March 25, 2016

An executive function approach to college tours

Recently, Engaging Minds welcomed Linda Katz of Right Fit College Coaching to our Newton office for an informative presentation for parents of college-bound and high school students. Linda’s presentation and discussion focused on preparing high school students both to make the most of their high school experience and to apply forward thinking to their application process. Although the applications themselves often take place during late junior or early senior year, there are many ways to prepare for college long before high school graduation draws near.

Engaging Minds helps its students practice thinking ahead during elementary, middle, and high school. One of the best ways to “think ahead” and make the most of the early years of high school is to use a strategy called “Backward Design.” Backward Design involves envisioning a future goal or destination, then working backward to determine the steps needed to get there. During the college process, there are many ways to apply Backward Design, whether planning to take entrance exams, writing application essays, or preparing for on-campus interviews. This spring and summer, one excellent way to apply Backward Design is to take advantage of college tours. So, as your children begin their March or April breaks, and travel far and wide to attend campus tours, consider the following ways to apply “Backward Design” to make every visit count:

  1. Discuss ways to document each visit: Some students may like to carry a journal to record notes about each school that they visit. Others may prefer to take short videos or pictures. Weigh the pros and cons of each “data collection” method with your child and determine the best way to record and organize information while touring schools.
  2. Make sure your child does some homework before you travel: Before attending on-campus tours, conduct research with your child about what the school has to offer and create a prioritized list of goals to achieve while there. Maybe your child intends to pursue a pre-medical degree, and looking at the school’s science facilities will be especially important. Perhaps meeting with a coach, professor, or residential advisor will make your child feel more at home. Set these goals ahead of time so no stone is left unturned during your visit.
  3. Work together to create a spreadsheet of campus tours and events: Some colleges only offer visits and open houses for prospective students on certain dates. In order to make the most of your child’s visit, aim to attend these special programming days. However, many schools’ calendars WILL overlap, so backward design will be especially important to employ. Plan ahead and map out all the events on a spreadsheet or calendar. This structure will allow your child to prioritize which schools to attend when.
  4. Schedule, schedule, schedule! Most institutions require visiting families to register for events, but registration can close earlier than you’d expect, locking your child out of the all important campus visit. Once your family has a college visitation plan in place, be sure to book each meeting, presentation, speech, lunch, etc. that your child will attend on campus.
  5. Take advantage of interview opportunities: In her presentation, Katz specifically highlighted the importance of making your child’s interest in attending college well-known. Many colleges track the number of times a student has visited campus, and what events each child has attended. Interviews are a great way to get even more “face-time” with college admissions and to show them that you are serious about attending their school. Before scheduling a college tour, suggest that your child also research interview opportunities to include in their visit.
  6. While visiting, encourage your child to take notes: Soon after college tours, your child will be writing A LOT of supplemental essays for each individual school. When her prompts asks, “Why Connecticut College?” your child will need an innovative, stand-out answer, including school-specific details. While visiting schools:
    1. Record academic bonuses. Most colleges offer a standard list of majors and degrees, but the most compelling essays point out the programs that set a school apart from the rest (i.e. an abroad program in Cuba or a specialized Business Leadership track).
    2. Write down the names of anyone your child meets, including speakers, professors, coaches, tour guides, etc. Although you’ve only just met them, trust that members of campus (and admissions!) will recognize their role in the community.
    3. Note any defining features of the campus. Does is have a unique piece of art in the center quad? Are the studio art facilities unparalleled by anything you’ve yet seen? If so, write it down.
    4. Document your child’s favorite and least favorite aspects of the school. Having a pros and cons list can help your child decide which schools are, and are not, “the right fit” when the time comes.
  7. Inquire about academic support options while on campus. If your child has received executive function coaching or other specialized academic support throughout her life, then seeking out academic support on campus will be especially crucial. To make the transition to college easier, considering the new environment and increasingly challenging academics, maintain a strong tutoring routine, and look for tutoring options early.
  8. Reflect on your findings together, and make preliminary judgements about each school’s suitability for your child’s needs. Generally speaking, each college visit will provide a “good” or “bad” first impression. Using those first impressions to eliminate, rank, and organize schools is an important step of the process that can keep your child from an overwhelming application season. If it doesn’t feel like a strong fit, take it off the short list. At the end of the process, you and your child will want to base attendance decisions off of suitability to your child’s needs.

Backward Design can be applied to nearly every aspect of the application process. Using it during college tours, at any time during the year, will leave your child feeling more in control and prepared for the weightier portions of the process later on. As Linda Katz explained, choosing a college is all about finding the “Right Fit” for your child’s unique needs; discovering that fit begins with a smart approach to college visits.