College fair season is approaching. The National Association of College Admissions Counseling holds some large fairs all around the country. Take a look at their schedule and get one on your calendar.
Also, see what local fairs will be held in your city. The high-tuition college prep high schools usually combine efforts to put on a city-wide fair where all the top schools send representatives. Take a look at the school websites for details. Here’s an example of an announcement of one of these fairs. These are generally open to the public.
I’ll talk about how to approach the college fair in the section below.
Also, if you’re homeschooling your kids and want to take AP exams for college course credit, get in touch with your local AP coordinator to get these exams scheduled.
A quick update on some loose ends for homeschoolers. If you plan on taking AP exams for college credit, get in touch with your local AP coordinator to get these tests scheduled. You can find more information here.
Now onto college fairs.
College fair season is approaching. Getting familiar with talking to school representatives now will help you as you make final decisions about where to apply in a couple years. You don’t need to spend a lot of time thinking about this, but you should take 10 minutes and have a conversation with your parents about when and where you can attend a few fairs.
Why Go To A College Fair?
That’s a fair question. The reality is that most students will go to a college that they’ve never heard of before their senior year. They’ll discover interesting private schools along the way that value their strengths and interests more than the large public 4-year schools like the USC, UCLA, or The Ohio State University. The big schools can be exciting and dominate the college marketing landscape. But you’ll just be a number taught by a low-paid grad student or adjunct professor for the first two years in those environments. The college fair can expose you to interesting aspects of private schools that could drive you to greater success in your academic career. A college fair will give you an opportunity to get a first look at those colleges without having to spend the time and money to travel.
How To Prepare
The fair will usually post a list of the schools that will be there. Do a google search on college topics that interest you and cross-check those results with the schools at the fair. Those will be the schools you want to talk to at the fair.
For example, if I’m interested in schools with lacrosse programs I might search for “NCAA Lacrosse” and get this list. So I’ll know to visit the Gonzaga, Duke, or St. Lawrence booths. Or if I’m interested in sustainable farming I’ll get this list and know to visit Prescott, Green Mountain, or Unity colleges.
Bring a bag to carry the information you get, and a pen and paper to take notes.
Make A List Of Questions
The person manning the booth at a college fair usually doesn’t work for the college unless the college is local. Colleges usually ask local graduates to act as ambassadors for their schools at the college fair. What’s nice about this is that you can get personal answers to questions that go deeper into the college experience.
So create a list of questions that you can’t get answers to on the college website. Don’t waste anyone’s time asking the simple stuff that you can find on your own.
- Ask questions that pertain to your interests. But know the person doesn’t work for the college and may not be able to provide a specific answer.
- Ask questions about travel to and from the college, the surrounding community, the relationships between students and instructors.
- Ask why the rep chose to attend that school.
- Ask about after graduation: what sort of support does the alumni network provide and what has their experience been using it.
Get On The Mailing List
You’ll register for the college fair either online or when you get there. Before you register, setup an email address that won’t embarrass you. Use this email for your entire college search process.
The fair may give you a number or a card that can be scanned at the booths. Don’t lose this. You can use it to easily be added to the school’s mailing list. And as we’ve talked about before, when the schools know that you are engaging with them they will take you more seriously when you apply.
Sit In On Information Sessions
You’ll find that in addition to all of the college booths, the fairs also provide information sessions on financial aid and academics. Arrive early and plan some time to sit in on these important sessions. The more you know now, the better prepared you’ll be when you face these things.
Get Your Notes Into CollegeTicket
You want to be able to compare notes as you attend more fairs and explore more colleges. Get your notes into your CollegeTicket Shortlist so you can remember what you were thinking when you have to make these comparisons later.
But Private Schools Are Expensive!
Harvard students paid an average of $12,000 for tuition in 2014. Private schools many times have the largest endowments, and they’re required to give a percentage of this money away every year. When you’re a good match for the school, and they agree, you’ll find that a private school education may cost about the same or less than a public school education.
And if you’re looking at schools away from home you bring an aspect of geographic diversity to your college application that may play to your advantage when applying.
What Goes On At A College Fair
In case you’re interested, here are a couple videos of the college fair experience.
Getting Ready for NACAC College Fairs – Part 1
Getting Ready for NACAC College Fairs – Part 2
Gearing up for the College Application
Like it or not, your PSAT, SAT, and ACT scores are probably the single most important factor in landing the big scholarships.
