Hindsight is 2020: College Counseling Lessons from the Year that Changed EVERYTHING

Article originally appeared on Applerouth.com/blog

As I sat at my desk on Friday, March 13, 2020, I had many questions about the impending quarantine. Utterly blind to the imminent rollercoaster ride, none of us knew we were slowly climbing the hill towards an upcoming free fall and wild curves.

Month after month, the changes kept coming. We leaned with every turn, held onto the short reprieves to adjust before the next curve hit, making it challenging to keep up and provide reliable advice to our students. With each change, I saw the admission process through a new lens and adjusted my perspective. I am now using the lessons I learned in 2020 to sharpen my college counseling skills in 2021.

Give students more information about holistic application review.

In 2020, students became more aware of the term “holistic review.” With a growing test-optional movement and now the elimination of the SAT Subject Tests, students have more control over who sees their scores and who doesn’t. My goal as a counselor is to explain all of the opportunities students have to present themselves to colleges, including their personal and academic profiles. Moving forward, this will need to be a more in-depth, intentional conversation.

Encourage students to be open to the uncomfortable.

2020 turned the “traditional” college experience upside down, and colleges need to know how students face challenges and shift gears. Seeking resources and problem-solving skills are also essential to a student’s success on a college campus. Students also need to find new ways to connect and be engaged, especially when an experience is not “in-person.” Asking the question, how do you become a member of a community if that community is not outside your door? Finally, as campuses are reckoning with their racial histories and dialogue about discrimination, introspection is critical. Teaching students to use inquiry and reflection to look at their own biases and expectations will be essential in 2021.

Teach students to be better storytellers.

With the importance of holistic review and the need to see that students are comfortable with the uncomfortable, students must become better storytellers. Through their essays, students need to provide details of their experiences and the context of their opportunities. Colleges recognize that students have factors affecting their lives, like personal circumstances, financial concerns, and family responsibilities, but students have to tell their stories to provide the context.

Have a backup plan for your backup plan.

One consistent piece of the college application process in 2020 is that you cannot make predictions. While I have always been conservative when making students’ college lists, 2020 taught me that you still need a backup plan to your backup plan. With the number of deferrals resulting from early applications, I found myself reviewing students’ college lists – double-checking that we had considered and discussed every option.

Fine-tune knowledge about financial aid.

Access and financial aid will still be top concerns moving forward. Colleges are in precarious financial positions, so only time will tell how that will affect financial aid offers. With significant changes coming to the FAFSA, I will focus on attending webinars and increasing my knowledge of the financial aid process. First-generation and low-income students need more support and information as the college application, and financial aid processes evolve.

Overall, 2020 reminded us college is still a place of learning and exchanging ideas, which does not have to happen in-person to be effective. Still, the community element, learning how to be a human being, is difficult to provide through a screen. Colleges are also places where racial inequities and the effects of a global pandemic are colliding. Throw in government instability and national debates about leadership – and you still have one heck of a roller coaster ride. While 2020 brought changes and lessons, 2021 will be the year to reflect and react. Students and counselors need to lean into the curves and push back on them to keep upright and moving forward.

