Fitz Totten ’95 has worked in college admissions at St. Lawrence, Duke Law, and Vanderbilt University. He then spent 16 years as a marketing and enrollment consultant with Royall & Company, working with national leaders at Ivy League schools, small liberal arts colleges, and flagship public universities. A year ago, he partnered with former Vanderbilt colleague, Dr. Nicole Cook, to create Find the Right College, a step-by-step, membership-based program that offers affordable resources and expert advice to help families navigate the college admissions process. We asked Totten for tips on how to get your kid into college, without all the stress:
Start early. You’ll thank yourself later. About half of students now apply to six or more colleges. The process starts earlier now that more colleges offer Early Action and Early Decision options, and the federal government now allows families to submit their FAFSA beginning on October 1 of senior year.
Expose your kid to college campuses, even if you’re on a road trip. Whether your family is on vacation or going to a sporting event, make sure you take your children around college campuses. Totten suggests, “Intentionally go through, have lunch in the student commons. Visit college campuses in a deliberate manner so kids start to see differences between schools. Then as the college search process revs up, they have a base of knowledge.”
Don’t rule out colleges due to the sticker price. Totten says, “That’s really deceiving. You don’t know what a college is going to cost until you’ve applied, gotten admitted, and received your financial aid package.” Competition for students is giving rise to greater discounts, including need-based financial aid and merit-based aid. In the last 15 years, private colleges’ discount rates have risen from 38 percent to 50 percent.
Look at colleges’ graduation rate, not admission rate. Less than half of students heading into college graduate from that school within eight years, so you don’t want to evaluate a college based on who checked in. Instead, you want to evaluate it on who makes it through and has a good experience.
Do comparison shopping. There are more than 3,000 colleges in the U.S. By getting too focused on just one institution, a student might be devastated if she doesn’t get in, or if a college comes back with a less than appealing financial aid package, then you’ve limited your options. Keep an open mind and recognize that your child could thrive at more than just one of those 3,000 colleges.
Signal your interest. It seems obvious, but colleges look for signs of interest from prospective students in their institution. Thirty years ago, colleges were looking for well-rounded students. Today, it’s all about a well-rounded first-year class. “In the entering class, a college might want a future teacher, a biomedical engineer, a star football player, and a cellist. They want to invest in creating the shape of a class that is diverse in many ways. And one of those ways is finding students who, above all, want to attend their college.” —Sheila Haar Siegel