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One Student’s College Decision Journey | “A Day of Missed Opportunities”

Jeremy Fern, Higher Ed SpecialistAs a former Director of Admissions, I believe most prospective students are interested in building a relationship with a school before arriving as a freshman.  In an effort to help our college and university colleagues gain some inside info into how a prospect makes her college decision, Seventh Point Higher Education invited a current high school senior to hear her thoughts on what makes or breaks a college visit experience, the type of academic programs that are attractive, and how all of it can impact a student’s college decision.   Without further ado, let’s meet our student guest writer!

Hannah Stec, Future College StudentOur college prospect is Hannah.  Hannah is a senior homeschool student in Lexington, KY and intends to enroll in college in the fall of 2019 as a freshman. Her academic areas of interest are business and politics.

Hannah has considered public and private colleges and shares with us her experience in being recruited by colleges since her 9th grade year and how she decided on her college fit.

A Homeschooler’s Experience in the College Admissions Process

Everyone’s had a time in their lives where they’ve felt rushed, or pressured, or overly stressed about decisions, work, emotions, time, etc. Maybe you’re stressed because you’re not sure you can pay a significant bill. Maybe you have a major project due. This is how a lot of teens today feel when they think of the college admission process.

I have been homeschooled since the third grade. My first experience with college recruiting was after taking the ACT in 9th grade. I started to get emails and mail from colleges, but I felt too young to worry about college or the admissions process.

After my sophomore year, I attended a camp on a college campus that made me more aware of just how close college was getting.  At the end of the week, I was told about an opportunity to take a dual-enrollment class through a small private college less than two hours from home. The rest of the summer, I took the class and as soon as I finished it, I started my junior year of high-school. Now I was seriously starting to think about college.

First Impressions and Dual-Enrollment

I’m now 17, and daily I receive 10+ emails from colleges, and on a weekly basis, approximately 10-15 letters or post cards. I appreciate that colleges are trying to recruit me, but it does get overwhelming. Rather than read a lot of emails/mail from people and schools with whom I have no personal relationship, I’ve found that the best ways to get to know a college are through dual-enrollment classes, camps on campus like the one I mentioned, friends who are current students, and campus visits.

Dual-enrollment is a major factor in my college decision. I’ve now taken five dual-enrollment classes, and it has been a great way to get to know a college’s “brand.” First impressions are important because the brands that get to you first are usually the ones to which you stay loyal! What does this have to do with dual-enrollment? Well, a surprising number of colleges in my area don’t offer dual-enrollment opportunities, and I think they are missing out on a major source of potential students! In my case, I took one dual-enrollment class at a college and didn’t need to go anywhere else to take additional classes. This positive dual-enrollment experience made this college my first choice.

If colleges want to build more bridges with high school students, dual-enrollment is a no brainer.

Missed Oppotunities

The Campus Visit – A Day of Missed Opportunities

Campus visits were a critically important part of my college search.  Here’s a little insight into one visit that could have been so much better.  But instead it was a day of missed opportunities.  I hope colleges can think and prepare better for what is one of the most crucial opportunities to recruit a student and their family to their campus.  Here’s my experience…

My first visit to a college campus was just hours away and I was really nervous. It was a state university less than an hour away from my home. My mom and I arrived on campus where we saw two students waiting at the head of the steps. They directed us to a building for check-in, but they didn’t seem very happy to be there. If they were with admissions, I thought maybe they’d know how nervous I was and be the first people to welcome a potential student and help calm my nerves. It was just an odd first impression.

We walked into the building buzzing with a lot of people, but there wasn’t an admissions counselor directing us to check-in, so we found someone and asked where to go.  We registered and returned to the lobby where all the prospective students, parents and a few admissions counselors were milling about. We took our seats in a large auditorium along with about 150 other people. A man walked down the center aisle and began to address us with great enthusiasm. “Yes!” I thought, “Someone looks excited to see us!” He did a great job breaking the ice with humor, social media shout-outs, and even a t-shirt giveaway. He reviewed our schedule for the day and then proceeded to introduce all the admission counselors and what counties/states they covered.

After introductions were done, my mom looked confused. I knew why. The man had not introduced the homeschool admissions counselor. When he asked if we had any questions, my mom asked him about the homeschool counselor. We knew there was one because we had been communicating with her on Facebook. He said he wasn’t aware of a counselor for homeschool students, and we should work with our county counselor. We didn’t get an opportunity to introduce ourselves to this counselor, however, because the welcome session ended, and we were dismissed to the next event.

Next, I was escorted along with all the other students to orientation, which covered housing, classes, and club opportunities. The individuals presenting on these areas did an excellent job, but it was a bit surprising to see the admissions counselors who were present sit in the back of the auditorium looking at their phones. It would have been great for them to mingle with us prior to the orientation and then chat with us during the short breaks between presentations.

We reunited with our parents for a very tasty lunch.  Lunchtime would have been another great opportunity for admissions counselors to mingle with potential students. There was plenty of seating in the cafeteria, and parents were eating alone with their students. We still had questions about our visit that could have easily been answered during lunch. Alas, another missed opportunity.

The next event was the information fair and I was interested in talking to a few different departments, and my mom was excited to learn more about the dual-enrollment possibilities at the school. But when we asked to be directed to the dual-enrollment table, we were told that the dual-enrollment representative does not attend Admissions Days. We went to the financial aid table instead, and the staff person at this table was extremely helpful in answering our questions about tuition, scholarships and loans. Still, since dual-enrollment is one of the best ways to lower the tuition bill, we would really have liked the opportunity to ask questions about the program.

Next on the agenda was the campus tour, but I was ready to go home.  My mom insisted we check out the dorms and classrooms and our campus tour was actually very informative. The student volunteer who provided the tour was very nice and showed us the buildings we requested to see, including a dorm. However, the dorm room at this university was not furnished or decorated. Since this visit, I’ve been to other schools that have decorated their sample dorm rooms, and it has helped me to visualize myself at that school.

The last item on the agenda was an Open House for that same major. When we entered the building, the atmosphere was completely different. We were immediately welcomed by two smiling students, given a water bottle and information and encouraged to have dessert (an impressive spread, I might add). Everywhere we turned there was another person introducing themselves, asking me what I was interested in and how they could help. We then made our way to the first department table. I was able to talk to several professors who seemed to absolutely love what they did and who seemed to actually want me to be a student in their program! There were numerous current students present, and they were eager to share their experience. They told me about job opportunities and connections they were making as part of the program. We stayed for more than an hour talking to the students and professors.

It was great to end the day on a high note, even though I knew that overall this university was not the right fit for me. After the visit, we realized that though we had spoken to several student volunteers, we had never met a counselor. I believe most recruits are interested in building a relationship with a school before arriving as a freshman. Here’s a quick list of things that schools can do to start building a relationship with recruits as soon as we step on to campus.

• Smile, I’m nervous!
• Connect us with our specific admissions counselor at the beginning of the day
• Have counselors look for key opportunities to interact with recruits during the day
• Station admissions counselors between buildings to greet or direct students and families to the next event
• Match up recruits with students who are majoring in their area of interest
• Have a dual-enrollment rep at the information fair, please!
• Decorate a dorm room so I can see myself at your school

dorm room

An Eye-Opening Experience

Ultimately, this campus visit helped me determine why this college was not the right place for me.  I’d say it was unfortunately a day of missed opportunities that I hope schools will take note of and work to make their admissions or visit days all they can be to help high school students and their parents.

Thanks for reading!  ~Hannah