Katherine Price


6 Steps to Find Scholarships

Like many things with the college process, searching for scholarships can be overwhelming.  However, if you start early and stay organized, you can obtain the money you need to close the gap between your college savings and educational expenses.  What does that mean?  Well, it can put you closer to graduating from college debt-free.
So, where do you start?  Follow these 6 steps to find the scholarship money you need to obtain your educational goals.
1. Get organized.  Once you join scholarship databases (more on that below), you may be overwhelmed with emails.  Create an email account and use it exclusively for your scholarship search. Set a reminder in your calendar to check it at least once a week. You should also organize the scholarships you intend to apply for by using a spreadsheet.  College Mindset’s Scholarship Tracker will help keep you organized (and it is free!).
2. Think about you. The next step to generating a list of scholarships to apply to is to think about all of the things that make you, well you. Then, use a search engine (like Google) to see what is out there.  Are you an only child? Google “only child + scholarships.” Are you a female interested in engineering? Google “female engineering + scholarships.” Make a list of the following:
• Extracurricular activities: volunteer, Editor of the school newspaper, Scout member, leader in religious youth groups, etc.
• Personal Interest: animal rights activists, engineering, entrepreneurship, future teacher, beekeeper, etc.
• Personal talents: artist, musician, performer, glassblower, runner, giving speeches, etc.
• Personal characteristics: red hair, tall, short, left-handed, etc.
3. Look local.  The next step is to generate a list of available local scholarships.  Ask your school counselor what scholarships are available through your city, county, or state.  Also, ask if local organizations offer scholarships (i.e., Knights of Columbus, etc.). Check with your parents to know if they are affiliated with potential scholarship awarding sources. For example, their employer, military status, first-responder status, church or religious affiliation, college alumni association, etc., may all offer scholarship opportunities.
4. Find major corporation scholarships.  Another source for outside scholarships is major corporations.  Most have scholarships offered that students can apply for (though some can be competitive).  You should also ask your parents and relatives if the companies they work for offer scholarships.
5. Use scholarship search engines. There are hundreds of outside scholarship search engines.  You need to create a profile on each website, then keep track of which scholarships are designated as “matches.” The number one rule for using a scholarship search engine is that you should never have to enter credit card information or pay a fee. Also, be sure to only sign up for a few, so you are not overwhelmed with options.  Some recommended sites include:
Going Merry– this database not only matches you with scholarships, but it also provides a common application.  You can apply to hundreds of scholarships straight from their website.
Fast Web– one of the more popular scholarship search sites.  You can find and organize your scholarship search through their database.
Scholarships.com– this site has a free database you can search without creating a profile.  This is a great site to look for corporate scholarships.
FinAid.org–  provides scholarship search information and information regarding other types of financial aid.  They have several helpful calculators to help you figure out how much college will really cost.
Scholarship Monkey– gives you 3 ways to search for scholarships: through a personalized search, keyword search, or looking through lists.
6. Start early and keep looking:  Most students do not begin looking for scholarships until their senior year of high school.  I find that most seniors are too overwhelmed with the college application process to begin looking for outside scholarships.  You can start looking (and in some cases even applying) for scholarships in 9th grade.  You should also continue to look for scholarships while you are a college student. When you arrive on your college campus, head to the financial aid office and ask about scholarships available to current students.  Once you declare a major, you may also be eligible to receive scholarships from your academic department.
Remember, every penny counts!  Looking for scholarships is work! I challenge you to have at least 15 to 20 scholarships you want to apply for by the time you begin your senior year of high school.  Take the time to set yourself up for success!  Your future self will thank you!

How Will You Pay for College? Financial Aid Considerations

Whether you are a senior currently submitting applications, a junior building your college list, or a sophomore thinking about college, determining how you will pay for college is an important step in the college application process.

First thing first, why is college so expensive?  While many factors affect college costs, the biggest mistake that I see families make is they fail to consider the total cost of attendance.  It is one thing to look at tuition prices, but the cost of housing in NYC will be significantly more than if you attend a college in Iowa.

Next, educate yourself about the financial aid process. Once you understand how financial aid works, you can learn how you may influence your financial aid award. If you are a current senior, you should be reaching out to the financial aid offices of the schools you are applying to.  Here are the top 12 questions you need to ask.

Turning your attention to merit scholarships (money coming directly from a college or university) is one way to reduce college costs. Still, you need to be aware of merit scholarship opportunities. To receive merit scholarships from most colleges or universities, you need to be close to or at the top of their applicant profile. Most of the students I work with who are looking for merit money are admitted to every school they apply to.  While most students create a college list with reach, match, and likely (“safety”) schools in terms of admission, students looking for money create a list that is reach, match, and likely for merit money.  Using merit scholarship search engine sites, such as Merit More, is a great way to learn about schools that are generous with merit aid. You can conduct your merit scholarship search by entering your standardized testing scores, GPA, and location. You can also search for colleges by name.

Finally, many families focus on landing outside scholarships. Searching for outside scholarships can take up a significant amount of time, so using the upcoming holiday breaks to identify (or complete scholarship applications, if you are a senior) is a great way to make sure you are doing everything you can to cut your college costs. To learn how to get started with your outside scholarship search, read College Mindset’s recent post, 6 Steps to Find Scholarships.

