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A Conversation About College Part II

Last week, I wrote Part I of a series called, “A Conversation About College” which covered some of the more pressing questions that were asked at a workshop I recently conducted at Sacred Heart Church in Southbury, Connecticut. Today, I am sharing Part II with you:Q: We’re not sure what the best type of school is for our son. He might want to be a history teacher, but he’s not sure.As far as figuring out what type of school is the best one, that’s something that comes with time, conversation and research. There are many factors that go into defining what type of school your son will do well at. For example, he should be thinking about attributes such as location, size of the student body, cost, private or public and reputation. Once these bigger ticket items have been identified, he can start doing some visits and online research to see what appeals to him and what doesn’t.  When I work with clients individually, I walk them through developing a college list and this exploration I just mentioned is the first step.

Q: What type of extra-curricular activities are admissions counselors looking for?We talked about this at length the other night, so this may sound repetitive, but the best activities for your son to be involved in are activities that mean something to him and which help complement his brand – here’s a blog I wrote about branding back in the fall that may help shed some light on the concept. Ultimately, you want to encourage him to think about quality over quantity.Q: How important is the essay and the essay topic?

This is a great question because while the essay can be very important, the topic isn’t necessarily what makes it important. What matters in an essay is how you tell your story. An essay really can be about any topic, big or small, but it’s how the student connects to the essay and what they are able to reveal about themselves that matters. A student who can show some depth, who can demonstrate a level of reflection and who can get me to see that what he is writing about truly matters to him is a student who has done a great job with their essay. The best way for a student to accomplish this is to really invest some time in their essay and make peace with the fact that they will write and rewrite several times before their essay is done. In fact, what their final essay looks like may not look anything like the original concept when they started.

Q: We are just starting the college search and our son is a sophomore – where do we start?

For freshmen and sophomores, the focus should be on helping them figure out what is important to them, what their strengths, skills and abilities are and introducing the idea of what college is about. If you go to my website, you will see that I offer a package called the “Early Exploration Package for Freshmen and Sophomores.” Basically, I help students at this stage work through a self-assessment while exploring some long range goals that tie into the college process.

Q: How do we go about figuring out our financial aid & scholarship options?

Again, this is time sensitive for the most part since you cannot apply for financial aid using the FAFSA until January 1st of the student’s senior year in high school. If he or she decides they are applying to any private schools, they may be required to also fill out the CSS Profile. The Profile, however, can be filed prior to January 1st.  While you can’t do anything about filing just yet, what you can do is spend some time figuring out how much all of this is going to cost. There is some detail to this, but essentially you want to know what you will be expected to pay for school so that you have some time to plan. If you go on the College Board website, you can use their EFC Calculator to do just this. EFC stands for “Expected Family Contribution” and is a term you will get to know quite well as senior year approaches. Your EFC is what a college will expect you to pay and it is how they calculate what they will offer you in the form of aid, grants and loans. The higher your EFC, the more you will be expected to contribute and the less aid you will expect to receive. As of this past October, each college and university has been mandated to publish a net price calculator on their website. So, as your student identifies schools where he or she would like to apply, you can use their net price calculator to get a feel for how things might look financially. Here is a blog that I wrote about the EFC calculators.

Q: How to choose a career/major?

This is a great question and one that troubles many students as they work through this process. To be honest, I do some assessments with students to help flesh out their values, interests, personality style and skills – or what I like to call their VIPS. Once you have a good idea of what is important to a student, what they are interested in and what they are likely to do well at, it is a lot easier to present options for majors and to point them in the direction of some useful career exploration. If it turns out that their interests are all over the place, then you want to be looking at schools that offer a wide variety of majors and where a student can start off as an undeclared major and then take some time in first semester to continue their career exploration.

I wouldn’t worry about this issue too much as of right now, especially if your son or daughter is only a sophomore or junior. Over 50% of students end up changing their majors during their freshman year anyway.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the awesome moms out there! I hope you’re having a great day!

If you have any thoughts you would like to share on “A Conversation About College,” please use the comment box below – I would love to hear from you! You can also email me directly at

Eric Dobler is the president and founder of Dobler College Consulting. Follow him on Twitter.

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