Some Simple College Counseling From A Brooklyn Tech College Advisor

Applying to college can be an incredibly daunting process.  Despite the fact that fairtest.org claims that more than 800 four-year colleges and universities do not use the SAT or ACT to admit substantial numbers of bachelor-degree applicants, for most students the need to take at least one of these two tests is inevitable.

It can be daunting to open the U.S. News and World Report for your top college and see its percentage acceptance rate (Harvard is currently at 6%), and to click on the statistic of “entering class stats” can be even more intimidating.  It is important to remember that just because a school is rated number one (or in Harvard’s case, number two- what slackers!) does not mean that said school is the right school for you.

As a former Brooklyn Technical High School teacher of twelfth grade English, I frequently heard students’ overwhelmed laments, “How do I know the right school for me?”  There are a series of research tools that can help you find your dream school.  The reality is that the school you end up falling in love with, in the end, may not end up being the school you originally thought would be your top choice.

In 2012, I had a wonderfully bright student named Jane.  She was thoughtful, incredibly talented, and out sick a great deal because she would stress her body with all the pressure she put on herself.  She was a concert violinist, and was always competing, sometimes on the international level.  When she applied to colleges, she got into her “first choice”: the Julliard School, to study violin.  She also got into the CUNY Macaulay Honors program.  Her parents and music teachers encouraged her to go to Julliard.  Julliard had always been her dream school, but she realized that the pressure she would have to face for four years, and the lack of flexibility with a degree that was so targeted was not, in fact, what she wanted.  She ended up matriculating at Macaulay Honors, and couldn’t be happier about that decision.

I myself was a very bright student who struggled with standardized testing.  Part of why I currently tutor standardized exams is because I fully understand the complexity of the psychology of the exam, and how terrifying it can be for students who struggle with anxiety or perfectionism.  My first choice school was Brown University.  I did not get in because, as an Ivy League school, they emphasized the SAT exam.  I did, however, get into my second choice school, Haverford College, which ended up being a great school for me.  There are plenty of incredible schools that de-emphasize the SATs and ACTs and focus instead on your academic progress, your recommendations, and your interview.   Please click on the link below; you will be pleasantly surprised at how many fantastic schools de-emphasize standardized exams. (The list can be found at: http://www.fairtest.org/sites/default/files/Optional-Schools-in-U.S.News-Top-Tiers.pdf.)

Finding your dream school is a process.  You should not begin this process a few weeks before college applications are due.  Students should start researching schools their junior year so that they can narrow down their choices.  A great resource to figure out what school might be right for you is The College Board’s Big Future search.

It really takes students through the process, and makes them narrow down their search by location, majors and learning environment, top choice activities, test scores and selectivity, and size.  It makes students really think about what they are looking for; the beauty of this site is that you can go through the process, jot down what schools it comes up with, and then go back to the beginning and shift just one element (i.e. I want to keep all the same elements, but click on a small school instead of a mid sized school, while still maintaining the same learning environment, location and majors.)  The United States alone boasts over 2500 four-year colleges and universities.  The Big Future search is a fantastic jumping off point if the process feels daunting or overwhelming.

Finally, if college is a priority, but you don’t feel that you are quite ready to make the leap from high school to college, many students take what is called a “gap” year.  My cousin, who is currently studying at Northwestern University, got in through the early admissions process and deferred a year.  When asked about his year between high school and college, he explained, “I took my gap year because when I graduated from high school, I had just turned 17, but more importantly, because I understood that I didn’t feel ready for college. My year off gave me professional and corporate experience as well as time for valuable personal insight, vital pieces of my development I might not have gained from directly entering college.

Over my gap year, I was fortunate to be able to take a corporate internship, work with children, help produce films, and travel around the world. I have no regrets about taking a year off. What I learned about myself still influences me today, and I wish I could take that year again.  I am currently studying Radio/TV/Film with a Spanish minor at Northwestern University.”

When applying to schools, you must remember that there is no one-size-fits-all approach.  Just as every individual is unique, so are students’ wants and needs.  Think about the type of school and the approach that is right for you, do your research, and use the tools to help you forge your own path.

Have you or your kids struggled with this? If so, we'd love to hear about it and strategies you took to overcome it in the comments below!

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