Things to think about in the new year

New Year’s is a time for resolutions and reorganization. As you speak with the parents of your students, now is the time to help them understand and start implementing the college timeline for their children.

There is no need for them to be intimidated, with proper planning and execution, there is plenty of time to research and visit colleges and complete the applications.

If parents anticipate that their child will be applying to any of the more selective colleges and universities, the earlier they initiate the process, the better.

College preparation in high school varies widely; private schools tend to start earlier and offer families much more direct contact. According to research conducted by the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA – public school students in the United States, on average, receive a total of  38 minutes of personal college counseling with their counselor over four years and 6 out of 10 students reported receiving no college counseling whatsoever. Nationally the current student to counselor ratios are 476 to one and in California they are 1016 to one; which might explain the burgeoning college consultant market.

The two most important factors for any college application are the rigor of a student’s coursework, i.e., just how competitive are the classes and a student’s performance in the classes chosen.

So, this means that course selection for all four years is critical; especially if a student has lofty goals of  attending a selective college or university. It means that families need to plan and prioritize their course selection and try to determine which courses they’ll take each year. It is important to understand the point values in your school system for different courses: standard college prep, honors, AP (Advanced Placement) and IB (International Baccalaureate). You should advise them where necessary about doubling up in foreign language, math or science courses so that their child is prepared to take the most advanced courses that interest them.

It is also important to check on course expectations at each of the colleges on their list. In the Princeton Review, Best 385 Colleges ( this information is published on the right side of every college description and it is frequently a surprise to many families. It is not shocking that the more selective schools have more rigid requirements. As an example, Emory, Colgate, Rice, Bucknell, Davidson and most of the ivies recommend four years (of the same) foreign language. That means that even if they don’t like Spanish 3 as a junior, they will still probably need to enroll in Spanish 4 as a senior if those schools are on their target list.  Look closely because some colleges, like the University of South Carolina, have particular requirements such as a “Visual/Performing Arts” class. That means it must be on the transcript, so they can take it in their senior year.

Lee Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to:;