While considering how you will pay for college may seem like an additional hoop to jump through, it is significant.  Make sure you openly communicate with everyone involved in your college process, so you are all on the same page regarding cost, budget, and educational goals.  Taking the time to learn more about covering the cost of college now will only benefit you when it is time to make your final decision.

5 Tips To Complete Your College Applications

Are you in a hurry to finish your college applications? Yes, November 1st deadlines are right around the corner but don’t rush to hit the submit button. Here are five tips to help you slow down and give your college applications the attention they deserve:

1. Prioritize: Finish up your main Common Application, including the activities section and your essay. Take your time writing your activity descriptions- this section is often overlooked.

2. Focus: Figure out which applications need your attention now (November 1st deadlines) and which ones can wait until later.

3. Schedule: Block out time in your schedule for your applications. Turn off your phone, put on your headphones, so you focus entirely on your applications.

4. Proofread: Print out the PDF of your Common Application and supplemental forms. Read every essay out loud and review your entire application with a friend or mentor.

5. Breathe: While deadlines won’t wait, you can stop and take a breath. Calming your emotions will put you in the right mindset to complete your college applications.

How to Research Colleges

Want to know all of the details about researching colleges?🤔

Watch College Mindset’s 4 part video series and learn:

Why researching colleges is so important

Where to find accurate data

How to determine your college criteria

How to organize your data when creating your college list

How to look beyond the data and research the “personality” of a college

Why it is essential to demonstrate an interest in a college or university

Get started on creating your college list today! Your parents will be so happy.

 

Learn to Ask Great Questions

Have you ever walked away from a conversation and thought, “I wish I would’ve asked more questions.” You don’t want to bypass an opportunity because you did not ask the right questions. Asking questions is a skill, and it is an important one to master. It shows that you care, can spark the exchange of ideas, and build trust. When you are just starting out, asking clarifying, open-ended questions will help get you closer to your goals.

As with any new skill, it is essential to practice. Before starting any conversation, think about what you want to learn. What is your purpose in the discussion? Then identify the right tone, types of questions, and sequence.

For the tone, most situations benefit from a casual approach.

Open-ended questions can go a long way to helping you learn new information. You can also build further questions into your plan based on the responses you receive.

For the sequence of questions, if you are trying to develop a relationship, you may need to ask less personal questions first to build trust. If you are in a confrontation, consider starting with the tough questions, since you don’t know how long the conversation will last.

Asking questions will open doors and allow you to discover new ideas and concepts. It may introduce you to a part of yourself that you didn’t know what there.

As Albert Einstein said, “Question everything.” I couldn’t agree more.

Hats Off To the Class of 2020

Last week, I finally mailed my senior gifts. I could send the gifts straight from Amazon and cash in on the free shipping, but I am a bit old fashioned.  I think there is something special about receiving a wrapped gift. Something personalized and significant.  More important than the present, I send each student a hand-written note. When they text me to say, “Hey thanks for the gift,” they always say more about the card.

I want them to know how proud of them I am.  I did not focus on the fact that the entire second semester of senior year was canceled.  The Class of 2020 did not need reminders that they didn’t have prom or graduation.  They didn’t need to know that their first semester (or year) of college is not going to be what they envisioned.

No.  My students needed to hear who they are beyond all of the “challenges” and “uncertainty.” I told one how I was proud that she went beyond her comfort zone to explore career options (and it led to some fantastic connections).  Or how one student repeatedly used her voice to fight for social justice (we need more people like her in the world).

I told them how they taught me about light pollution, the importance of creativity in video games, and how an old car can be rebuilt again and again (with lots of determination).

I admired how they overcame challenges, such as dyslexia, being the only girl on a football team, moving to a foreign country, dealing with heart arrhythmia, or conquering ski mountaineering at an international level.

They showed me the importance of caring for others by helping friends through tough times or standing up for people when society categorized them as “different.” One fought for a mentor who was being deported.  Another showed compassion as she taught a student struggling with learning differences how to write sentences.

