College Counseling Blog

Welcome to the College Counseling Blog by Chris Teare, Director of College Counseling, and Russell Althouse, Associate Director of College Counseling.


College Process Requires Rigorous Inquiry

At this time of year in the college process, seniors are continuing to receive results from their college applications, and juniors are starting the formal college counseling process through regular small-group seminars and large-format lecture classes. All of our students are undertaking a rigorous inquiry to determine which of hundreds, even thousands, of higher education options would be the right next step to take.

We urge each individual student to take a personal approach to the process, to find colleges and universities that truly will be the best possible fit. Fortunately, there are many such schools for each Wardlaw-Hartridge School student. The key to getting the best results is to conduct rigorous inquiry into each of the following aspects of each college under consideration: Size, Type, Location, Personality, Program, Price Tag, and Probability & Statistics.

We ask students to complete exercises to understand where they would best fit in terms of each of these criteria. For Size, some students are best suited to small classes, personal attention, and the chance to explore courses and activities before committing to a major. Other students thrive in larger settings, without need for as much personal attention, and ideally an already clear major and career path.

Type has to do with public or private. Students for whom finances are an essential part of their consideration need to be sure to include public, in-state options, due to the lower cost of attendance, as well as access to federal, state, and in some cases, additional institutional aid. Even out-of-state public institutions generally have lower “sticker prices,” and some colleges have special reduced-tuition incentives for particularly strong applicants. 

Location is a major criterion for some students: Do they want to be in a city, near a city, or out in the country? Do they want to be closer to home, or do they have the latitude and desire to go farther away? Do they have family in, or experience with, foreign countries, especially where English language instruction is available? Canada and the United Kingdom, in particular, have great options to consider. Do students like cold weather or warm? Mountains, lakes, or oceans? Students have different life experiences and family systems; these factors can come into play.

Different campuses have different personalities or cultures. Is a traditional place the right fit, or is the student more comfortable in a progressive setting? Some campuses, especially in the Southeast, have vibrant fraternity and sorority social scenes, and high-energy football weekends. Communities, usually in other parts of the country, have no Greek life, no football, and traditions of being on the leading edge of social change. Which is right for the individual?

I mentioned Programs above in the sense that some students are Undecided, others have an idea that it will be Humanities or STEM, and still others are well-informed on a very specific major and career path, perhaps in Architecture, Engineering, Nursing or other programs that require a commitment and limited course options from Day One. These decisions take great self-study, summer course work, and internships or job shadowing to be made well.

Price Tag, as above, does have to do with public and private, in-state and out-of-state; however, it also relates to the college’s resources and ability to be need-blind in considering applications, as well as being able to meet 100% of demonstrated need for those students who are admitted. Unfortunately, only about 40 of the 4,000 possible options have enough money to guarantee both aspects of considering and funding students. Need-based aid is one type of support; merit-based or academic scholarships are also possible at some, but not all, colleges.

Finally, in our Rigorous Inquiry, Probability & Statistics will tell us what an applicant’s likelihood of receiving an offer will be. We work hard to help students build a manageable list (ideally fewer than 10 colleges) that have the Size, Type, Location, Personality, Program, and Price Tag that makes them all great fits. Then we examine whether or not the student is Likely to gain admission, will Possibly be admitted, or is making what we all call a Reach (or Far Reach) with less likelihood of success but still an ambitious desire to take a shot at a “dream school.”

Posted by cteare on Wednesday January, 15 at 12:30PM


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The Wardlaw-Hartridge School
1295 Inman Ave,
Edison, NJ 08820
(908) 754-1882
The Wardlaw + Hartridge School is a top private and college prep school in Edison, New Jersey, which provides an independent, pioneering educational experience at the early childhood, kindergarten, elementary, middle, and high school levels.
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