Tips for Choosing a College
While not every student goes straight to college after high school graduation, those who do often face an overwhelming series of questions when choosing the institution that best meets their needs. Students who have already determined a general course of study are able to bring some focus to the field of choices, but virtually all students must still consider everything from geographical preferences to financial considerations to the rigor of academic requirements for the institutions they're considering. Here are some tips for guiding the way:
When considering the location of a school, it's important to think about more than "How long will it take to get back home at Thanksgiving?" In fact one of the most important elements of the school's location is the natural ability of a student to feel comfortable in its environment.
Rural colleges often offer pastoral, picturesque campuses where the student body lives and works within a clustered setting. These environments can be especially appealing to students who tend to need plenty of quiet time for their studies and who are less dependent on part-time jobs or challenging internships to support themselves or gain career experience.
Urban schools that boast the "bright lights, big city!" quality can often enhance the learning experience by offering more connections to the professional and business community and more opportunities for diverse friendships and new life experiences.
In either case, the "How long will it take to get there?" question should still be considered. While college is certainly a time for students to spread their wings, a few weeks and months away from home can lead to some unexpected yearnings to occasionally circle back to the nest.
Does the thought of sitting in a lecture hall with 300 other students and listening to a professor speak into a microphone seem intimidating to your child? Or does it sound like an opportunity to meet lots of new people? This is one consideration when looking at bigger schools where freshman classes in particular tend to be taught to large numbers of students at a time.
Students should also consider how they have learned best during high school. Smaller classes and schools often allow more interaction with professors and easier connections to other students with shared interests. Larger schools may be fine for students who tend to work well on their own and who want access to a larger field of courses.
Students can learn about the average age of the student body, the male-to-female ratio, the student activities, athletic programs and other elements from college brochures and Web sites. But one of the best ways to learn about a school's social life is to visit and talk with the students.
Current students who act as "campus reps" often conduct tours of buildings and grounds, but they also answer questions about the campus culture. If your child is thinking seriously about a particular school, find a day or weekend when you can visit the campus together.
Many schools require a minimum GPA (grade point average) or class rank, a minimum SAT or ACT exam score and certain higher-level high school courses for admission. Students who already have some idea of colleges they might like to attend should try and find out about these requirements at an early point in high school, when they have the best opportunity to prepare. It's also good to have these requirements in mind when the search is actively under way.
Taking the SAT and ACT in the spring of the junior year allows more time to retake the exams, if necessary, to try for a higher score. It's also important to prepare for the SAT and ACT to give yourself ample opportunity to perform to the best of your abilities.
Many schools also ask students to write an essay, which requires strong critical thinking skills that can be honed in and out of the classroom. When narrowing your college choices, students should consider the likelihood of acceptance and pick one or two "safe schools" where they feel confident of being accepted.
Costs and Financial Aid
Tuition, room and board and other fees can add up to a hefty sum. Ask the financial aid office about the percentage of students who receive need-based financial aid, the percentage who receive scholarships based on academic ability and the financial aid packages that are typically awarded to freshmen. Also consider the fact that state schools are usually much less expensive than private colleges and universities, especially for in-state students.
Finally, remember that guidance counselors can be especially helpful for students who are headed to college and to those who want to explore other options. With expertise on matters ranging from SATs to the admissions calendar to the best mix of academic and extracurricular activities, they are trained to ensure that students take the practical steps that open doors. Many can also provide insight on the lifestyle factors at colleges and universities most suited to the success and achievement of students with particular interests, aspirations and needs.