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Senior Mike McDermott finalizes his plans with H-F
college counselor Kevin Coy.
(Photo by 
Marilyn Thomas/HF Chronicle)

What makes a perfect college fit? College counselors and recruiters say there is no simple answer to this question.

Going to college is a life-changing experience that sets a student on a course for the future. Making this major decision isn’t always easy and often requires input from parents, teachers, counselors and college representatives.

The decision rests on any number of factors: What are my chances of success? Does the college have the major I want? Are my grades good enough for me to be admitted? How far do I want to go from home? What will the cost be, and how will I pay for it?

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Once the application is submitted, the school considers many factors before deciding whether to accept or reject an applicant.

Homewood-Flossmoor college counselor Kevin Coy used this analogy: “I always explain to families your son or daughter is in the driver’s seat. We’re all in the car together, but they’re really pointing the direction. Everyone else sitting in the car knows where it will ultimately end up (at college), so we want everyone on the same page as early as possible.”

“You need to be proactive, not reactive,” said H-F college counselor Brad Kain. He reminds students to keep the grade point average (GPA) up, be involved in one of the school’s numerous programs and use Naviance, an online tool to help students discover colleges that can be a good fit.

What do you want the college to know about you? Essays and a list of activities are great, but it’s your grade point average that says a lot, recruiters said.

Flossmoor resident Bonnie Cawley, a volunteer recruiter for MSU, her alma mater, explained: “GPA is our most significant factor.  At Michigan State University (MSU), the mantra regarding GPA is Performance Predicts Performance.  MSU strongly feels that performance in the classroom is the strongest predictor of performance in the classroom going forward.  We look at the student’s entire application, including GPA, ACT/SAT/PSAT, class rank, extracurricular activities and personal statement, but it is the GPA that matters most.”

Nate Bargar, a college representative for the University of Cincinnati, and Mike Melinder, a college representative from the University of Iowa, agree admissions staffers are looking at GPA, the ACT/SAT college entrance exam test scores and an H-F student’s course selections and grades.

“Course rigor is especially important for engineering, pre-med, business,”

said Bargar who knows the high school’s curriculum sets H-F applicants apart. “It’s been shown there’s a strong correlation between course rigor and ACT.”

In addition, Bargar said “the biggest misnomer is you need to be in all these things (clubs, activities).” And, he said, the writing sample a student submits will speak volumes. He has read many narratives during his years as a recruiter, and he said students “will be very heavy on narrative but what we’re looking for is a reflection of you.”

Bargar gave the example of the student who wrote about his grandfather telling how he emigrated and the job he did, but the essay never really told what the student learned from the grandfather or why he personally admired him. That was most important to the admissions staff.

Cawley suggested students visit a campus before making a choice

“How you are treated as a visitor is a good predictor of how you will be treated as a student,” she said.  “Get the feel of the place—you’ll find a campus that speaks to you.  It might not be the one you thought it would be. Give them all a chance.”

Some students look for colleges based on rankings. Others go for legacy. Still others want something particular from college—a small school in a pastoral setting, a traditionally black college, a specialty schools for the arts.

“De-stressing families and students—that’s a big one. It seems to never stop,” said Kain. “The social pressures of getting into X, Y, Z school and if I don’t I’m a failure.

The reality of it is those four years are important, but so many students are going on for advanced degrees that the next stage is more important. That continues to add more on that student’s shoulders.”

Counselors have listened to parents who don’t want their child to go to a school that’s “too far” from home, or the parents who worry about their own reputation if they believe their child didn’t get into a good college.

For H-F’s Coy, he really dreads to hear this: I need a list of all the good colleges.

“What makes a good college? In my eyes every college is a great college because you’re furthering your education, so tell me what makes it a good college for you,” Coy said.

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