Motivation and Timing in the College Search Process

The more accurate title of this post should be, “The Importance of Motivating Your Son/Daughter About College in TIME for it to Matter,” but that seemed too long.

ohio-state-logoI was with a rising senior recently.  He had fallen in love – head over heels in love – with a large state university in another state.  We watched video after video that he had found on YouTube about this school.  In his mind, he was packing up to go to one of their football games, join a fraternity, and get started on the fun that this school offered.  (Don’t worry, they have academics too.)

But here’s the problem. It’s the summer before senior year.  His 9th, 10th and 11th grade marks are set in stone, and he’s taken the SAT once already (he has two more options to take it in the fall of his senior year).  Most college applications are submitted in the fall of senior year, so most colleges won’t see senior year grades.  Even for those colleges that have January or February deadlines, so they can see if students have improved their academic performance in the fall of their senior year, a stellar fall semester can’t make up for three years of not-great grades.

If only he had started looking at colleges a little bit sooner, and thought about the kind of college experience he wanted, he might have been motivated to kick up his effort in 10th or 11th grade and get better grades – and he would have better options.

Michigan_State_Spartans2Visiting colleges can frequently motivate students because they can actually see themselves on the campuses they visit, hanging out with the students they see.  It’s OK, by the way, to talk to random students you see when you visit college campuses – don’t feel that you are only allowed to talk to your tour guide!  Most students are happy to talk to visiting high school students and share their experiences.  (Click here to see the short video of students I spoke to on the quad at Rice University…)

So how can we motivate our students earlier – in time for it to actually matter?

  • Start visiting colleges when your student is in the 10th grade.  Walk around – don’t just drive by – and talk to real students.
  • Visit a variety of colleges – not just large rah-rah schools – not just UCLA and USC.  (Call me if you want some local suggestions!)
  • Visit school you think may not be difficult to get into.  Don’t let your student think that a school where he will be accepted is not good enough for him.
  • Always encourage good grades and taking tough classes when they are available.
  • Talk to your student about where you and other family members went to college.  Talk about what you liked and disliked. Help your student realize the large variety of colleges out there (There are 2,200 four-year colleges in the U.S.!).
  • Make an appointment with your school counselor, or with an independent college advisor, as early as 9th grade.  Everything counts at this point – grades, extra-curricular and volunteer activities – and sometimes hearing that from someone other than mom and dad may help it sink in a little better.

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