News: College Access & Success

3 Lessons for Building a College List

Monday, June 10, 2019  
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By Zenia Henderson, Director of Member & Partner Engagement

A few weeks ago, while I was finishing up our annual spring cleaning at home, I took a deep dive into my oldest son’s bedroom. I was dreading facing the freestanding white closet filled with board games, science project kits, and mounds of Lego boxes – none of which he touches, since he spends his free time playing Fortnite these days (sigh).

As I started pulling out empty Lego boxes, I also ran into some really awesome Lego sets he completed, like the White House, some sort of robot or drone, and other items I couldn’t quite make out. I was highly impressed with what he had accomplished.

Later, after I returned to work and started diving into some projects related to college lists, fit and match, and the like, I realized just how much a high school junior has in common with a 12 year-old: They both have something meaningful to build. While my then-12 year-old built some mean Lego creations, he’s now 14 and finishing up his freshman year of high school, so he’ll soon start building his own college list.

Building a college list is no piece of cake, and we here at NCAN want to make sure college counselors and advisers have the right tools and resources to help students with this important task. Here are some lessons my son shared about his Lego-building adventures and my takeaways on how they relate to building a college list:

  1. Have an idea of what you want to build. In the world of Legos, this means knowing what the design is, what you want your creation to look like. For students building a college list, it’s important that they have an idea of what they are being asked to create: A list of five schools? 10? Three safety schools and four reach schools? Help give students an idea of what you’re asking them to build and why.

    Some educational consultant experts, such as IvyWise, recommend a list of 10 to 15 schools. The College Board recommends starting with a list of five to eight colleges. We believe that six or more colleges as part of an initial list is great start. That means two “likely” schools (academically andfinancially likely, also referred to as “safety” schools), two target schools, and two reach schools.

  2. Build a strong foundation. This means exactly what it sounds like in Lego language. In the field of college access, that means having a good idea of what’s important to a student when they visualize themselves in college. This includes the standard college fit descriptors, such as academic program, location, distance from home, size, diversity, and much more. If a student can think about these things thoughtfully, it helps give them a good foundation for a starting point as they begin their college search to build an initial list. NCAN member College Raptor encourages students to put together a list of wants and must-haves.

  3. When one piece falls off, don’t stress, just put it back on. Notice he said “when” not “if” because he knows his Legos; and you know your students. So when something drastically changes, just help them piece it back together, acknowledging it might look a little different than they may have wanted or expected.

    A student might become interested in a college that’s a bit further away from home than they initially thought. Or they find that (what they thought was) their dream school does not in fact have their program of interest. Help students manage those expectations. After all, this is an initial list that they should continue to refine as application deadlines get closer.

As you dive into helping your high school juniors build their college list this summer, we want to remind you to help these juniors sign up for the College Board Opportunity Scholarships (CBOS) to be eligible to enter monthly drawings for awards of $500 to $2,000 and, ultimately, for a chance to win $40,000 for college! If students build a college list on BigFuture by July 31, they can enter June’s drawing for $500 for completing this first milestone! (And students mustcomplete their list by this deadline to remain eligible for the $40,000 scholarships.)

After that, the next CBOS milestone is all about students practicing for the SAT through Khan Academy. Students have until Oct. 31 to become eligible for that milestone and prize of $1,000. Help them link their College Board and Khan Academy accounts to qualify.

Read more about the College Board Opportunity Scholarships.

(Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash)