5 things high school juniors need to know about college search

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Corrected Feb. 17, 7 p.m.

High school juniors and their parents have been hearing the phrase “Class of 2022” for years now. But guess what? It’s 2021 and the college application process is underway.

The pandemic is only heightening the usual stress and uncertainty of the search. So for tips on how to start the college search process, we turned to Sue Rexford, the director of college guidance at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School.

Here are her five things you need to know.


1 Stay calm!

Rexford’s first tip is simply to stay calm. Typically, families and prospective students get to visit schools and get a sense of what they’re interested in. Even though the shutdown of college campuses certainly makes visiting them in person difficult or impossible, it’s crucial to remember that every high school junior (and their families) is having the same frustrations.

“It’s important for the students right now to maintain some sense of perspective, in the sense that they’re not the only ones that are going through this,” she says. “Also, they need to recognize that ultimately this all will pass and they will hopefully have a wonderful four years on whatever campus they decide to attend.”

2 Do lots of research!

While visiting campuses is not possible, there are a multitude of ways to find out more about the colleges that you’re interested in. Many colleges now have Zoom information sessions, as well as virtual tours and college fairs.

“The first step,” Rexford says, “should be to see what’s on the website of the schools that they’re interested in. Maybe with an eye toward when they will be opening up for campus tours. Starting with the websites, getting on virtual visits, getting on Zoom calls or information sessions will at least start to give the student an idea of narrowing down their college lists, so that if indeed there’s going to be extensive travel available in the summer or early fall, they’ll have an idea of what colleges they want to target.”

The key is to be resourceful in finding opportunities to connect with colleges and explore different options, Rexford says.

3 Remember that schools are dealing with the pandemic, too.

Colleges are trying to figure out how to engage prospective students and deal with changing guidelines and they understand what is happening in the world around them.

“Sometimes we lose sight of that because we’re all stressed over it, but it’s important to remember that it’s bigger than just one school or one county or one state, but it’s a national issue that we’re dealing with,” Rexford adds.

4 Is Jewish life on campus important to you? Decide and then research.

The first step in exploring the Jewish side of campus life is to decide what your expectations are. Schools vary from having no Jewish programs to ones with kosher meal plans and fully staffed and organized Hillel, Chabad and Meor student agencies.

A good start is looking on Hillel.org, which has its own college guide. Another way to learn more about Jewish offerings is to go to the college website and search for Hillel, Chabad and Meor.

“It’s important to think about how many people are on staff. If there’s no staff, that’s indicative that it’s a student-run organization more than it is a formal religious activity,” Rexford says.

For more information, get in touch with the agency’s director and find out the whole picture.

“Is it active? You can usually tell if they run events. Do they provide Friday night dinners? What kinds of activities do they run?” Rexford says.

5 You don’t have to go far to start visiting colleges.

When it comes to the seeing a college in person, families in the Washington region don’t have to go far to visit different kinds of colleges, Rexford says.

“If you want to know what a major state university looks and feels like, drive over to College Park and walk around the University of Maryland campus,” she said. “You don’t need to be on an official tour.

“If you want to know what an urban campus is like, visit George Washington University or American University. If you want to know what a small school feels like, visit a place like Goucher College.”

Rexford adds: “All of those schools are within easy driving distance and they would give you an idea of: ‘Would I be comfortable on this type of campus?’ It’s one step that could be beneficial.”

This article was changed to correct Sue Rexford’s first name.

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