved list. Get on these lists by contacting the country’s embassy or education minister.
  1. Facilitate connections with alumni and current international students

This is very similar to processes to what you probably already undertake for domestic students. However, the trick here is to give international students a sense of familiarity by connecting them with students “just like them” who can answer specific questions that are unique to studying outside of their home country.

Category 2: Recruiting across the border

  1. High school visits

Assuming you have a travel budget, this is a very effective way to get in front of students and give your recruitment efforts a personal touch. You can schedule these yourself, or in collaboration with other universities to run joint information sessions for students. The advantage to the latter method is that students attending these sessions can hypothetically get more “bang for their buck,” learning about several schools at once rather than sitting in on individual institution’s information sessions. However, make sure that the schools you choose to travel with are different enough from your own, so that your competitive advantage is clear!

  1. International college fairs

While these fairs offer students even more “bang for their buck” than joint high school visits, international college fairs can be extremely expensive and time –consuming. Therefore, when deciding if attending one is worth your while, consider the following: a) history of the fair and its sponsoring organization(s), including the number and makeup of participants; b) the timing of the fair in relation to the U.S. admissions cycle; c) the timing of the fair in relation to other events happening locally in that country (e.g., if the World Cup is being held in the same country as fair, at same time, attendance at the fair will probably be lower); and finally, d) could a local alumni attend in your place?

  1. Faculty traveling abroad

College faculty often travel abroad to attend conferences, conduct research, etc. If they will be traveling to a country that is a recruitment target, they could potentially host a meet-and-greet with prospective students. Feel out which faculty may be most receptive to this and make your request early.

  1. Students studying abroad as “Student Ambassadors”

Assuming your institution has a study abroad program, any number of students could act as “student ambassadors” and conduct recruitment efforts on your behalf. Again, approach them about doing this well in advance of their departure. Give them information that they can take with them and educate them about international recruiting efforts. The more feet you have on the ground to offer a personalized experience to prospective students, the better!

  1. Agents

The use of commission-based agents is a highly controversial method of recruiting international students, with staunch supporters and detractors. Once an entirely banned practice, the ban on incentive compensation in international recruiting was lifted by the National Association for College Admission Counseling in September 2013. Supporters cite the fact that institutions in Australia and the UK embrace the use of agents in recruitment, while critics question whether agents can really keep international students’ best interests at heart when the process rewards quantity over quality. Still, when done right, a reputable agency can be a effective recruitment partner.
Last but not least, in all of these efforts, do your best to give your efforts a personal touch. At its core, international recruiting is not much different from domestic recruiting. Whether they live in the U.S. or abroad, students cite personal connections and relationships with college admissions officers as a significant factor in their decision of which school they choose to attend.

However, the personal touch can be extra important for international students, because their decision is so much more significant. These students are choosing to travel halfway around the world in order to attend an institution, most times sight-unseen. The more information they can glean from a “real person” about the experience they’ll have at that institution, the more confident they will feel in their decision. And a confident decision to attend a university is the best sort of decision—whether it’s your university or not.