Blog - Category: Campus Tours

Top 10 Things High Schoolers Should Do to Get Ready for College


Happy New Year! Time for new beginnings, new hope and, sure, even some new worries. But getting ready for college doesn’t have to be one.

There’s tons of resources out there to help map out the journey. As with any monumental journey, the best bet is to bite it off in short increments and start early.

Here are ten tips to make your transition to college easier.

1. Make a calendar

Goals are easier if they are visualized. Get a giant desk calendar and some fancy pens and highlighters. Stick it on your wall and mark it up with dates for specific tasks like taking the SAT.

2. Practice, practice, practice

Register for the preliminary SAT and National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. The tests are usually given in October, help you prepare and can be used to enter into scholarship competitions. Best of all: They can be taken in a classroom.

3. Make a list. Check it twice

Write down a list of 10-20 schools to investigate – we think these 15 outstanding independent colleges and universities in Michigan should be on the list. Separate them into categories: Top choices, tier twos and fallbacks. Dream big. Do your research. Talk to counselors and teachers.

4. Research Scholarships

Tons of money is available. Millions of dollars go unclaimed each year. Get your money’s worth from the guidance counselor, do your research and start prioritizing. We really like this one.

5. Letters of recommendation

Most wait until the last minute. Don’t be that guy. Ask early.

6. Campus visits

Colleges offer open houses and campus tours all year long. Don’t wait to schedule one (or three). Absorb the tours but wander off the beaten path. Talk to students in the bookstore. Go to a coffee shop.

Is this a place you can picture yourself? So much of campus tours are about feel but it can be an overwhelming process. There’s a lot to absorb. Take lots of notes and snapshots to refresh your memory in a few months.

7. The nitty gritty

Fall of senior year is typically when the search hits high gear: Taking or retaking SATs or ACTs, writing and perfecting admissions essays, scheduling interviews, exploring costs and financial aid and completing the free application for federal student aid.

Phew. Take a breath. It’s going to be OK.

8. Enter to win the easiest scholarship contest on the planet

Top off your college fund by entering the We Are The Independents monthly scholarship drawing from the Michigan Colleges Alliance. You could win $2K in 2 minutes.

9. Make a call

Decisions, decisions. At some point, fate is out of your hands. It can be an anxious time. But if you’ve done everything on the list, take a bow. Even if you haven’t but have met all the deadlines, take a bow. There’s nothing you can do about it now but wait.

10. Don’t forget to enjoy your senior year
This will be one of the best years of your life. Don’t squander a single second.
And take it from us: Things are going to be OK and work themselves out. They usually do. There’s so much pressure in college admissions, it’s easy to lose perspective. This is about what is best for you and what college can help you get where you want to be.

We understand that at Michigan’s top 15 independent colleges and universities. The colleges are smaller and emphasize community over crowds.

Often less expensive than public institutions, the independents boast higher four-year graduation rates and smaller class sizes for a truly unique and affordable experience.

Be bold. Be different. Go independent.


Sorry, juniors. Winter break is a good time to start the college search


Instead of hitting the slopes or sledding hills this Christmas break, it’s a good time for high school juniors to start seriously thinking about their college search.

We know. It’s heresy to think of such things on break. But the fact is the next year and a half is going to be a whirlwind and now is the time to develop a plan for applying to colleges if you haven’t already.

Don’t freak out if you haven’t. The heavy lifting – essays, recommendations, tests – are still a ways off. But now is the time to start a schedule and chart a to-do list and timeline for the college search.

The good news: Most of this stuff now is quick and about laying a framework for the future. You’ll have plenty of time to see “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” for the fourth time.

So here’s a few easy goals for the college search during winter break.

