college prep frequently asked questions faq

FAQ: Tough Admissions, Student Safety, and Getting a Job

We post “Frequently Asked Questions” (or questions folks should be asking!) every once in a while. If you’re wondering about a topic, please submit a question!

This round’s “frequently asked questions” come from a unique source. I recently polled a group of college-bound high school students about the college concerns their parents talked about most. As we discussed this list, the students shared that many of them have the same questions as their parents.

Are you – or your student – asking these questions? Should you be? Here are a few things parents are asking:

1. How Hard is It to Get Into These Schools?

College Prep Parents and their students often come to me with questions like, “How hard is it to get into X school?” While your own guidance counselor might have a useful sense about various colleges’ admissions processes, there are usually some clues readily available on a school’s website as well.

First, notice the range of the test scores of the current freshman class. Sometimes just the average (mean) score shows up. But most often, a profile of the newest freshman class will show the middle 50% range of all the incoming students. (Example: University of Michigan) That stat can give your kid an idea where they would fall in that college’s students, based on their ACT or SAT score. But don’t miss this fact: A quarter of admitted students fall below that range. If your kid’s scores fall below that “middle range” (in the bottom 25%), then they need to consider how strong the rest of their application is. Of course, it’s always worth questioning if this environment that will bring out their best. Will it be an academic fit?

Second, some schools have specific information about what it takes to be an “automatic” or “academic” admit. (Example: Missouri State) Usually a combination of class rank and test scores is the determining factor. For high schools that don’t rank their students, sometimes GPA and the high school’s profile also figure into the mix. After the automatic admission is determined, those students not in the automatic category are then “reviewed.” The school’s admission information will spell out what is involved and what is considered in the review process.

Sometimes rankings of colleges online indicate the level of selectivity for various schools. Labels like “traditional,” “selective,” and “highly selective” supposedly indicate the chances of admission to those schools. But in my experience, those terms are often not very precise. I have seen more than one school labeled as “selective” that was open to a lot more students than this label would suggest. I recommend that students look for additional factors to determine admissibility, rather than just a simple label.

2. Will My Kid Be Safe?

Campus safety has become a frequent topic of discussion because of agonizing events on college campuses across the nation. Students and parents alike want to know what they can expect at a college in terms of safety. Every website that I visit and every campus presentation that I attend now address these concerns.

Although differences exist based on local challenges, I notice many similar components at colleges I visit. Each of the following areas can be researched at any school, to get a sense of their focus on safety:

  • Campus police/security presence
  • Limited, secure access to dormitories, classrooms, offices, and libraries
  • Campus escorts available upon request for all students
  • Emergency responders on campus
  • Cell phone and online campus security network
  • Student body training and safety drills
  • Referrals for safe off-campus housing

A variation of this list is common to most campuses. As your college shopper investigates their colleges of interest, they will notice any special emphases that a school has. For instance, Virginia Tech emphasizes “being an active bystander” to help curb abusive relationships. Researching tips about campus security is a good idea for any high school student as they prepare to make the move.

3. How Can a College Help My Kid Get a Job?

Thinking about getting a job on the “other side of college” is a big topic (although we’ve begun to scratch the surface on this blog).

One important discussion is the role a college’s Career Counseling office can play in your child’s life – starting in Year One. (Note: Like many student services, a college might call their office something different. Ask about it!) Friends of mine in college student services have told me that students usually need to visit the career counseling/job placement center about three years before they do. In other words, it’s not just for Seniors!

Designed to help identify abilities and interests as well as inform students about specific job availability, these on-campus services can do a lot more good if the student stays in contact throughout their college years. Aptitude testing, interest testing, and useful information on potential college majors are usually available to those who ask. Toward the end of college, concrete job opportunities might be available through a school’s job board. But long before college graduation, wise students will discover summer jobs and internships as well. Job placement counselors can tell you story after story about successful job searches that resulted from experience gained in a related summer job or internship.

Pass on these tips to your kid, gleaned from colleges’ career counseling staff members:

  • Make contact with the Career Center soon after you get to college
  • Become familiar with available internships and the qualifications needed
  • Sign up for opportunity notices (emails or other contacts) in your fields of interest
  • “Bulletin boards” – either on an actual wall or online – are how many colleges spread the news about job possibilities most quickly
  • Some specific postings may be handled by the department offices of the academic majors, so be sure you’ve connected with those offices too
  • In some fields, student research assistant positions are available to those who get to know their professors – even freshmen!

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