Applying to college is no doubt an important step in life. However, the various components of college admissions can make the process feel overwhelming. The best thing to do is to make sure you have the information you need and to take it one step at a time.
Recently, we spoke with Keith Wilkerson, Founder and Lead Teacher for College Thoughts. Keith has over 21 years of experience in the college placement field and has counseled more than 7,000 families about their educational options. Here are Keith’s insights on how best to navigate this difficult but potentially life-changing process.
How do you get started on the college search?
Students often make the mistake of starting the college search by trying to figure out who they need to be for colleges to take interest, but the college search should begin with a solid understanding of who you are and who you are becoming. Consider what a college could offer that would allow you to move towards your future career. Think about the community that you will need around you to help you get through challenging times. How far away from home do you honestly want to be and what type of weather makes you feel happiest? If you are honest with yourself about what you need to thrive, your search will be easier than if you spend your time chasing names.
What should you be looking for during a college visit?
When students visit a college, they should definitely do the standard information session and tour, but the college visit has only begun at that point. Wander around campus a bit if you can and see what the campus is like outside of the pre-packaged program. Ask students what they enjoy about their school and what they would change. Eat in the student center or in a dining hall if you can because food is important. The better your sense of all of the components of the college culture, the better you will be able to determine if it is a right fit for you.
What insider tips do you have for the essay portion of the application?
I always suggest that students start with the story that they want to tell instead of beginning with the prompts on the Common Application. What could you share about yourself that is so authentic to who you are as a person that no one else could tell the same story in the same way. If it's done reasonably well, I'll learn something about you as your college coach. If it's done very well, your parents will learn something about you.
What are the 4 most important things for a parent to know about the admissions process?
1. It's never too early to start preparing for financing a college education for your child. Get advice from a professional to make sure that you are ready for the rapidly increasing cost of a college education.
2. Polls show that students most often respect the voice of the college counselor over that of their parents when they are making decisions about applying to college, but please don't use that as a reason to distance yourself from the process. As the resident experts on your children, they need you more than they might realize right now.
3. Rigor counts just as much as grades. Just because your student wants to get A’s in classes, that doesn't excuse taking an easy course load in school. Encourage your student to do their best in challenging classes so that they get the most that they can out of their high school experience and show colleges that they can handle a tough curriculum.
4. Control the noise. You are going to get SO MUCH ADVICE when your child goes through the application process and most of it will come from people who care deeply but know little. Your friend's child's favorite school won't necessarily be a fit for your child and that one uncle who knows something about everything doesn't have the best advice for how to prepare for the ACT. Determine who the core team will be that will make the decisions about how your family proceeds on the journey to college and do your best to keep outside noise from distracting you from reaching your goal with as little stress as possible.
Keith Wilkerson is the Founder and Lead Teacher for CollegeThoughts, an organization with a student-minded team who is dedicated to demystifying the college application process, making the process more of a personal exploration than a stress-inducing enigma. A 1997 graduate of Princeton University, Keith holds a bachelor's degree in Religion with a certificate of proficiency in African-American Studies. Prior to launching this business, Keith served for 18 years as the Senior Program Manager for the Mid-Atlantic Region for A Better Chance, offering middle and high school students opportunities for private education. His responsibilities included overseeing recruitment, placement and support of A Better Chance participants in the Mid-Atlantic states and the District of Columbia as well as assisting in the design and planning of summer programming for A Better Chance Scholars. Keith also has worked with the College Advising Corps, serving as an Advising Manager, supervising and training a talented group of remote college advisers.
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