A college night might be the answer

There is a great deal of information for counselors to convey to a lot of students and their families about college admissions, and despite the work involved, a college night may help answer a lot of questions and lighten the load for busy counselors in the end.

“Counselors don’t have enough time in the day and this is one important, efficient way they can get information out,” says Lynn O’Shaughnessy, a college consultant and author of several books on the college admissions process.

O’Shaughnessy says one of parents’ biggest complaints is that they don’t get enough correct information, and high school counselors can’t always devote the time necessary to the process. A college night gets information to a number of parents at once and allows you, others at the school, experts and even well-informed parents themselves to share information.

Here are five critical steps in planning a college night.

Start early. Very early.  Perhaps a year before, when the problems students faced in the process are clear in your head. In fact, the first step might be to collect your notes and information from students and parents at the previous college night. Survey them about your effort and about their needs.

Get them there. Promote the event early and often. Consider offering food, child care, a contest with a prize. Involve the administration, others on the staff, students and student groups. Come up with a good theme and marketing effort. Don’t shortchange promotion.

Don’t try to be an expert. There is an overwhelming amount of information online about the college exploration and admissions process, and while a review of basics, especially the timetable, may be helpful, everyone attending will have a different understanding. Consider a program that clearly explains ways to get good information – from what to look for at a college Web site to good ways to get information on college value. Consider telling parents what to look for and how. Record the event, too, and turn it into a webinar or YouTube video for others.

But if you want expertise… Invite a local college consultant, a financial aid person at a local school, an admissions official, a tax accountant, a successful student. Even someone you know or someone at the school who has good experience with post-secondary work. Tell them you want them to specifically discuss a few biggest misconceptions or key areas of misunderstanding. Remind them, too, that some parents understand the basics. Let them answer questions. Consider holding a series of break-out sessions from which parents can choose the topic that concerns them most. Have rooms or tables where they can chat with an expert about their specific concern. Get kids or their parents online on Naviance, Big Future,  O*net or the College Scorecard.

Start a conversation.  Set up a page with the material you have developed and invite other experts to contribute valuable information and links to reliable sources. Allow parents to chime in with information they’ve found out once you’ve verified it – even potentially to ask questions.  Keep the conversation going.

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Jim Paterson has written broadly on career exploration, academic success and other education related topics for several national and trade publications. He was a school counselor and was formerly named “Counselor of the Year” in Montgomery County, MD, a large Washington, DC-area district. He is currently a writer for many education publications and websites, based in Lewes, DE.