It’s never too early to begin the search.

THE SEARCH for the perfect college or university is a bit like the search for the perfect spouse: extremely unsuccessful if undertaken haphazardly. A person could search for years and never find the ideal match, if he neglected to narrow the field to only those candidates that were well-suited and attainable to him. Or he could settle for the first available choice and regret it later in life.

But often the search for the ideal school is glossed over; perhaps it is even confined to the student’s senior year in high school, which -like a hastily planned marriage – can prove disastrous. And even after the student has eliminated the thousand or so schools that would be too hard, too easy, too near or too far away, he’s still left with many hundreds to choose from. So how does he go about making an intelligent decision?

Many students seek the advice of a college counselor. Rhea Wolfram of Green-hill School is one of the best, and her clientele is not limited to Greenhill. She regularly sees students from other schools for a fee. But she doesn’t merely tell a student what college to attend. Instead, she believes that the selection process should be primarily the student’s responsibility. The process she suggests has four steps:

?Know yourself;

?Learn about the different categories of colleges;



MOST STUDENTS ignore and most counselors oversimplify step one. Before beginning the selection of a college, a student should identify his values, goals, tastes, abilities and interests. If he lacks a clear idea of who he is, he will be ill-equipped to conduct a proper search for a college, and it is unlikely he will find a school that will complement his character. Wolfram has prepared a PACE (Planning Ahead for College Entrance) form, which asks such questions as “What achievements am I most proud of?” “What are my three greatest strengths?” and “Do I work best alone?”.

Of course, self-discovery is not accomplished overnight. The PACE form is designed to get a student thinking about himself and about what he might look for in a college. Wolfram will follow the person through his high school years with other self-analysis questionnaires and with probing questions of her own.

More objective information is obtainable, too, through high school counselors, who can conduct interest inventory and aptitude tests. These tests will help point student in some possible career directions In Piano public schools, eighth-graders re ceive these tests routinely as part of a semester course on careers. Students in other districts can request them from counselors.

For more detailed and scientifically accurate tests, a student can sign up with a professional service such as AIMS (Aptitude Inventory Measurement Service) in Dallas or Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation in Fort Worth. Both are reputable, established, nonprofit research institutions in which the chief goal is occupational guidance. Both put students through two half-day sessions of intense testing and provide several hours of counseling and evaluation. They test such aptitudes as finger dexterity, tonal memory, spatial perception, rhythm and perceptual speed. They also test vocabulary, which, though not an innate ability, is linked with career success.

These tests yield an occupational profile; if a student has poor spatial perception, for example, he will be told that civil engineering and architecture are probably not for him. If he excels at associative memory, abstract visualization and diagnostic thinking, he may have a future in law. Since preparation for a career often requires college study, the testing services will make suggestions about majors and appropriate schools.

Of the abilities tested, two are especially important when selecting colleges. The first -vocabulary -correlates with the Scholastic Achievement Test (SAT) verbal score. AIMS’ advice to the student is to select schools that have a majority of students with corresponding SAT verbal median ranges because instruction will be geared at that level.

The second of these abilities, perceptual speed, is important only if a student scores below the 25th percentile. If his score is that low, he should probably forget Texas A&M and the University of Texas at Austin and the more competitive ranking universities. Such schools rely heavily on objective, easily graded tests, timed essay exams and assignments that require speed and accuracy. If he writes slowly and makes clerical errors, his grades will suffer accordingly. He should consider attending a smaller college where instruction is more individualized and where there is more flexibility about tests and timing.

Testing services are expensive. AIMS charges $375 for the complete program of 10 hours of tests and two hours of evaluation and counseling. There is no charge for follow-up visits within the year. Johnson O’Connor charges $300 for a similar program but gives less guidance on college selection. Follow-up visits are free.

Wolfram may omit aptitude testing, but not because she doesn’t think that it’s worthwhile. Rather, she is less concerned with the student as a potential doctor, engineer or artist than as a learner and doer. She discourages students from choosing a college primarily on the basis of its reputation in their intended major. Students have a way of changing their minds. The marketplace, too, has a way of making certain careers obsolete.

Wolfram also discourages students from thinking of college in terms of the question, “Will this college prepare me for a $40, 000 a year job?” She prefers, “Will this college further my intellectual growth, expand my horizons, make me more fully human?” In short, she favors the liberal arts. In this, she has the support of a handful of other college counselors, such as Highland Park High School’s Betty Guest. Guest says that more and more professional and business people say they’d like to see better educated college graduates – graduates who know something about society, culture and history.

ARMED WITH some self-knowledge and a notion of the purpose of a college education, the student is ready for step two: learning about categories of colleges. Here, help is as close as the high school counseling office. Through his counselor, a student can borrow college catalogs and directories, sign up to see visiting college representatives and learn about his high school’s College Night. College Night attracts representatives from a hundred or more colleges, each conducting small recruiting sessions. A student should have no trouble squeezing in three or four sessions within an evening.

A student should begin investigation early, not so that he can make a commitment to a school but so that he can realize that different colleges have widely differing requirements. One school, for example, may require only the minimum courses needed for high school graduation-three years of English, two each of math, science, history and one-half unit each of government and health -while another school requires four years each of English, foreign language, history, science and math. It pays to learn this early.

Entrance requirements do not, however, tell the whole picture. A student must figure out his preferences on a whole host of issues -size of college, location, curriculum, cost and religious affiliation. The best way a student can learn what type of school he prefers is to visit several schools. Fortunately, he can find almost every brand of school within a 50-mile radius of Dallas: private, public, coed, single sex, liberal arts, competitive, open admissions, religious, state, residential, community, etc. These include SMU, TCU, North Texas State, UT-Arlington, UT-Dallas, University of Dallas, Dallas County Community Colleges, Tarrant County Junior College, Texas Woman’s University and Dallas Bible College. Austin College, East Texas State and Baylor are within another 50 miles.