National Merit Scholars (PSAT / NMSQT)
You may have taken the PSAT in October, and that is the take that counts for the National Merit Scholar program. You should have received your score in December. If you are one of the top 50,000 scores on the test, your principal will be notified in April of your score and whether you are “commended” status or “National Merit Scholar Semifinalist” status. Receiving commended status is definitely a detail you’ll want to include on your activities resume. The NMS Semifinalist status makes you eligible for finalist status and access to potentially full-ride scholarships to elite schools. There are some dates and thresholds you need to be aware of in this process.
First, if you are an NMS Semifinalist, you’ll need to confirm your Semifinalist status with an SAT take and score that is a unique calculation of the Math and Evidence Based Reading scores. If you are taking the ACT and haven’t planned on taking the SAT and you are an NMS Semifinalist, you’ll want to get this on your schedule probably multiple times and get practicing. You have a lot of money on the line here.
Here is the timeline of events for the NMS Semifinalist:
- October Junior Year take the PSAT
- December Junior Year receive your score
- April of Junior Year receive notification of eligibility for NMS Semifinalist or Commended status
- Earn a confirming score on the SAT and complete NMS Semifinalist application for finalist status. You still have the May 5 and June 2 dates to confirm your score.
- September of Senior Year receive notification of semifinalist status
- February of Senior Year receive notification of finalist status
- March of Senior Year select first-choice school as part of the NMS process
We’ll get into more details of the senior year process when you get there. For now, focus on getting the SAT score you need to qualify as a finalist. You can check here if you’d like all the details.
You’ll get two scores with your Junior Year take. The first score is your composite score. The highest composite score you can earn is 1520. You’ll also receive a selection score. The selection score is the one that determines if you are an NMS finalist. The selection score is calculated like this:
- Each of the three sections for Math, Reading, and Writing & Language is scored on a scale of 8 to 38.
- The score for each section is added together for a total.
- The total is multiplied by 2 for your selection index score.
So let’s say you scored Math 32, Reading 30, and Writing & Language 28. Add these together for a total of 90. Multiply by 2 for 180 of a possible selection index score of 228. Because the NMSQT competition is carried out on a state-by-state basis, your selection index score of 215 might earn you finalist recognition in one state but not in another.
So, yes, you could score a 214 PSAT in Idaho and be a finalist but score a 214 in Delaware and only earn a commended status. Here’s a list of the threshold scores by state for the class of 2018.
You may wonder why you aren’t notified of finalist status until February of your senior year. The reason is that each state has a different threshold score that qualifies a student for semifinalist status. It takes time to get all of the scores in order and the communications in place.
ACT and SAT
If you’re following the CollegeTicket suggested testing schedule, you’ll take the official SAT or the ACT three times. That’s generally the most bang for your preparation buck. You probably won’t need to take these more than three times unless you are right on the edge of earning a score you need for a particular program, school, or scholarship.
Taking the official test three times doesn’t mean you won’t take practice tests multiple times. In fact, you need to make time in your schedule to take multiple practice tests. The more familiar you become with the questions and format of the test, the better you’ll do on the official test when it counts. The vocabulary and equations will become second nature as you look at the same question and begin to notice that only the numbers have changed.
Get yourself a number of the ACT or SAT prep books from different publishers and work through the practice tests. In fact, the Khan Academy is the SAT’s test prep partner where you can access no cost practice help. Then spend time on the areas of weakness where you can earn more points. Don’t waste time working on concepts you already know.
Most students scoring top scores on these tests spend a lot of time working through the practice material. These students also tend to have a longer-view outlook on their academic careers. They treat their studies as part of their path to their future. They’ll sign up for study courses that their school offers. They’ll partner with friends in study groups. They’ll support each other knowing their hard work now pays off for them in the near future.
I’ll leave it there. You know what I’m getting at here. Only you can make the study decisions.
What Do Your Shortlist Schools Require?
Now is also a good time to start reviewing the entrance requirements for your shortlist schools. First, make sure you have all your shortlist schools in your CollegeTicket shortlist under the College Application => College Shortlist heading. Then take a deep dive into the admissions academics and financial aid / scholarship areas of each school to understand the classes and test scores you’ll need to be considered. Get all this into your CollegeTicket Shortlist schools in the “Why I’m Interested” box. As I look at this, I see the need for an entrance / scholarship requirements field as part of the shortlist. I’ll get that in there for you in the next two months.
Here is a refresher on where to find admissions requirements on the college websites.
And here’s where to find scholarship requirements.
If you know that you will be applying to a school on your shortlist, go ahead and check the “Apply” box for that school on your CollegeTicket shortlist. You can then add application dates, deadlines, and notes for each school on the College Application => College Applications page. These dates will show up on your CollegeTicket calendar so you don’t miss them.
I’ll talk more about recommendation letters next time. You’ll take a walk through your activities resume identifying the right people to ask to strengthen your college application.