SJR Column: Admissions, December 2014

One of the most enjoyable aspects of serving as the leader of a university is spending time with talented young people and I’m always interested to learn from UIS students how they successfully navigated the college decision process and ultimately chose the Springfield campus of the University of Illinois for their college experience.

For first-year students from Illinois, there are well over 100 possibilities in-state alone and the type of school, distance from home, academic majors offered, cost, selectivity, size, location, housing, student life, and even food are all important factors that help students match their personal profile to the right institution. Navigating through the possibilities and making the right match, however, can be both challenging and complicated.

For students (and parents) considering UIS, one of the best resources for navigating the college decision process is our talented Director of Admissions, Fernando Planas. Mr. Planas, a native Illinoisan, has been a college admissions professional for more than twenty years and the first recommendation he makes to prospective students and their parents is to start planning for college early.

“Taking the right college prep courses throughout high school is very important,” says Fernando, “and working with a counselor from the beginning of high school to put together a plan helps to insure college readiness.”

Clair Casper, a UIS Admissions Counselor who provides assistance for prospective college students in Sangamon County, agrees. “High school guidance counselors are our trusted partners,” she says. “We work closely with them and students should utilize them throughout their high school career.”

Noelle Bourne, a UIS Admissions Counselor who works in West and Central Illinois advises that the campus visit is a crucial part of the college decision. “Make sure you get the feel of the campus,” she says. “Consider how you are treated during your visit and get a sense of the layout and the facilities.” Noelle and Clair agree that visiting at least three schools is important so that students can compare campuses and “picture themselves” being a student there. “Even if a school is local and familiar,” says Clair, “schedule a college visit with the Admissions Office in advance so that you can receive personal attention and so that arrangements can be made for you to meet a faculty member and/or current students in your areas of interest.”

The College Board, a non-profit organization that was created to expand access to higher education, is also a good resource for college planning. The website (collegeboard.org) offers a variety of tools for college decision-making, including a set of 10 provocative questions (What are some things you feel you do well? What’s your favorite class? If you could do a job for one day, what would it be?) to help students think about possible college majors and future careers. The site also offers action plans for parents with important information to help them assist their students to manage college admissions tests, financial planning and other aspects of the college admissions process.

For Illinois residents, the Illinois Student Assistance Commission is another helpful resource. The ISAC website (isac.org) provides various online tools to help students find information about colleges and universities, explore programs and majors and get tips on preparing for college. ISAC also hosts events across the state during February (Financial Aid Awareness Month) to help students and their families complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and to get advice about the college selection and admissions process .

Mr. Planas recommends that students apply to (and visit) three to five schools including at least one “reach school”, one “target school”, and one “safety school”. “The reach school is your dream school,” he says, “while target schools are ones you would be very happy to attend and are likely to be admitted; and safety schools are those that you are certain to be accepted and you would be content to attend.” In the end, the right school is the one that both matches academic qualifications and fits the characteristics that each student values most.

But what about those UIS students I mentioned earlier? Well, they almost universally tell me the most important factors that led to their enrolling at UIS included the individualized and supportive learning environment provided by faculty, the small “private-college feel” of the campus, the opportunity to earn the high-value University of Illinois credential in a small-college setting, the internship experiences available, and the robust financial aid and scholarships that make UIS so affordable. That sounds like a great match – and fit – to me! (The next UIS Preview Day for prospective students and parents is January 24, 2015. To register, schedule a personalized visit or get more information about UIS, go to: http://www.uis.edu/admissions/ or phone: 1-888-977-4847.)

Chancellor Susan J. Koch