When considering colleges, the most important criterion for choosing a college should be the question: Will your teenager be both “comfortable and challenged” there? This criteria should be applied to every college or university that you and your teen consider. You and your teen should also think about these three kinds of college environments:
• Physical environment – Is the college big or small, old or new? Which would your teen prefer? It’s important — after all, he/she will be there for four years!
• Academic environment – Does the college have the programs and/or major your teen wants? Is it academically rigorous? What are the faculty’s expectations of students? What’s the overall academic atmosphere — is it a grind or a party school?
• Social/cultural environment – Is this university a rural school or a city school? Is it conservative or liberal? Is it religious? Again, we’re back to the question: Will you be comfortable there? Students are encouraged to view diversity on college campuses as a good thing — something between the homogeneity of high school and the wide diversity of the “real world.”
Other considerations should include a frank look at the question: What are my teen’s chances of being admitted to this school? It takes some homework to get the answer. Start with a school’s website, checking to see if it includes a profile of the entering class or discusses the kind of students it is looking for. Another revealing way to learn about a school is to visit it! You’ll get a pretty good idea rather quickly about what the school is like. In fact, a campus visit is very often the decision-maker in cases where students are accepted at more than one desired college. (Check out Collegiate Choice’s Walking Tour Videos for a look at 330 universities and colleges in the United States and abroad.)
Of course, You and your teen will need to consider the college’s costs per year. Although that is certainly important, cost should not stop your teen from applying to a school he/she would really like to attend. “Don’t let the ‘sticker price’ of a school keep you from applying. As a rule, the less you can afford a school, the more financial aid you can get there. You might be pleasantly surprised — even without scholarships — at what need-based financial aid can offer.
Students should apply to 10-12 colleges and universities. The list should include 2-3 “safety schools” (relatively easy for your teen), several “target schools” (places where your teen’s chances of getting accepted are 50%), and the remainder “reach schools” (schools your teen would like to attend but may not be qualified to attend). But remember, all of the schools your teen applies to should fall within the “comfortable and challenged” category.
Students generally find it easy to pick their reach schools, but difficult to choose their safety schools. There are many wonderful colleges and universities where your teen can have as enriching and rewarding experience. A wonderful book about colleges is “Colleges That Change Lives,” by Loren Pope. The book looks at about 40 small schools and focuses on how they’re preparing students to go out and make a difference in the world.
Once the preliminary list is completed, the application process starts. My next blog will deal with the application process.