One showed me the significance of questioning something she always believed so she could learn and grow.  Another had the brightest smile, and I always picture it when I am feeling doubtful. And one showed me the significance of “releasing control and trusting the outcome.”

The College Mindset Class of 2020 received 110 college acceptances after submitted 164 applications.  Collectively, they received 45 scholarship offers totaling over $2.7 million.

They reside in 4 states, and one student worked with me from her home in the Netherlands.

The colleges and universities below are so lucky to have these students for the next four years.

Arizona State University

Colorado College

California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

Furman University

Miami University, Ohio

Northwestern University

Purdue University

University of California, Los Angeles

University of California, San Diego

University of Colorado, Boulder

University of Texas, Austin

University of Vermont

University of Wyoming

Worcester Polytechnic Institute

While they did not throw their graduation caps into the air in the traditional sense, they have proved that they are worth celebrating beyond the usual pomp and circumstance.  I believe that nothing will hold these students back.  They will be the future problem-solvers, negotiators, and peace-makers our world needs.

I am so honored to have played a small role in helping them plan their future. The lessons they taught me will stay with me always.

Free College Mindset Webinars

College Mindset is offering several free webinars to help students during this difficult time.  Please feel free to share the information with friends, family, and colleagues.

 

3-Ways to Start Your College Process

Best for freshmen, sophomores, and juniors in high school (and their parents/caregivers)

Offered:

One of the most common questions I receive from students and parents is: Where do we start? There is no doubt that the college application process has changed—and it is still changing every day. No one knows the ins and outs of every aspect of the process, but with a little patience and intentionality, you can navigate the process with ease—but you have to get started first!

In this Webinar, we will cover 3-Ways to get started with your college process.  You will learn:

  1. How to Obtain Knowledge

1st gain knowledge about the college admissions industry. What do you know about the business of college admissions?  Katherine will give you a behind the scenes look at how colleges view the admissions process.

2nd look at who you are and how you learn.  Building self-knowledge is an essential step in the college process.

  1. How to Find Your Resources

Now that you know a little bit more about who you are and how the world of admissions works, you need to determine your resources.  Katherine will review resources (including online research websites).

  1. How to Understand the Timeline

Knowing the timing of the college process is an important step.  Every participant will receive a FREE copy of College Mindset’s Ideal College Planning Timeline, which we will review during the Webinar.

How to Research Colleges

Best for sophomores and juniors in high school (and their parents/caregivers)

Offered:

Researching is an essential part of the college process and other life decisions. For example, you might research companies when you are looking for a job or internship. Katherine will cover how to research colleges (mainly online) to help students determine what questions to ask and where to find the answers.

 

Networking and Informational Interviews

Best for freshmen, sophomores, and juniors in high school (and their parents/caregivers) AND any college student

Offered:

Connecting with people can provide you with insights about a college, major, or even a job- and it is something you can still do, even while we are practicing social distancing.  As an adult, this skill will help you advance your career. In this Webinar, Katherine will show students how networking is more than learning how to make small talk. It is about finding your voice and asking great questions that will guide you towards your goals. Students will receive templates for conducting informational interviews, including how to reach out in an email and what questions to ask.

How to Manage the Transition to College

Best for seniors in high school (and their parents/caregivers)

Offered:

Change is hard, and we are all going through massive changes right now. I know some students are struggling to think about the future. However, knowing how to transition from one significant life change to another is a skill you will use forever.  You will transition from high school to college, from college to adulthood. You will change jobs and maybe someday get married or become a parent. Being able to not only anticipate change but face it head-on is perhaps the most essential life skill. In this Webinar, Katherine will cover how to handle one or your first major life transitions: going to college.  We will also discuss how this transition might look different this year, given the Coronavirus pandemic.

 

 

 

Coronavirus and College Admissions

Hello College Mindset Families,

I am sure your inbox is flooded with companies telling you what they are doing to keep customers safe in light of the COVID-19 or Coronavirus pandemic.  I am writing to extend my support to all College Mindset families since school and college closings are more than likely affecting your college process.

Remember that while many colleges are closing, as of now, most are remaining opening.  This article from Inside Higher Ed takes a look at the decision process colleges are going through. Either way, the Coronavirus is disruptive for all of us.

