If you are a college counselor or are working in college admissions either as a consultant or as a university employee, it is important to understand that, like many other aspects of higher education, there is no "one size fits all." Different student groups need different approaches to college admissions assistance, and your job is to talk to each individual student and learn exactly what that student needs to succeed.
Here are some tips for how to approach college admissions with different groups of students:
First-Generation College Students
Every year, more and more students make the decision to be the first person in their family to attend college. These students tend to need the most specifically targeted admissions assistance, since they are embarking on a journey that none of their family members have taken before.
For these students, you need to provide beginner-level admissions advice, such as explaining the difference between a scholarship, a grant, and a college loan. These students and their families may never have heard of the FAFSA, and may not know that there are many government grants available to help them achieve their dreams.
You will also need to talk to these students honestly about their college aspirations. If it is a student’s first time through the college application process, that student may only have heard of Harvard, Yale and the local college; it’s your job to educate them on the number and variety of colleges in between, and find a few institutions that are likely to be a good fit.
Students With a Family History of College Attendance
Students who have a family history of college attendance come into an admissions office with certain expectations. They are likely to understand exactly how much college costs, and the parents are probably concerned with getting good scholarships and helping their child start on a strong career path.
In this case, your job is to help the student identify appropriate colleges and financial aid opportunities while simultaneously managing what may be conflicting expectations from the student and his or her parents.
For example: a student may want to attend a school that the parents think is "too expensive," or major in a subject that does not directly relate to a career field. Remember that ultimately, your client is the student; your job is to balance these expectations and help the student find a college at which he or she is likely to be successful.
Legacy College Students
Legacy students come from families that have a history of attendance at a specific institution. These students often believe that attending that institution is the only marker of success.
However, a mere legacy is often not enough to get a student into college. What many legacy families fail to realize is that college admissions standards are much higher now than they were a generation ago, and every year admission rates drop. The parents of these legacy students may have gotten in to their alma maters with a 3.6 GPA, but students these days need a 4.6. They also need to be one of the lucky few who stand out in a pile of other applicants with similar credentials; Harvard, for example, only accepted 5.8% of its 2013 applicants, and Yale accepted 6.72%. That represents a lot of talented, qualified students who weren’tchosen.
If you’re working with legacy students, make sure they understand that they need to pursue many college options. Yes, it would be a wonderful experience to continue the family legacy — or it might be time for these students to start a new legacy of their own.
Online College Students
Students who pursue online degrees are often "non-traditional" students to begin with; new parents, adults returning to complete a degree, young people who want to combine college with a full-time job. This group of students often gets left out of the college admissions discussion, but it is your job to help them find as many educational resources as possible.
Admissions assistance means helping the student choose the best online school for his or her needs. Bryant Stratton, for example, provides a clear roadmap to acceptance in one of their programs. Many students don’t even realize that there are scholarships for online colleges, so you need to help them research and find opportunities to help them fund their degrees. Luckily, the best part about online schools is that they are well connected; often, they’ll have links to all of the appropriate scholarships and admissions assistance right on their websites.
Your job as a counselor is to view each student as an individual, using the student’s educational background and college goals to choose institutions that are likely to be a good fit. Use this advice as a guide, but remember that every student is different, and that there is no one single path to college admissions.