Countdown to college: Now is the time to plan ahead

PHOTO CREDIT: Metro Creative

PHOTO CREDIT: Metro Creative

PHOTO CREDIT: Metro Creative

PHOTO CREDIT: Metro Creative

PHOTO CREDIT: Metro Creative

PHOTO CREDIT: Metro Creative

PHOTO CREDIT: Metro Creative

PHOTO CREDIT: Metro Creative

PHOTO CREDIT: Metro Creative

PHOTO CREDIT: Metro Creative

PHOTO CREDIT: Metro Creative

PHOTO CREDIT: Metro Creative

When you’re looking at the college admissions timeline, now is the time for parents to be planning ahead.

There are two key items that need to be addressed:

Campus visits

This is when families need to get serious about which colleges they plan on visiting during spring break, if it’s possible. Surprisingly, some college tours fill up, and families often are unwittingly left without campus visit options. So, take a look at the current college list, cluster the colleges by geography, then determine which ones are the most critical to visit in the short term. Now is the time to figure out if you want to head north, south, east or west and how you will travel from one college destination to the next.

Once you’ve made your decisions, go on each of the college websites and plan your visits. There typically is a “visit our college” tab under “admissions.”

If your student is a junior and you haven’t had the opportunity to visit many (or perhaps any) colleges, spring break is the unquestionably your best bet. Don’t forget that this summer, your student will be finishing his or her college list and working on college applications and essays. Visiting during the summer isn’t bad, but it often can be challenging for high school students and parents to really imagine what the campus would look like when it is full of students moving to and from classes, or what the spirit of the campus is like on a game day. That said, if that’s the only realistic option, it’s far better to visit in summer than to not visit at all.

Course selection

Now also is the time for families with rising ninth, 10th, 11th and 12th graders to be evaluating course selections for next year. Students looking at the most selective colleges and universities need to understand the number of courses recommended and required at each of the colleges on their list.

There are important distinctions between what’s “recommended” and what’s “required.”

As an example, the University of South Carolina requires the following units: English (4), math (4), social studies/history (3), foreign language (2), visual/performing arts (1) and science (3). It is important to note that USC requires three lab sciences — and earth and environmental or earth science is not considered a lab. This means that students need to take biology and chemistry and take either physics or a higher-level science where biology/chemistry or physics is a prerequisite.

The requirements for art and the three lab sciences are a bit unusual. Since this information is published on the school’s website and in college guidebooks, students who haven’t had an art class or the three lab sciences and intend on applying to USC will need to plan their courses accordingly in order to keep it an option.

Duke University recommends: English (4), math (4), science (4), social studies (4), foreign language (4). The biggest difference here in the number of foreign language courses recommended.

Basic advice for students looking at the most selective colleges is to take all five core subjects — English, math, science, social studies and foreign language — each year.

Lee Shulman Bierer is an independent college adviser.

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