3 Questions For Peter Van Buskirk

Fifth Form students and their families were invited a special presentation led by Peter Van Buskirk, President of BestCollegeFit.com, former Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at Franklin and Marshall College, and bestselling author. He then sat down with Mr. Harry to answer a few college admissions questions. We thank Mr. Van Buskirk for sharing his expertise with the Saint James community.

1. With college admissions becoming more competitive every year, how would you advise students to approach their college search and application process?

The competition for admission at the most selective colleges has become greater each year, but that doesn’t mean these colleges are better or more deserving of the attention. Rather, their popularity continues to grow as many families obsess on name recognition, rankings, and reputation. In effect, they have found answers before they have gotten to know the question—and, in this case, the question needs to center on the student. Rather than allowing a destination-orientation to dominate their thinking, families would be well-advised to take a student-centered approach by asking some basic questions of the student: “Why do you want to go to college?” “What do you hope to accomplish?” “How do you feel you can best accomplish your goals?” This reflection will empower the student with a sense of purpose that will make the selection of colleges and presentation of credentials more meaningful.

2. As the cost of college rises, what steps can students and families take in high school to avoid big surprises or missed opportunities in terms of financial aid and/or merit scholarships?

It is important to consider the business side of the equation when anticipating cost and affordability factors in the college selection process. In the “college transaction,” think of admission officers as investors. They have limited places to offer and, while they might have tens of millions of dollars in need-based and merit-based scholarships at their disposal, they are actively considering the potential return on their investment when offering assistance. The key in the search for financial support, then, is for students to target colleges that will value them for what they have to offer.

3. What can students and families do to reduce the stress in the college application process?

The college search and selection process can be overwhelming to even the most diligent and well-prepared students. At the end of the day, however, it is important for students—and their parents—to remember that the outcomes are not a measure of the person. Too often, pressure to achieve connotes with pressure to please and young people carry the weight of expectations into their college planning. In the end, success will be defined less by where a student goes to college—and more by how the student embraces the opportunity to squeeze everything out of the chosen environment. When the selection process is student centered and focused on fit, happiness and personal growth will follow.

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