How to pick a college
by Carol Clark, Achieve More Tutoring, Inc.
I always tell my parents that I’m in the trenches with them, but this year, I am really in the trenches with you! My daughter is a junior in high school this year, so I am going through all the same craziness that you are going through. I keep telling myself all the things I’ve been telling you for years: “It’s a journey. Enjoy it!”, “Everyone gets where they are supposed to go.”, “Start visiting colleges in order to narrow your choices.” But, now that I’m in the boat with you, this is hard! It’s overwhelming! But, I also know it’s doable!
We actually started visiting colleges last spring break during her sophomore year. I think I made some of my friends panic because we started so early, but I wanted to start early to help reduce our stress. Believe me, I’m not usually this ahead of the game. So far, we’ve visited seven campuses and she really likes one. She is still working on what she wants to study in college, so that may still change her decision and consequently our search.
Since this is such a big decision and so many factors impact it, let’s use my favorite ACT strategy: elimination. I tell parents to start with the 3 big characteristics of a college: big vs. small, rural vs. urban and near vs. far. Those three questions will really help narrow down the 5000 choices of colleges you have in the US.
I do have one rule of thumb that I share with students and parents. I like students to be within 4 hours of their home. That way, when they are having a really rough week, they can plan a trip home spontaneously if they need to. Maybe they had a rough week with their roommate. Maybe mid-terms were especially challenging. Maybe they are getting sick and just need mom to make them some soup. Whatever the reason, I like my students to be able to come home if they need to and when they want to.
Now, that doesn’t mean that students haven’t gone farther and loved it. If you do decide to pick a school farther away, just go into it knowing that coming home isn’t going to be as easy. I had a student who went to North Carolina for tennis. His mom said it was going to be ok because they had close relatives just an hour from the school. They drove him there, unpacked him and got him all ready for his first day. As they were climbing into their car to drive home, he asked them where they were going. Confused, they replied, “home.” He then asked when he could go back. His next scheduled visit home wasn’t until Thanksgiving. He was at a much closer school the following year.
Again, this does not mean that a student who goes farther away won’t succeed. I have plenty of those as well. Just go into it knowing that trips home will be much less frequent than if you live closer. My rule of thumb is just that: a rule of thumb. It will work really well for many students but not all of them!
In addition to the 3 criteria above, you need to look at what your child wants to study in college. Do they have a specific area they want to study or are they unsure of their preferences and still waiting to fall in love with something? My daughter really wants to study biology and music which most schools offer. However, she also really wants to be in a marching band and that really impacted our list. She is looking at smaller schools which generally don’t have marching bands.
The most important thing to consider, however, is if it’s a college that your child loves. I’ve seen many students go to the college their parents wanted them to go to and then flunk out. My friend’s son had amazing grades, 17 hours of AP credits and a 35 on his ACT. Everyone said he’d be great at engineering. He was a direct admit to U of I’s engineering department and went in as a 2nd semester freshman because of all of his AP credits. It just wasn’t the right fit, and he was asked to leave after 1st semester sophomore year. He came back home, went to community college and appealed to U of I. They let him back in, and he flunked out a second time! He came home again, but this time, he really thought about what he wanted to do as an adult, and it wasn’t engineering. It was teaching! I am happy to report that he is currently finishing his last semester and will graduate in June with a teaching degree.
I have another friend whose son actually did want to study engineering. They looked at all the best engineering schools around the area and decided on IIT. He only made it through 1 semester and ended up back home. My daughter is friends with him and told me that he never really wanted to go to IIT. He wanted to go to Bradley. Be sure to listen to your children and guide them to the right school, but be sure to take their wants into consideration also. You want college to be the right fit in every possible aspect.
I stumbled across an interesting article that included 10 items to consider. See if there are some on it that may help you start to narrow down your list: http://www.supercollege.com/guide/guide.cfm?t_id=1&g_id=5&step=1&ComStartRow=1&ComPageNum=1
This is obviously not a comprehensive list, but it will definitely help get you started. Use the “College Chart” below to help keep yourself organized (or create your own). And, remember what I tell myself every day, “It’s a journey. Enjoy it!”