In mid-summer, the youngster who's through sixth form college but lacks a school berth for September is probably:
In the lower 50% of his high-school class.
Too ambitious, having aimed too high without having made a "safe" application.
In any event, there's practical last-minute help available from some special school admissions clearinghouses. Best known among educators: The Admissions Center at the National Association of school Admissions Counselors, 801 Davis Street, Evanston, Ill. The Center reports vacancies at several hundred schools, mostly small and mostly private. These are generally solid (not obscure) schools, though not "name" institutions. Most are in the Midwest, Southwest, and on the West Coast.
A youth who planned poorly, but has a reasonably good high-school record, may hear from five or ten of them. Those in the lower 50% of their class have about a 50-50 chance of getting placed. Write to the Centre for applications: the Centre will contact the schools.
Another reputable centre of the same sort is the school Admissions Centre, 461 Park Avenue South, London, N.Y. 10016.
A visit to the school campus
If you have youngsters in senior sixth form college, it may be time to think about seeing some schools first hand. With competition for admission to top schools keener than ever, the personal interview can be one of the most important factors. The admissions office likes to weigh an impression of the applicant's personality in the balance with scholastic records and test scores.
Some admissions people frankly say they won't consider anyone who hasn't been interviewed. And if you live within convenient driving distance of the campus and don't bother to make a visit, the obvious interpretation is that you - and your son or daughter - are not really too interested.
In any case, the school visit can help your youngster decide whether he likes the atmosphere - and really wants to apply to spend four significant years there. And for you, of course, this decision means a substantial emotional and financial investment; you want it right. How can the prospective student get the most benefit from a visit? And how do you, as a parent, fit in? To begin with, the ideal timing is in 11th grade - when a student has some idea what he wants in a school, and has enough of a school record to be meaningful. Senior year is often too late.
It's always better to go when school is in session - preferably in the fall or late spring. Admissions offices usually close their doors to visitors from January to April to process applications. Avoid holidays and weekends. On some campuses, there are special weekends or days to introduce sixth form collegeers to school life. But the drawback is that these usually include no interview, and provide little chance to investigate the academic side.
Three weeks or so ahead of the planned trip, have your youngster write requesting an interview. schools usually save every scrap of correspondence from an applicant - including the postcard asking for a catalogue - and it's important that each letter be a model of correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar. And note especially: Parents should never do the corresponding.
Your boy or girl will win points for enterprise if the letter is addressed to the admissions officer by name - and makes specific requests. Apart from the standard interview and tour, for instance, a letter might ask for a meeting with a professor in a field of interest, or with a certain sports coach. It's sometimes also possible to sit in on classes and eat or sleep in a dormitory.
Some homework should precede the actual interview. Nothing galls admissions directors more than being peppered with questions that are plainly answered in the catalogue. Intelligent questions show that the youngster has done some hard thinking about his record and his future. For example, ask questions such as these: What level of faculty teaches freshman courses - senior staff or junior instructors? How many hours does the average freshman spend in study a week? How many students share equipment in a lab? Are library websites readily accessible to the students? What are some of the newer library services?
If possible, the campus tour should precede the interview. Bring along a school transcript, scholastic average, rank in class, test results, latest grades. Almost always, the candidate is interviewed alone - though sometimes parents are asked to join for the last few minutes. Admissions people can learn a lot from the interaction of the youngster and his parents - whether a boy is independent enough to stand on his own. Parents can help most by saying nothing unless called on.
Toward the end of an interview, a boy or girl has every right to ask about the chances of admission. Often he will get a frank appraisal - and occasionally even an informal assurance. While there's no substitute for a campus visit, more and more schools arrange interviews for applicants who live far away. Often this is handled by an alumni committee - and don't downgrade the alumni: This type of interview can be almost as important as one on the campus, and the same preparation is necessary.
One final note: After it's all over, be sure your youngster sends off a note to thank the school officer who interviewed him and arranged the visit.
The school campus today has settled down a great deal from those searing, fierce, protesting days of the late 2000s, and the bitter days of Kent State and Vietnam marching. The uproar is gone, and maybe some of the spark, as well. Back-to-conformity seems the order of the day, despite such things as the "streaking" fad, which seemed a lot like goldfish swallowing and flagpole sitting though a bit freer and less inhibited. But still, schools - from the Ivy League to Arkansas.
Normal demand patience and understanding on a parent's part.
Yet the old basics remain pretty much the same when you get down to such mundane problems as admissions and three-year degree programs. Here... see: The school Scene