Down the College Search Path

Down the College Search Path

Alice: ‘Which way do I Go?’

Cheshire Cat: ‘That depends on where you are going.’

Alice: ‘I don’t know.’

Cheshire Cat: ‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.’

Lewis Carroll – Alice in Wonderland

Any parent, counselor or high school student starting down the college search path can relate to Alice’s question; “Which way should I go?” With due respect to Lewis Carroll, when it comes to college search I believe that even if teens don’t know where they are going, it does matter which way they decide talice_in_wonderland on Custom College Visitso go. Students have a wonderful array of tools today to help them find ‘the’ college(s) or university(ies) where they will succeed academically, be engaged in the campus community and feel confident that they will be prepared for either a career or grad school.

Even if teens think they know what schools they want to attend they should still do their due diligence. Institutions and people change and what was once most important at a certain school might not be relevant or even exist when a student walks onto that campus freshman year. An example is my daughter Brittany who, from a fairly young age, dreamed of studying theatre at Yale. Yet, after visiting Yale’s campus during her sophomore year in high school, she realized it would not be the right place for her.

Just as every student learns differently, each student needs to individualize his or her search. Many parents ask us when they should start having conversations with their teen about the college search. Our advice is that it depends, but junior or senior year is probably a bit late. There are many ways to start the exploration process in middle school and they don’t have to be high-pressured. College campuses are wonderful places to explore. They are usually well landscaped, have wonderful exhibits, concerts, sporting events and more. Look at the local college websites to see if there are reasons to visit local campuses. Even if there are no relevant events happening, take a walk through the campus–maybe take some family photos. When visiting the University of the Pacific in Stockton California a few months ago, there must have been ten families on campus taking photos using the college’s beautiful landscaping as a backdrop.

If your student is a sophomore or first semester junior in high school you might want to review the following questions from an article in Forbes last month by Chris Teare entitled “10 Questions to Start a College Search” . He credits the questions to “If the U Fits” from The Princeton Review and Collegewise. Here is the list of 10 questions (along with his comments) that you might start discussing with your student.

These are not simple questions, and I don’t recommend that you try and get through them in an evening, or even a weekend. That said, I would recommend that you create a plan with your child to start discussing the answers to these questions. Keep in mind also, that once they start their research the answers to these questions may change, think about these questions as a guide more than gospel. College admissions is a process, so listen a lot, and advise when appropriate.

  1. Why do you want to go to college?

“How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” is attributed to the late novelist E.M. Forster; it’s a good question for anyone making a decision.  Put the emphasis on different words: WHY do you…?  Why do YOU….?  Write it and look at it.  See what you say.  “My parents expect me to…” isn’t inspiring enough for four years, is it?

  1. Do you think you’re ready to go to college?

Just because you’re scheduled to graduate high school in May or June of 2017 does not mean that the educational conveyor belt has to deliver you onto a college campus a few months later.  Gap Year programs have grown in popularity over the last generation.  Don’t think of them as a “year off,” because a year “on” the right endeavor can be life-changing.

Some students, especially young men and aspiring college athletes, benefit from a postgraduate year at a boarding school before college.  The additional time to mature—academically, often athletically, sometimes socially—can make a profound difference

  1. How have you done your best learning?

You don’t have to have a learning difference, once more commonly termed a “disability,” to have a learning style that works best for you.  Some colleges emphasize the give-and-take of small-seminar discussion, others the sit-and-listen of lectures, still others the hands-on practicality of labs, internships and co-op programs.  What works for you?

  1. What would you like to learn more about?

Students can feel pressure to have an idea about their major too soon.  The most common one is Undecided; the most common practice is to change your major.  To start, keep it simple: What intrigues you?  What makes you genuinely curious?  Apart from liking some teachers more than others, which classes tend to be your favorites?  Want more?

  1. How hard do you want to work academically?

Look in the mirror while you answer this one.  Some colleges are notoriously intense, others laid back, most somewhere in between.  Within colleges, some majors are tougher than others.  There are those who will close the library every night, and others who will only have a rough idea of its location.  How much of four years do you want to spend studying?

  1. Do you have any idea what you want to do with your life?

This one can paralyze some students, lead others to joke about beauty queens and “Whirled Peas.”  Shadowing professionals in different careers and interning when possible are the best ways to get a handle on where your education might be headed.  Exposure to what adults in different fields do all day helps answer this one.

  1. What would you like to do on a typical Tuesday night in college? What about a typical Saturday night?

The weeknight/weekend night comparison is essential, as some campuses are “work hard/play hard,” some “stone-cold sober” and others have students who are proud of being at “party schools.”  (Check lists in The Princeton Review’s The Best 380 Colleges.)  For high school students visiting campuses overnight, please choose Tuesday—and go to classes Wednesday morning.

  1. Do you want to go to a college in a place that’s different or similar to where you live now?

Look around you.  Do you want more of the same?  Something completely different?  When I lived and worked on a Caribbean island, some students could not imagine life without a beach; others couldn’t wait for the “bright lights, big city” buzz of the Amtrak corridor.  Still others want suburban balance—a beautiful campus with city access.

  1. Do you want to be with students who are like you or different from you?

This question begs “comfort zone” consideration.  Some students feel a strong pull toward affinity groups, and can be good fits for dozens of women’s colleges, the handful of extant men’s colleges, colleges with strong religious affiliations, or Historically Black Colleges and Universities; others want to encounter an entirely new set of peers.

  1. What’s your family’s college budget?

Having spent a lot of time on affective/qualitative   aspects of the search, we have reached the quantitative “bottom line,” and need to consider the matter of money.  Different families have different resources, and families need to have an honest conversation about what they can afford and are willing to pay. Setting parameters early helps everyone by plugging a viable destination into GoogleMaps/CollegeEdition.

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