February is the time to plan ahead

When you’re looking at the college admissions timeline, February is all about planning ahead. There are two key items that need to be addressed in February:

  1. Campus Visits – February is when families need to get serious about which colleges they plan on visiting over spring break, if it’s possible. Surprisingly, some college tours fill up and families are often unwittingly left without campus visit options. So take a look at the current college list, cluster the colleges by geography and then determine which are the colleges that are 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 in between college destinations. Once you’ve made your decisions, go on each of the college websites and plan your visits, there is typically a “visit our college” tab under Admissions.

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

  1. Course Selection – Now is also the time for families with rising 9th, 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 is “recommended” and what is “required.” As an example: the University of South Carolina – Columbia (USC) 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 also 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 their 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.

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to: lee@collegeadmissionsstrategies.com; www.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com