We know that the parents of a college-bound student can sometimes worry a little bit about the college selection process, and as time goes on it can also become a little bit (or more than a little bit!) stressful for high school students, themselves. How can one be sure that he or she is applying to the “right” schools, let alone choosing one once the acceptances have rolled in?! Is it really all about the rankings in some news magazine, or how can a family feel comfortable with the choices made about college or university education?
One thing that we want to mention right from the get-go, however, is that “national rankings” are utterly arbitrary and should play a very tiny role in the decision-making process (if any at all, actually). The simple fact is that a “number one” ranked school in some magazine could actually be the worst possible location for a student to end up, even if he or she is fully academically qualified for admission there! On the other hand, it could also work out great, which is why it is vitally important to match up students with the schools that will work best for them.
This is not to disparage the colleges and universities that are traditional academic powerhouses, of course. Everyone knows about the Ivy League schools, for instance, and the Stanfords, Cal Techs, University of Chicagos are not hurting for applicants because they are world-class institutions. They have a lot to offer the right students. Other schools (also excellent in their own rights) may be better, or worse fits, depending on the individual. As professionals in this field, we are happy to provide some tips on how to decide what constitutes a good fit.
How Does Your Child Learn Best?
Learning style is really important when determining what kind of college or university a student should attend. It is important from the outset to understand that everyone learns differently. Some people may prefer to learn by reading. Others like to learn aurally. Some students thrive in a large classroom setting, while the thought of a packed auditorium class could make others cringe. It is a very personal thing.
One learning style is not necessarily better than another. They are simply different, and generally people learn in various ways. Granted, the more flexible your child can be in adapting to learning environments, the easier the transition will be at the next level. However, understanding how teaching is conducted within the universities and colleges you and your child are researching is an important piece of information when determining whether or not that school will be a good match over the long term.
It is a good idea to have your child determine his or her learning style early on, so that the retention of information while in high school, and later in college, will be at an optimal level. You may discover that your child learns well with a mixture of styles, while some students may have one style dominating the others.
Having this vital information will help your child when choosing a college or university and also when tailoring his or her class schedule. Certain departments or teachers may teach in a particular way that may be just right for the way your child learns.
Location, Location, Location!
In the real estate business, they often say that “location is everything.” Well, the fact of the matter is that it means a lot when choosing a college, as well. The location of the college can be just as important as which college it is. For example, if your child was born and raised in southern Florida but has his sights on a college in Michigan, he may be in for a big surprise once the weather turns in December and January. That is not to say that it cannot be overcome. Students are, of course, often quite adaptable, but if this shock in temperature and culture may be too much for your son to handle then it’s best to look for a college in a different location.
The type of campus is also something very important to consider. For instance, would your child prefer a rural, urban or suburban campus. They all have their advantages and disadvantages, and it really depends on what your child is looking for and in which environment would s/he be the most comfortable.
Rural campuses are located in a country setting. They are peaceful and have a lot of experiences to offer being surrounded by natural beauty. Most rural campuses are self-contained and this means that most students live on campus. This can create a sense of belonging and community for your child if that is important to him or her. Many rural campuses have ready access to the outdoors and this may be of particular importance if your child has an interest in agriculture or the environmental sciences.
Urban campuses are also very appealing for the right kind of student. They are located in cities and have all the social and cultural advantages that cities have to offer. This can mean ready access to cultural sites, museums, and of course businesses. Urban campuses can often tend to be spread throughout a city and may not be completely self-contained like rural campuses. Students often live either in dorms or in apartments near campus. Students also usually need to use public transportation.
Suburban campuses are usually located in smaller cities or larger towns that are close to bigger cities. The nice thing about suburban campuses is that they offer a mixture of both urban and rural features. They have more access to the outdoors than would be found in an urban setting. They are often self-contained so students can have a real sense of that campus community. And, depending on how large the city or town is, it may have a good public transportation system. The real question is… which type of institution is going to be the best fit for your child’s interests?
What to Study?
What your child wants to study has a lot to do with where they will want to go to school. A liberal arts college is a great choice, but if they don’t have a strong program in the area in which your child has an interest – or if your child is interested in a very specific type of program that is only offered in a few locations – then a liberal arts school may not be the right fit.
If your child has an interest in engineering then choosing a school with a stellar fine arts program but less than stellar engineering program wouldn’t make sense. Finding out where a student’s interests lie can take a little time, and there is no guarantee that a young person will know what he or she wants to study before matriculating, so sometimes it is important to view this decision a bit more flexibly.
Taking some steps to find out what stimulates and excites them will make it easier to find a school and program that is a great fit. A few of the general questions to be answered might be along these lines:
- What does your child love to do?
- What is your child especially good at?
- Which areas or fields are they interested in?
Some tips could be that your child shadows a person who has a job that he or she is interested in. Or, a young person can sometimes complete an internship at a several places to get a closer idea regarding a field that may be of interest. Narrowing interests will make it a lot easier when choosing a college.
In the end, however, it’s not a deal breaker. If your child is not sure before attending college, things can still turn out just fine. Finding an excellent liberal arts college or university with good overall programs will serve them well as they decide along their college journey. Remember also that for many professional programs (law, medicine, etc.), the specialized training takes place in the years after undergraduate training – the main point for kids interested in these fields is to be performing at a high academic level so that he or she can gain admission, if that turns out to be the direction for a future career!
Until next month,