Q. What are some of the typical mistakes you see students make in terms of college planning?
A. This is a complex question that I will answer in multiple columns. For now, I will address the biggest problem I see, especially for students from the Eastside. Essentially, too many students narrow their search to the West Coast, with most students wanting to go to California. I love the sun, perhaps even more than most, but that alone is a poor reason to base your college choice. While California has some great options, admission departments want geographic diversification and will not accept all of our students, even if they are qualified, as they want to ensure that they have a wide representation from across the country and the globe. Other students want to remain in the Pacific Northwest but bemoan the fact that we have so few private options locally, especially if you want to leave Seattle. I just returned from spending three days visiting Whitman in Walla Walla. Having been thoroughly impressed with the academic caliber of the student body and the opportunities available for students, I cannot repeat enough how important it is to consider looking at schools you might not even have considered, assuming they are too small or in the middle of nowhere. I work with other students who will consider leaving the Northwest but insist that the school be on one of two coasts and no further south than Washington, D.C. These students are missing out on great opportunities, especially knowing that some of these schools may offer our students merit aid since we now offer the geographic diversity they are looking for.
Students and families need to take the time or find resources to broaden their search to find schools beyond those that they have heard about or what they think will be “the best school my student can get into” based on college rankings or reputation. The hardest job that I face is encouraging students to look beyond schools with D1 sports and school spirit. It remains difficult to ask a 17-year-old student to see beyond their immediate interests and consider what might be important in a college four years down the road. I think all students should make a point of visiting some small private schools along with large public universities to educate themselves on the pros and cons of each.
Joan Franklin is the owner of MI College Support, an independent college counseling practice (www.micollegesupport.org). She can be reached at (206) 232-5626 or email@example.com.