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Seven Tips for a Successful College Search

Seven Tips for a Successful College Search

Your child’s education up to now has not had a lot of freedom of choice. Chances are your students either went to the elementary, middle, and high schools for which they were zoned, or you sent them to a private school that appealed to you. Now your child is approaching senior year and has an incredible number of colleges and universities to consider. How do you narrow down a search to find an academic setting that inspires your children to reach their goals? Our seven tips can help you understand more about assisting your student with a thoughtful college search to find the right fit for the next four or more years.

1.       Size Matters

Small private schools, large state universities….which is the right kind of environment? Your child should think about class size, student to teacher ratios, and overall student body population. If they prefer an intimate class with lots of discussion, a smaller school may fit the bill. If they like the idea of large auditoriums and lecture formats with less participation, they may decide to go big. A small school tends to have less than 5,000 students, a medium may be 5,000 to 15,000, and a large would be over 15,000 students.

2.       Exploring Options

Your child can find happiness and success at more than one educational institution. You can encourage your student to consider at least three options to improve chances of acceptance. Other factors you may want to think about include:

  • Campus life and overall atmosphere
  • Activities and clubs
  • Sports programs

A school with a “party” reputation or an emphasis on athletics may not appeal to students who would rather engage in cultural or artistic ventures. The bottom line is you should think about more than just the academic programs, or otherwise it could be a long four years.

3.       The Big Picture

You may want to think about a school’s retention and graduation rates as well as their admissions statistics to see if they meet your criteria and expectations. These kinds of metrics can give you a better idea of how other students feel about the school, especially the sense of competition and overall happiness. You may want to look into acceptance to graduate programs as well if your child plans to continue after a bachelor’s degree.

4.       The Price is Right

Budget is a huge concern for most families, and you should absolutely consider expense and potential debt as part of your college search. However, private and out-of-state schools may offer incentives or assistance that you may not receive if you primarily stick to in-state colleges. You should be aware that you may have more options than you recognize, and you may not want to eliminate a school only on the basis of cost.

5.       Get With the Program

Your student should have an idea of what course of study is appealing. Consider whether the college or university offers a degree program in that field. You would not want to go to a school that does not offer what you want to learn, so be sure the courses are compatible with your child’s education and career interests.

6.       Location, Location, Location

Where a school is located can also make or break a college experience. Small towns, large cities, near the coast, by the mountains…your students should give some thought to where they want to be. Of course, cost can play into that decision as well, because the expense of traveling to and from college can make those choices a bit narrower.

7.       Look Inward

Does your student like to stand out or hide from the limelight? Some children want to be a big fish in a small pond, while others rather keep their noses down and put in their time. Consider the level of competition as a component of a school’s environment to see if it may be more pressure than your child can comfortably handle.

These are just a few tips to help you get your college search going. If you can, visit the schools on your list to get a better feel for what they offer their students. Many schools offer campus tours during the week or on weekends for interested high school students, and your student may be able to stay overnight to get a sense of what college life is like. You can also reach out to admissions counselors with questions and concerns to help you narrow down your choices.

The more research you and your child do, the better your chance of finding the right school. Additionally, and this may be more important, this is your child’s college search. Let him or her take the lead while you provide support, understanding, and hopefully, a healthy dose of objectivity.

Ellen Goldman