The Road to College: ‘Fall’ing in Line with College Planning


On the road to college, being proactive is crucial for students at any point along the journey. Amid uncertainty, this rings particularly true. The fall offers us an optimal time to check in on these key action items, whether your student is finalizing their college applications, or just beginning their high school career.

Narrowing the List. Put simply, building a college list requires a holistic understanding of your student’s specific needs. But, how can we do this without the coveted college visit? While a campus tour can certainly help students visualize the physicality of an institution, much of the information provided is typically available on the website, or through conversations with admissions officers and current students. Whether your child is preparing to apply this January or just beginning their search, focus instead on the methodology of their selection process. Through the lens of your student’s major and career interests, ensure the school’s location and resources make sense for that intended industry. A campus near or in New York City, for example, may offer unparalleled access to opportunities in areas like theater or finance, compared to a rural college setting. Yet, narrowing the list shouldn’t be viewed as a process of right and wrong. Rather, it should be a more gradual, reductive exercise framed by your student’s specific goals and interests. After all, what an institution might lack in specialization, it may make up for with a purposeful liberal arts curriculum that cultivates critical thinkers across disciplines.

Test Mapping. While we can’t possibly know the state of standardized testing for next year’s admissions cycle, planning ahead will ensure your student is prepared for anything. Map out when and how you plan to prepare and take the test. Rushing to do so without an 8-10 week program of rigorous preparation is often a waste of both time and resources. After a timely study regimen, if you have the opportunity to take an exam, we recommend you do so. A solid test score can communicate important information to colleges about your student’s academic skill set, though certainly doesn’t define your child’s overall potential.

Course Selection. Though much may be out of students’ control, one area that remains manageable and essential for students of all ages is selecting a challenging course load. This doesn’t mean students should automatically pick the most challenging classes offered. Rather, choose courses one can successfully manage that still offer the greatest opportunity for intellectual growth. Advanced courses often consist of students who are more focused and motivated, which will in turn help your student succeed. Particularly amid a shifting admissions landscape, colleges still place deep value on the rigor and difficulty of a student’s transcript, making this a prime space to demonstrate academic excellence. Communicate with teachers and counselors now to understand what courses will be available and how your student can prepare. This will allow your child to establish the appropriate grade goals to qualify for any available advanced courses next year.

When the road ahead is unclear, reflection and planning can help your student prepare to successfully navigate any roadblocks they may encounter.

F. Tony Di Giacomo, Ph.D. is an educator and founder ofNovella Prep. He has 20 years of university experience in admissions, development, teaching, and research. Contact him at

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About the Author: Tony Di Giacomo, Ph.D.