Fewer than ½ of first-time, full-time college students complete a baccalaureate (four-year) degree within 6 years at the institution they entered. And, 1 out of 5 U.S. citizens has “some college, but no degree.” It is amazing to me that so many students that start college do not finish. I can tell you from my experiences as a Vice President that colleges wrestle with these facts on a daily basis. No one wants students to leave their college and everyone wants to see their students succeed.
With all of the resources that colleges pour into trying to help students succeed at their school, it is my opinion that too many students are choosing the wrong college for the wrong reasons. A lot of students choose a college because it was the BEST College they could get accepted to, or because it was close to home or the least expensive. I know of students that have chosen a college based solely on the fact that one of their friends was going there, too! Certainly, those are important, but I believe students truly need to look at more than that. The college search process needs to be about finding the “Correct College” for you.
Let’s talk a little bit about what I mean by trying to find the “Correct College” for you. The “Correct College” for you fits your unique abilities and needs. Your personality and learning style. The “Correct College” for you challenges you without overwhelming you. It offers you the best opportunity to grow, achieve your fullest potential, and GRADUATE!
I think too many students lose sight of the fact that the real key to unlocking all the doors and opportunities that a college education provides you is that you have graduate to take advantage of them. That doesn’t mean I think you should choose the easiest route possible. Not at all. I just believe more students and parents need to consider that having a window sticker of well-known college in their rear window really doesn’t mean much. It’s the degree that hangs on your wall that really matters!
There are 6 distinct areas that I think should play key roles in beginning to shape the list of features you want in a college. They are
1. Distance from home
2. Size preference
3. Surrounding environment
4. Area of study
5. Level of academic challenge
I like to start with distance from home because it’s very critical to get this right. There is no one perfect answer here. The objective is to really get a sense of your comfort level. It’s absolutely OK if you think you need the support being close to home offers.
However, I would encourage you to consider at least initially looking at some schools that are just outside your comfort zone. This can play to your advantage both in the acceptance game and in the financial aid game. Colleges want students that are from outside their region. The farther away you are from them the more they will want you as they strive to enroll students from all over the country.
The next area I want you to think about is the approximate size of the college you’d like to go to.
· What size college will fit you best?
· Do you want the excitement of a large university?
· Do you need the intimacy of a small college?
Or, do you need something in between. Try to focus on what type of learning environment would be best for you.
The location of the school you attend can have an impact on your experience, too. Do you think you need the excitement of the big city to stimulate you? Or, do you need the feeling of safety that a rural locale can offer? Really try to frame your answer in response to what you need to succeed academically.
After getting a sense for size and surrounding environment it’s time to focus on an academic program. Knowing what you want to study in school really helps in figuring out what colleges may be best for you.
Getting a handle on what you’d like to major in can be difficult. Whatever your thoughts on possible majors, ask yourself why do you believe that is what you want to study? Make sure it’s an answer that’s important to you. Not just to please someone else or because you think that’s what others want you to do. If you aren’t doing it for you, the going can be very, very tough.
You also need to consider how tough of an academic environment will suit you best? Do you want to be challenged to develop to your fullest potential? Are you looking for the easiest path to a specific career? Not all academic programs are created equal! And, not every student has to go to Harvard to be successful. It’s more important to find the right level for you. Remember, the key is to graduate!
Finances typically play a part in your final decision. And, you should consider them in your search process, too. However, I wouldn’t eliminate any schools on the basis of their “sticker price” at this point.
What’s most important is the actual out-of-pocket cost to attend and you can’t know that until after you’ve been accepted. I recommend including at least one school that you absolutely know you can afford no matter what. A financial safety school.
Once you have an idea of your preferences in these six areas, then it’s time to start putting together your consideration set. Try to put together an initial list of 20-30 schools. I recommend that you then visit each college’s web site for an initial screening. You can Google the college’s name if you don’t know the web site.
One of the things I really think you should try to find are actual course descriptions in your program area. You can usually find these under the academic heading or college catalog heading. I also want you to look for actual professor biographies and web pages. You want to know who’s going to be teaching you!
Another good strategy is try to find actual student blogs or online journals where they tell you about their campus experience as it is happening. Really put on your detective hat while searching for information. Your trying to see if that school will be a good fit for you.
I would also make the effort to talk with a current student. Email the admissions office for the name and info of a student you could email. Ask the student about what they like and don’t like there. Why did they choose that school? What’s the biggest topic on campus right now? Things like that.
Your ultimate goal is to build definite “will apply to” list of 7-10 schools. This is not a set in stone number, but I think it’s important to have options when it comes time to actually deciding where to attend. I also think it’s important to have as many financial aid offers to compare when that time comes around.
Remember to include a financial safety school in that list. I would also include an academic safety school. One where you are very confident you will be accepted. Make sure you have options when it comes time to make your final decision!
Go online to one of the many college search engines out there. At my website [http://www.correctcollege.com/college-search-engines.html] you can see my personal favorites.
You can find the Correct College for you. Invest the time. You are worth it!