As a student, picking what kind of college you want to attend is a struggle. As parents, you know your child better than most other people do, so you may have a sense of what kind of environment will best suit them. I’m definitely not an expert on this subject, but as a current high school senior, I’ve given this a lot of thought! After talking to friends, classmates, and parents, I came up with some tips that can help you guide your child toward finding the perfect school.
1. Decide which factors matters the most. There are so many factors to consider when choosing a college: school size, class size, environment, majors, etc. Tell your child to rank these factors and come up with a list of five to ten that matter the most to them. Doing this will help eliminate some schools right off the bat!
Some people don’t know if they want to live in a city or not, or they just don’t care - if a factor doesn’t matter or your child doesn’t know what he or she thinks about it, don’t use it to make decisions!
2. Think about your perfect day. One tip I got, which was very helpful, was to try to picture my perfect day at college, and then look for a school where that dream day can become reality. Have your child think about the day from start to finish: what kind of coffee shop do you want to go to in the morning? When you get to class, how many people do you want in it? What kind of activities do you want to do when you get back to the dorms? All of these factors are extremely important and will help your child decide what kind of environment they want to be in for the next four years.
You might find that helping your child think of the perfect college day will help them understand what they care about most and which factors should be non-negotiable.
3. Research, research, research! Most colleges will try to look like they have everything, but if you do your research by reading online forums or talking to students, you can get a feel for what kind of person goes there. I recently found this book that is full of student opinions of different colleges. The students mention things that we wouldn’t know when looking at a college website or taking a tour. Tools like these are super helpful and can uncover some secrets about the school, which will help your child make a decision.
That said, don’t take one student’s bad (or good) experience too closely to heart. Everyone is his or her own person. If you know one person who didn’t like a certain school, don’t rule it out without learning more.
4. Do you want to be the big fish? Some of us want to be the star of the class, and some want to be surrounded by others who push us even more. Some people want everyone to know their name, and some want to blend in. Find out how your child fits into these categories. University websites do a pretty good job of telling us what they look for in a student and applicant. It is important for your child to understand what kind of academic “pool” they are diving into as they get ready to make this next step. The ranking of a school isn’t the only thing that matters - you have to think about where your child can succeed.
5. Think about programs, not just schools. It’s easy to look at school rankings, but consider the specific program that interests you at a school. If your son or daughter knows what major he or she wants, search by program. Some colleges will have specific schools within it that have pretty much every major imaginable and some will not, so make sure your child weighs their options before applying to a school.
6. Consider the Social Scene. Teens hear stories all of the time about sorority and fraternity life, which seems to be a huge part of the college social scene. However, you don’t have to be involved in greek life to have a social life in college. This is an interesting topic to think about. Your teen will grow up a lot in the four years of college, so make sure that they are picking a social path that will suit them now as well as when they are older. Have your teen think about what they want their weekends to look like: do they want to go to a frat party or a night out on the town? Different schools have a different social “vibe” and this can make a big impact on your child’s happiness. Online forums by students at the schools can tell you a lot about what a typical Friday night looks like.
7. Visit Schools. If you have the resources to do so, visiting schools can be extremely helpful. Personally, I could tell which school was right for me by being on campus and checking out the local spots. My mom loved this because she got to see where I would potentially be living and walking around; she even started to pick out which dorms she wanted me to live in! Taking a tour is also a great way to see a campus and learn about campus life. Be sure to go to the admissions office and fill out a form to record your visit. Doing this will tell the admissions officer reading your child’s application that they have expressed interest in the school.
If you don’t have the resources to visit all the schools you have in mind, consider trying to see some schools close to home just to get a feel for what you like and don’t like about each one - you can apply that information to other choices. Or, your child can go ahead and apply, and then see if the school has any resources available to help admitted students afford a visit.
8. Remember there’s no perfect college. Or, better said, there’s not just one perfect college for you. This is a very difficult concept to grasp, especially if your child is in love with one college. (This has been very hard for me to believe, but everyone tells me it’s true!) It’s important to remember in this high stress period that colleges are accepting people that they want and are excited for what they have to offer. If, for some reason, a college doesn’t accept your child, remind them that they should go to a school that wants them, and wherever they end up will be a good fit.