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Parent of a high school sophomore or junior? There are two things you should do today to help your child begin the college search
College, where to start: think big, small, rural, urban
Written by Jack Delehey on June 17th, 2022
Previously written on 11/06/2022
This week, a parent asked me a question I had never heard before:

"What is the most common question you get asked?" (referring to me).


The question caught me off guard for a second. My head is typically deep in college admissions data, trends, and best practices, so I had to shift gears for a second.

Once I did, however, the answer was glaringly obvious.

The most common question I have been asked over the last 10 years is, by a long shot, the following:

"Where do I even go to start?"

I am fortunate over the last decade I’ve had the privilege to work with parents who are devoted and caring enough to even ask this question. Many, many high school students across the US are left to fend for themselves when it comes to the college search. As a teenager, having a parent willing to work through the college process alongside them is tremendously beneficial.

So, before I answer this question, I will say the following: if you, as a parent, are even asking this question...your child should give you an extra hug tonight!

Now to answer the most common question I get asked: "Where do I even go to start?" (referring to the college search process):

Answer: Start with the school list and, in particular, four distinct types of schools.
-Rural (isolated campus vibe)
-Urban (campus nearly indistinguishable from city)

The goal of this extremely basic four-school list is to introduce your child to the types of schools out there. In pre-covid times, I’d recommend making a list that’s drive-able from home and, over the course of four Saturdays, going to visit each of them. You can completely ignore admissions requirements for now or even the notion of a school being a fit. That is not the purpose of the exercise. The purpose is to introduce your child to four very different types of schools and see what he/she relates to. In covid times, you can substitute the drive for a virtual tour (ex: Vanderbilt's), Fiske guide reading, and discovery.

To provide an example, I grew up in Concord, MA. As a 16 year old, college was the furthest thing from my mind. However, I benefited from trips with my parents to the following nearby schools:

-Middlebury (small, rural)
-Brandeis (small, urban)
-Boston University (big, urban)
-UMass Amherst (big, rural)
Guess what? Zero of these four schools ended up making my list but that wasn’t the point of the visits. After visits of all four, I was certain of two factors:

1) I needed a school that was significantly bigger than my high school and
2) I needed a campus environment (unlike BU or NYU, where campus is nearly indistinguishable from the rest of the city).

These early-stage open-minded college learning experiences are crucial to set the foundation for the entire process. Start early and you can complete weekend learning excursions like this. Start late, and you may be pressed for time, rush through the process, and have to skip out on this type of valuable exploration with your child. Don’t let that be you!
That’s Kiley above on the left. Last year, when Kiley first joined my program, we worked on this exploration process early on...and she and her mom (right) followed through!

Fast forward to today, Kiley is at her dream school, Boston College. She gave herself the right amount of time to the second half of her college search process could be focused on the application portion and standing out from the pack.

When should all this happen? Ideally, sophomore year fall. Junior year fall at the latest. Any later and the process becomes much more stressful than it needs to be for both parent & student.

Do you need help navigating the college search process (or know someone who does)? Click here to see if and how we can help (or pass the link along to your fellow parent that might be able to use it)!

Happy college-searching,

Jack Delehey

Jack Delehey (Vanderbilt '14) is a college admissions expert originally from Concord, MA and now resides in Denver, CO. It is his goal to pass on his college admission knowledge, strategies, and unique perspective to high school students in a young, fun, relatable, older-brother type manner.

The college application process is often confusing and stressful. But it just doesn't have to be that way! If you are interested in gaining clarity, peace of mind, and a detailed step-by-step program to help your child through the college application process, reach out and request a free strategy session today.
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