College Planning Starts Early
No more than a few years ago, college planning started in 12th
grade where it was the first time students learned about the SAT
tests and build their list of colleges. Times have change with
many students currently beginning their planning as early as 9th
grade. While some may argue that beginning the college process
this early is ridiculous, the truth is that it's quite
necessary. Keep in mind that asking young students in 9th grade
what colleges they are applying to does not define good college
preparation; however, asking them if they would like to keep the
educational doors open after high school is a conversation that
must happen early on. Before reviewing the aspects of good
college advising, let's look at three major influences that have
impacted the way we plan for college.
Competitive Labor Market: According to the Current Population
Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2003, 77% of
students who receive a high school diploma will enter the labor
force compared to 85% who receive a bachelor's degree and 91%
who receive a doctorate's degree. The same survey also revealed
that the average earnings in 2002 increased with each education
level with high school diploma workers earning an average of
$27,280 annually, compared to the average annual income of
$51,194 earned for the bachelor's degree holder (Stoops, 2004).
The pressure and expectation of students attending college is no
longer a "dream" or family quest, but more a requirement in
order to obtain a career that gives a decent paycheck.
Population and Demand: With competition increasing due to the
sheer numbers of high achieving students, students and parents
applying to college are feeling the pressure to prepare early.
The panic of becoming the "top student" or "winning the race"
has evolved into an obsession that leads students and their
parents to push the college planning envelope as early as
possible. The good old American "competitive spirit" is out
there, and although often having negative effects on student
performance (if this competitive spirit is not nurtured
appropriately), the desire to become number one demands early
college planning. It also ensures successful results in getting
students in the college of their choice.
Increase Colleges Choices With over 3,000 colleges and
universities in the United States and the bridging of a more
global world, the encouragement of students to attend a college
or university out of state has increased as well as the
encouragement for students to consider applying to more
colleges. At the same time, these colleges and universities have
become aggressive in their recruitment and marketing techniques
introducing more attractive opportunities that a student has to
choose from. As a result, students must begin researching what
colleges seem the "best fit" for them deciphering the difference
between persuasive marketing messages. Just a reminder that
finding the "best fit" does not mean finding out about the
likelihood of being admitted. Instead, finding the "best fit"
college means to conduct campus visits, research their
personalities and atmosphere, and asked themselves "where do I
really fit best?" All this requires more time for investigation
and planning outside regular high school counseling hours.
It's evident that the college going culture is growing by the
minute, and in order for students to end up happy and successful
(in that order), the college conversation needs to start early.
Be aware, however, there is a damaging assumption that in order
to help students prepare for college, we must use tactics that
instill (intentional or unintentional) anxiety, fear, and
uncertainty to the process such as national rankings and
statistical GPA and SAT averages. On the contrary, students who
are most successful in the college process are those who can
reflect on their own needs and interests, and more importantly
act on those needs and interests, as well as establish good
study habits and time management skills.
Also, keep in mind college admissions review student's academic
and extracurricular activities for the entire 4 years; not only
11-12th grades. Many students who do not have a sense of what
colleges expect of them risk the surprise of not meeting
specific requirements or not having enough time to build on
their interests in time. In order for students to reflect on
what makes them tick, we must challenge our students to find
their voice early in life, introduce the ideas of what a college
education means in terms of opportunity, and prepare them to be
advocates for themselves as they decide which high school
courses to take and which activities to be involved in. This is
the process of finding their voices, and it is their voices that
will drive the college process as we as educators, counselors,
and parents become their cheerleaders.