  • Write out a schedule or timeline of the college search process. There’s tons of resources online, including one from the College Board.
  • RSVP for a campus visit day or two. Keep an eye out for special overnight visits or visit days for athletics, arts or majors. You can find plenty of interesting options on the We Are The Independents campus events schedule.
  • Make an appointment with your guidance counselor to discuss ways to improve the process and any tips s/he may have.
  • Review PSAT scores and look for areas of improvement. They typically arrive in December.
  • Sign up to take the SAT in the spring. Register online or through school. Practice books are available online at The College Board.
  • Start thinking about financial aid sources. There’s a good overview at
  • If you’re in Advance Placement Program classes, register for AP exams when you get back to school.
  • Take two minutes to enter the easiest scholarship contest you can win, the We Are The Independents monthly scholarship drawing from the Michigan Colleges Alliance.

  • That’s it. Go have fun. Sorry about the lack of snow. Or you’re welcome. Whichever applies.

    And one more thing: Start researching Michigan’s top 15 independent colleges and universities.

    Like you, the schools are truly unique and exceptional. All prize themselves on their award-winning faculty and providing a college experience that’s unlike those at traditional big state schools.

    Class sizes are low. So students are taught by professors, rather than graduate students. They form lifelong bonds with professors, who are experts in their field and can help students discover their passions.

    It’s one of many reasons the independents boast higher four-year graduation rates. And why graduates of independents are often quicker to find jobs in their fields.

    And despite what you’ve heard, the colleges are often more affordable than state schools.

    Be bold. Be different. Go independent.

Why your junior year of high school is your first year of college


It’s hard to believe, but at this time next year, you’ll be graduating from high school and starting college in the fall.

Do you know what you want to study? Where you want to study? What type of college, campus and experience you prefer? How you’re going to pay for it all?

Relax. Breathe deep. You’re at the start of a really exciting, interesting and fun time. You have plenty of time to take it all in, plan and make all those big decisions. You just need to get started.

The college search usually starts with clicking through a bunch of websites and leafing through a few fancy brochures. Unfortunately, pixels and pages are no substitute for getting boots on the ground. You need to experience a college campus first hand.

Breathe the air. Wander the student center. Sit in on a lecture. Chat up a few professors. Grab a meal in the dining hall. Stroll through the quad.

Try several colleges on for size
Michigan is blessed with many outstanding college options. There’s the big state universities. The specialized trade schools. And there’s Michigan’s smaller independent colleges and universities. Each has its own unique attributes. Its own unique vibe.

Are you seeking community or looking for a crowd? Do they offer the programs you want to study? Are they flexible when you change majors and then change again? It’s so important to find that right fit.

That fit can make all the difference. Research suggests that the “fit factor” (choosing a college most compatible with your learning, social, and extracurricular interests) is one of the most important determinants of academic success and earning an undergraduate degree.

The best way to choose your own path is to visit a campus or three. Grab some friends. Make it a road trip.

Colleges know how important campus visits are for high school juniors. That’s why so many host special sessions every spring like Spring Arbor University‘s Junior Exploration or Hope College‘s Junior Day or Hillsdale College‘s Junior Visit Day or Alma College‘s Junior Day.

Whichever you choose, visit early and visit often. Life moves by pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around, you just might miss it.

Follow your own path. Be bold. Be different. Go independent.

Five tips to make the most of campus visits


Campus visits are so fun it’s easy to forget they’re one of the most important parts of the college application process.

Unlike essays and letters of recommendations, the visits are a chance to actually see and feel what life could be like in the next four or five years. 71% of students – that’s nearly three in four – said visits are the most trusted source of information about colleges, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Even so, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and forget that the visits are meant to be fact-finding missions about a hugely important decision. With that in mind, here are five tips to make the most of the visits.