Guided tours are available through college admissions offices, or a student can tour on his own. At the very least, he should visit the student union, some classes, dormitories and the library. Other places of interest might be science labs; art, music and dance studios; theaters; gyms; cafeterias; and sorority and fraternity houses. Ideally, a visit should be scheduled on a class day and extend through the weekend if possible.

WHAT IS LEARNED from the early investigations will help with step three: preparing. A student should take as heavy and serious a course load as he can handle during high school. If he sets his sights on satisfying only the minimum entrance requirements of one school, he might close the door to another.

A minor part of college preparation includes taking entrance tests. These are the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test (PSAT), the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and the American College Testing (ACT). A student should take the PSAT as a sophomore, the SAT as a junior and again as a senior. Some school districts insist that the PSAT be taken during the junior year. All tests can be repeated, and the SAT and ACT are offered several times during the year. Announcements about test dates and application deadlines will be made by the student’s counseling office.

The best way for someone to prepare for these tests, says Wolfram, is to make the most of his years in school. “Read, read, read, ” she says; “and attend concerts, plays, ballets.”

Some students take advantage of special SAT preparation services. These can relieve anxiety and teach test-taking skills. But they can’t cram into a student’s head in a few weeks what was not learned in the previous 10 years.

Once the student knows his scores, he will be able to narrow his sights further. Together with grades and class rank, the SAT (or ACT) scores will give him some idea of his chances at a competitive school. Schools are listed in many directories according to their standards of admission, which in turn are defined by the median verbal score and class rank of the students accepted.

The “extremely competitive” schools are those few whose names are household words-Harvard, Yale, Wellesley, MIT. They skim off from the top 10 percent of a graduating class those students whose median verbal score is 650. The “very competitive” campuses are next – Rice, Colby, Grinnell, University of Chicago, Kenyon and Reed -which accept students from the top 20 percent of their class with a median SAT verbal of 600. UT-Austin is in the process of upgrading its admissions standards to “very competitive” from “competitive” (550 SAT verbal; top quarter), moving ahead of SMU, Baylor, Texas A&M and the University of Dallas, which are in the latter category. Some directories distinguish between “moderately competitive” schools and those with “liberal” admission standards, which accept some students from the bottom half of the graduating class with median scores of 475 or less. Hardin-Simmons, Sul Ross and Pan American University fall into this group. “Open admissions” means that all high school graduates are accepted. This includes most community and junior colleges.

While a student’s scores and grades will help him narrow his possibilities, the choice is still wide. If he qualifies for the “competitive” level, for example, that leaves him about half of the colleges and universities in the United States to choose from.

That’s why campus visits are so important. Seeing a few area schools may help the student decide whether he would like a residential or a commuter college, single-sex or coed, large university or small college. By the end of his junior year, a student should have his preferences narrowed to a dozen or so. If he can manage some campus visits to some of these choices over the summer, he’ll be in good shape.

For those who will need extra financing, scholarships are available. And remember, a student with good credentials may have a better chance of snagging a juicy scholarship from a first-rate college than from a large university. That’s because prestigious colleges have more scholarship funds available than less-endowed schools. It’s also true that hundreds of scholarships go unawarded each year because qualified people do not apply. Although many of these unawarded funds stipulate unusual, even eccentric requirements, they are worth looking into. High school counselors can help here, or a student can write for the Compendium of Texas Colleges and Financial Aid Calendar, published by the Minnie Stevens Piper Foundation.

To find out how much loan and grant money is available, the student’s parents should complete the College Scholarship Service’s form called “Early Financial Aid Planning. ” The earlier this is done, the better. It costs $7, and all information is confidential.

BY THE BEGINNING of the student’s senior year, he should be ready for step four: applying. He should, by this time, have a pretty good idea of who he is and what he expects from college. He’ll know what caliber of college will accept him.

He should apply to at least three colleges, including one easy mark. He might throw in a long shot, recognizing that even if he’s accepted, he may have to struggle to keep up with the work. Application fees range from free to $35.

Most of the extremely competitive schools and some less-competitive but smaller ones will want to interview the student. If the school that interests him is in another part of the country, the interview will not be mandatory or it may be handled off-campus by an alumnus. Some schools also require written recommendations and even an essay on why the student has chosen that school.

High school counselors can coach students on the interview. Some, like Betty Guest at Highland Park, will not only conduct a mock interview, but will also help them prepare by prodding them to identify and learn to talk about their strengths and goals in a graceful manner.

While counselors and most teachers of senior classes are experienced at writing recommendations, students can make the task easier and maybe more helpful to their cause by first writing an autobiography or character sketch.

At the beginning of the student’s senior year, he should sign up for the SAT or ACT, write for application and financial aid forms, arrange interviews and obtain recommendations.

What other steps of the ritual remain for the student’s senior year? Maintaining high grades is important. Acceptances are often conditional on a student’s last-semester grades. He should be sure to take a full course load. Slacking off with one and a half credits of English IV and government will not only put him at a disadvantage with better-prepared incoming freshmen, it will also mean he will be stuck taking college-level courses in subjects he could have gotten out of the way in high school. And a sawed-off schedule is hardly training for the following year.

Acceptances and rejections should arrive in the spring, along with the toughestpart of the student’s search: the final decision. If he’s done his homework properly,however, his ultimate choice will be theright one.


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