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The month of April can be quite busy for current seniors, as they consider their college options and work to determine where they will enroll. For some students, the decision can be quite clear as the college they will attend is a match for the learning needs, financial needs and academic interests.  However, for some students it is difficult to find a school that is a match in all of these areas. In addition, there are many other variables that can be in play to determine the best college fit for a student. These factors include weather, distance from home, size, access to resources outside of the college for psychiatrists, therapists, etc.  Taking into account all of the unique needs of a student to find their best match with a college can be overwhelming.

This article offers some additional thoughts and questions you can consider when exploring your options.  This article also offers thoughts on making the final college decision.  It might be helpful, after you have done some work on narrowing down your list, for the student to consult with a therapist, teacher or other trusted person in addition to reviewing your options with your family.  Once you have made your decision it can be a wonderful feeling to begin the process of connecting with your new college and transitioning to your role of college student!

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The more students and parents understand the importance of college readiness during the high school years, the more opportunities students will have to build the skills they need for a successful transition to college.  I have found that many students and parents are not aware of gaps in skills that a student might have in their ability to live independently. Unfortunately, some students first find out about their lack of readiness once they are already in college and struggling.  Students can find themselves struggling academically or socially, as well as in areas around life skills such as hygiene, self-advocacy, or emotional regulation to name a few.

I believe that educating families about the importance of college readiness is the best way to bring attention to this issue.  This article does a great job in clearly and thoughtfully outlining the importance of college readiness for students and parents.  Spend some time thinking about college readiness currently, and where you would like it to be before college.  Talk to the support people in your life to understand their view of readiness for a student.  Be proactive early to give you the time to build the skills needed for success. 
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Understanding when students are ready for the responsibilities and independence of college is not always clear and easy to determine.  Each student is different, and will need to build different skills to be ready for the transition out of high school and into a college setting.  This blog article does a great job in articulating important aspects for students to consider when thinking about their transition out of high school.  The author focuses on the theme of self-advocacy, which is in itself a critical skill for success in college. But he breaks self-advocacy down into specific areas that students can understand and therefore work on improving as needed.  

Starting this type of college readiness skill building should ideally happen in the beginning of high school to allow students a chance to practice as much as possible while still at home.  There are many new responsibilities that come with going to college, and having a sense of confidence around self-advocacy will allow students more time to focus on other areas of the transition process that all students go through.

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Now that it is January and current juniors are starting to consider their college options, an overview of the college application process seems timely.  There are many steps in the application process, from standardized testing to essays to letters of recommendation. Many of these tasks require some planning in order to be best prepared.  For example, it is a good idea for students to think about when they want to take their SAT or ACT exam and review their calendar to understand the testing dates to ensure there is no conflict with a target date. Planning ahead will also allow students time to decide how they want to prepare for the test and have the time to devote to preparing. Students also should make sure they allow for the option of taking the test a second time in the event they want to try and raise their scores.

As students begin to develop their college lists, they can start to explore the application requirements.  This will allow the student to understand the essays expected at each school as well as letters of recommendation and other requirements. The essays, depending on how many a student will have, will require time to complete. Letters of recommendation will need to be requested in a timely fashion that is in line with the student’s targeted application deadlines. This resource is very helpful in offering an overview of what students can expect in the coming months, and allow an opportunity to give thought to how each task will be best completed by each student.  This resource offers additional information and guidance. 

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Although all students should be creating a college list that reflects colleges that are a good fit for them academically, socially, financially, etc., students with learning differences must consider an extra element to the list of what will be a good fit for them. College is about learning, and being in an environment where a student is supported in their education is very important.  This article talks about the basics of creating a college list.

Taking it a step further, this article expands more deeply on information a student with learning differences should consider.  The article is worth the time to sit and read, as it covers many important topics around what students should look for and expect from each college.  I particularly appreciate their point about how students are not signing contracts at college, and if they find their college is not providing them with the support they need to thrive, they can transfer to a school that is a better fit.  This is very empowering for students to remember throughout their education and beyond.

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Part of the joy I find in working with high school students on their plans to transition to college, is getting to know the student and family in order to work as a partner in finding their right college fit.  My goal in this effort is for the student to be on a campus where they feel comfortable with the learning environment, and have opportunities available to them to become engaged with all that their college has to offer.  This will be different for each student, and many variables will play into a decision regarding best fit. Learning supports, internship opportunities, academic majors, access to professors, classroom size, activities and clubs, all can play a role in helping to determine where a student can thrive.  Absent from this list is college ranking.

Recent research from Stanford’s Graduate School of Education speaks to the fact that it is student engagement in their college experience that is indicative of future success.  Not necessarily, for most groups of students, the college ranking.  This research helps to reinforce what families should be focusing on as they explore college options, as it is a guide to help prioritize what will be most important for the student's future.  I am hopeful that this type of research will continue in order to help families have the information they need to make important decisions that can help set students up for success after college.

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Many current seniors are in the midst of applying to colleges, but every student will be at a different point in the process. Some are just getting started on their college list and essays, while others have already submitted early applications.  Regardless of where you are in the process, it is helpful to explore resources to provide you with knowledge about what you need to know next. For students still pulling together their college list, here is a great resource.  For students who need to get the big picture of tasks they need to complete for the application, this has wonderful information. For students who are looking at the cost of colleges this can be very helpful.

Taking advantage of resources is an important skill for students to have, not only during this application process, but when you are in college as well.  Colleges offer a variety of types of resources to support students in being successful. As you move farther along this process to the point where you are deciding what college to attend, take some time to explore the colleges to see what they offer in internships, career services, mental health support, academic support, social opportunities, etc.  Do the research that will help you make the best choice for you, and make use of the resources available to you to get the information you need.
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With the start of the new school year, it is a good time for students and parents to develop an understanding of the tasks to be aware of while in high school in order to prepare for college.  It has been my experience in working with students through the high school years, that the more they are exposed to discussions around college, the easier it is to manage the application tasks.  Discussions can involve talking about different types of colleges, visiting a college, reading about colleges, talking to older peers or siblings about their college process, etc. It does not have to be stressful for the student, but rather a process of slowly increasing their understanding and awareness of colleges and what they have to offer.  I find that those students who are exposed to the topic of college during the high school years enter senior year less stressed about the application tasks, as they have an integrated sense of the process.

To help with this, here is a link to a resource that I appreciate, as it lists tasks that encourage students to talk to counselors, think about the type of learner they are, etc.  It is not just a to-do list.  Another opportunity for students to get on track with a college-going mindset is to attend a college fair.  This is a great opportunity to learn about different colleges and speak to college representatives.  Similarly, many high schools host college representatives during the fall, so make sure to find out when colleges that could be of interest to you will be visiting your school.  These are all great ways to help students and parents get on track for the college application process. 
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While it is still summer and high school students have more free time to reflect, it might be helpful to think a bit about elements of what colleges are looking for in students beyond grades and test scores.  More colleges are giving voice to the importance of character in applicants, as admissions officers are working to create balanced communities on their campuses. They are interested in who you are as a student and a person, and how you will contribute to their campus. This short video does a great job of talking about this in more detail.

In addition, this article from the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) goes into further depth on this topic.  It is hoped that students and parents will think through this perspective as you as a family make decisions during the high school years.  What are the pros and cons of adding rigor to your schedule? What opportunities are available to you that you can step into and grow from? Colleges want to know who you are as a student, so take the time during high school to explore experiences that demonstrate who you are and what is important to you.
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