In recent weeks, I have had numerous conversations with high school juniors and parents about developing thoughtful, balanced college lists. While families often articulate in our meetings that finding the best fit is a priority in the college search process, students’ approach to choosing schools for their college lists does not always support this goal. Here are a few tips to follow and mistakes to avoid to ensure that your college list will yield favorable options that are good matches for your personal and academic goals:
- Give Schools A Chance — When I was young, I was privileged to enjoy my grandmother’s made-from-scratch cooking in her modest kitchen in Hewlett, NY. At the time, I hardly appreciated her homemade pea soup and other healthy dishes as I was stuck in the ubiquitous childhood chicken fingers phase for too long (definitely my loss!). Any time I even attempted to push my dinner plate aside without trying everything on it, I got a disapproving glance from my grandmother with an implied warning that dessert was completely out of the question if I did not give dinner a fair chance.
The notion we should try a food before dismissing it as something we don’t like may be a childhood lesson, but the same reasoning applies when students and parents vet colleges. Don’t cross a college off your list just because your neighbor’s daughter had a bad experience and is planning to transfer. If the reviews for a college are a mixed bag on College Confidential, visit the college yourself and decide based on your own observations whether the school is a good fit.
Every year, I join parents and students on college tours, and on more than one occasion, I am pleasantly surprised. I have discovered academic programs, unique residential life opportunities, and connected with current students in ways that I could only do in person. Keeping an open mind is essential when exploring colleges. Judging a school without giving it a chance can lead to missed opportunities.
- Don’t Let College Rankings Drive Your College Search —A blog post in The Washington Post reminds parents what to prioritize in the college search and application process and what to let go- mainly a fixation with highly selective colleges. Students will be most successful in the college environment where they feel comfortable. A college that is ranked #1 by a book or magazine is #1 for who? Everyone? That #1 ranked school is the best fit for every prospective college applicant? Of course this is not the case. Students should focus on what they need in order to thrive academically, socially and personally. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach to the college search process.
- Connecting In Person — While many of us rely on social media to connect with friends and family, the insight gathered through an in-person conversation is irreplaceable. When exploring colleges, don’t confine your research to the Internet, books and social media. Visit campuses when possible and speak with current students. Talk to faculty (they will welcome the opportunity!) about their classes. Connect with alumni and ask about their experiences at the college and how they maintain a connection with their schools today. Speak with admission officers at college fairs and prospective student events. Listen well and ask good questions. People are happy to share their stories.
Questions about your college search? Need assistance developing your college list? Feel free to get in touch. We look forward to learning how we can help you achieve your college application goals.