As with any part of the college process (and life), I want to encourage you to focus on what you have control over.  Yes, you may be canceling your spring break college visits, postponing an international trip, or disappointed that you can’t compete in a national competition- but it is going to be OK.

Here are some general tips, resources, and proactive things you can focus on as we face this time of uncertainty.

General Resources For Updates
CNN has a running list of colleges canceling classes.
NACAC has a list of college fair cancellations.
Information on SAT cancellations can be found here and individual site cancellations here.
Updates on colleges that have canceled admissions events and campus visits can be found here and here.

For high school seniors, final admissions decisions will be delivered over the next few weeks, and you are probably already anxious about determining your future.  Read through the College Mindset blog post, 5 Steps To Making Your Final Decision.  Since attending admitted student events may no longer be an option for you, I encourage you to focus on the following:

  • Review your supplemental essay, especially the “why this college” essay.  Remember what your thoughts were when you wrote it.

  • Take virtual tours of campus, through sites such as You Visit or watch videos through Campus Reel.  Make sure you also do online research about the town where the college is located.

  • Join admitted student online groups, so you can get to know future classmates.

  • Trust your gut. You have learned so much about yourself through this process and trust which college feels like it will provide you with a fulfilling and successful college experience.

For high school juniors, spring is a busy time for your college process.  Here are some things you can focus on, as this COVID-19 continues to evolve.

  • If your campus visits are being canceled or postponed, do not plan on stopping by. If a school has canceled an event, they are doing so to protect their community, and you need to respect that. Call the admissions office to figure out your options.

  • Do not worry about demonstrating interest in a college at this point and time.  I will be adding a video to the College Mindset YouTube Channel to share ways you can demonstrate interest in a school without visiting- so make sure you subscribe to learn when that is available.

  • Continue to research colleges by watching virtual tours through sites such as You Visit or watch videos through Campus Reel. 

  • Don’t worry about canceled competitions or other extracurricular activities.  Remember that every student is having to cancel plans and change directions. I encourage you to make a list of things that are being canceled due to Coronavirus so you can let colleges know how your plans changed in the additional information section of your application.  Remember, you will need to be specific, so you can’t say,  “I was planning on getting a job, but was not able to because of the Coronavirus outbreak.”  Instead, you would need to say, “I was hired to work at Dunkin’ Donuts in March 2020, but due to the Coronavirus, I was unable to start my job until May.”

  • Right now, a few standardized testing centers in some states have canceled testing. Continue to prepare for the SAT or ACT as planned.  There are always more testing dates.

For all high school students…

  • If your school is canceled, make sure you turn your focus to other things (again what you have control over). Get ahead on your homework, do some extra credit, and continue preparing for the SAT or ACT, or Advanced Placement exams (if applicable).

  • Open your Common Application account and familiarize yourself with what a college application looks like.

  • Continue to research schools through websites such as College Xpress and College Data.

  • Take a deep breath.  If you are feeling stressed about the Coronavirus, talk about it with a trusted adult.  The New York Times published the article, 5 Ways to Help Teens Manage the Anxiety About the Coronavirus.  The Center for Disease Control also has some good resources about anxiety the COVID-19.

And to all of my college students who are returning early from studying abroad or having to leave campus, you are in my thoughts.  My heart is breaking for my college seniors who are left in a place of uncertainty about graduation and other end-of-college events.

Please feel free to reach out to me if you need to brainstorm ideas to keep busy, come up with a Plan B for visits, or vent your frustrations.  You can email me directly at katherine@collegemindset.com.

Stay well,
Katherine

College Visits 101: Planning the Perfect Campus Visit

Now that you know which schools you want to visit, do you know how to plan your trip? Katherine has visited over 100 colleges and universities all over the country. In this video, she’ll give you all of her tips and tricks for planning the perfect college visit.

Now that you know which schools you want to visit, do you know how to plan your trip?

Katherine has visited over 100 colleges and universities all over the country. In this video, she’ll give you all of her tips and tricks for planning the perfect college visit.

 

Do you want more tips for the college process? Check out the College Mindset Ideal College Planning Timeline!