Start online
There’s no scratch and sniff yet, but several colleges have virtual tours online. Andrews University‘s virtual tour gives you a Sim City style bird’s eye view. Calvin College has a gorgeous tour on Same with Aquinas College. While Adrian College, Siena Heights University, University of Detroit Mercy, Marygrove College, Albion College, Olivet College, Alma College, Hope College, Kalamazoo College, Madonna University and a host of others have videos and other resources at

Schedule tours
They can get time consuming, so it’s best to do so during high school breaks. Sign up for tours and meetings with admissions counselors. The good folks at the Michigan Colleges Alliance also have a great list of campus tours, open houses and events you can find here:

Deviate from the tour
Take at least three hours to yourself. Talk to students. Arrange to sit in on some classes. Eat at a dining hall. Look at the dorms. Wander through the quad alone. Go to the college bookstore. Wander off campus. Close your eyes: Is this a fit for you? Is this a place you can see yourself prospering? Does it feel right?

Do your research
Pepper people with questions: Is Wifi available campus-wide? What about network access in dorms? What’s the student-teacher ratio in your field of study? How secure is the campus? Read the last several issues of the student newspaper to get a sense of campus issues. Take photos and notes. There’s a lot to remember.

Meet with financial aid counselors
Inquire about aid. In most cases, there’s a big difference between advertised tuition and what students actually pay.

That’s certainly the case at Michigan’s 15 independent colleges and universities, which are often less expensive than public institutions. They boast higher four-year graduation and smaller class sizes for a truly unique and affordable experience.

The colleges are located in some of Michigan’s most beautiful towns and nurture students who value community over crowds and want to chart their own path

Be bold. Be different. Go independent.

Six Tips for Making the Most Important Decision of Your Life

This is it. The most important decision of your life. Mess this up and your whole future is…Stop right there. Take a breath. It’s going to be OK. And probably even fun.

Sure, choosing a college is important. But it doesn’t need to cause hyperventilation. Like most overwhelming projects, applying to colleges is best managed through small, obtainable steps.

Watch your time
Quick. Look at the calendar. How many months before you start college? Junior and senior years can fly by. Make a calendar and note application deadlines. Work backwards and set incremental deadlines for parts of the process such as visiting campuses and writing essays.

Do your homework
First, meet your guidance counselor. As Albion College says, it’s their “job to help you succeed. Put them to work for you.”

Then gather information about colleges from anywhere you can – alumni, teachers, former students, mailings, online, campus rankings. Be a sponge. Create spreadsheets. Use old-fashioned paper. Start drafting pros and cons of each college but keep your mind open to change.

See for yourself
Check out your top picks in person. Go on the official tour. Go on the unofficial one as well. Talk to students and teachers. Step away from the tour group and linger in bookstores or the quad.

Can you see yourself there? What are the people like? What does your gut say? Be mindful of everyday considerations – how far is it from home, is it in an area you like? But be open to possibility and wonder. This is a place you’ll be for four years. You will change.

Strut your stuff
Take advantage of colleges, such as Hillsdale, that allow prospective students to interview. Make no mistake: They are judging you. But it’s also an opportunity for you to judge them, tell your story in person and set yourself apart.

Prepare for a gut check
Aim high. But keep your feet on the ground. At some point, most must ask: Can I afford this school? When you do, look beyond advertised tuition and research actual costs that are reduced through financial aid and scholarships.

More than 90 percent of students at Michigan’s top 15 independent colleges and universities, for instance, get financial aid. That drastically reduces costs. Consider four-year graduation rates. Most public institutions typically require five years to graduate. That increases tuition costs by 20 percent — tens of thousands of dollars. The graduation rate is double at private colleges, allowing students an extra year of earnings and experience in their careers.

Find your bliss
Do your best. Meet your deadlines. Then remember: Everything is out of your hands. Some disappointment probably is inevitable. So is amazement, joy and pride. Be serious. But don’t take things so seriously. Things have a way of working out.

Bonus Tip: Be Different.
Consider Michigan’s top 15 independent colleges and universities, where students forge success by following their own path. The colleges are smaller and emphasize community over crowds.

Often less expensive than public institutions, the independents boast higher four-year graduation rates and smaller class sizes for a truly unique and affordable experience.

Be bold. Be different. Go independent.