I would tell both parents and students that when choosing the right college, it is paramount that there is an ample amount of open and honest communication about expectations on both ends. There are a number of things that have to be considered, such as location, financial aid, the campus atmosphere, and just the feel of the campus in general. It is important for students to think about how often they want to be able to get home, how accessible they want their professors to be, and what type of extracurriculars, study abroad, and course options are available. Also, it's incredibly important that both parents and students visit the schools in questions, if at all possible. A lot of the college decision just depends upon the "right feel" for families. I would suggest that students just make a list of things that are really importantant and that they would really like to get out of their college experience, and choose the school that is able to meet their needs and offers the best combination of options so that the student is not only getting the best academic experience, but also the best personal experience possible to help them grow.
Make sure you're RIGHT for college. Lots of people go because they are expected to, just because they can afford to so why not, or because they think it would be fun, and those people are a drag on the community of learners that is there for the right reasons. If you want education for education's sake, go with liberal arts, no matter the cost. You WILL get good job offers, (even with my majors, English and philosophy, I was offered every job I applied for, and we're talking political jobs to outdoorsy jobs to jobs in the oil and gas industry.) If you aren't thinking about education, just the opportunity to get 'real jobs,' and aren't the kind of person who does the reading and participates in class discussion, go to a big, cheap state school. Take advantage of every opportunity in college---studying abroad, internships, research grants, clubs, teams, and organizations, and definitely try new activities. I learned so much from studying abroad, things that you can't learn in a classroom in the US. My friends got to go all over the world to research, all on the school's bill!
One big piece of advice would be to look for scholarships as early as possible, because you'd be surprised a how many outside scholarships there actually are, and how quickly they run out. Also, do research on different schools and see which ones offer you the most for your money. Take some time and write out the things that you're looking for in a college, whether it be ethnic/cultural diversity, small/intimate classes, or located near a big city. Everyone looks for something different when trying to find a school, just make sure that you find what's best for you, because for all intents and purposes, that's where you're going to be stuck for the next four years. Remember, college is what you make of it. The amount you put into it is the amount you're going to get out of it. Although you should remember to enjoy yourself, academics should be your first priority. Think of it this way, good grades equals good job, which equals good money, which means living the good life. Don't sacrifice a lifetime of success and happiness for four years of laziness and alcohol consumption.
Look for the small things that intrigue you, whether it is the way people interact, certain assets of the academic programs available, or the effect clubs and groups have on campus. The small features enhance the larger picture that will lead to your career, yet push you slightly out of your comfort zone in many respects when learning and dealing with new situations that will arise in life. It is important to visit the school of interest, because the feel of campus and the atmosphere that actually exists is portrayed differently through a brochure in the mail than the reality of it. Go out on a limb to meet new people and immerse yourself in different cultures and backgrounds to expand your knowledge about the world outside of the classroom. Take some classes you would not normally choose to expose yourself to new ways of thinking, different styles of teaching, and learning about a subject that could potentially drive your future down another path of interest. The effort you put in will be the success you get out: not only in academics but in life.
Many parents choose a school that is affordable or that maybe is close to home, but the connection between the student and campus does not form. If the intelligence level is there, but the finances are not, sometimes families will simply "settle" and go to a small community college. For me, when I walked on campus, I simply knew right then and there that this is where I wanted to be and get my education. The cost became an issue afterwards, and was dealt with appropriately with grants, scholarships, and any loans that needed to be taken out. If the drive is there, a student will feel it. Parents should sit down with their children and find out what they really want out of their college experience, whether it be a strong focus on the hard sciences and research or if they want to get a good education and have some sort of social life. Then, narrow down your choices from there to schools that fit into what they would like, and then visit the colleges. If the connection is there, parents: your kids will feel it. Students: you will know what I mean.
I would tell myself not to spend my senior year stressing about the college process--I realize now that in the end, we all get where we're going. I had so many pre-concieved notions about college that were, for the most part, grossly unfounded. I thought that I would only be happy at certain schools the students were all one way or another. I worries about competing with my peers at college in order to do well and find my niche. Now, I know that all of that is silly and trivial. I ended up at Wooster, where it seems impossible to put your finger on what kind of student this school caters to, which is so refreshing. People from all walks of life attend, and everybody is happy to coexist. I also realized that in college, we're all in it together. Your friends, classmates and professors are there for you, no matter what, and people want to see you succeed both during and after school. All in all, I would tell myself to just be my best self in college, and with that mindset I would arrive at school with the best set of tools possible.
In order to find the right school, beginning the search process early, but not too early is probably the most helpful tool. Parents are so excited about the search process, but students, honestly, are usually not. If they are pushed too hard to even visit, then the experience will not be as beneficial as it could be. Once you start narrowing down schools, it is important to not only look at the academics and social life, but also just the environment you are in. If you apply and get into a school in rural Ohio that is great academically, but you hate cows, it is going to be a rough 4 years. If you apply to a school in downtown Chicago, and can't stand traffic, it is going to be a rough 4 years. You can make it, but it would be hard! Once at school, take time to meet people. You will meet people you immediately click with, and some that you can't stand. It takes time, but developing relationships is one of the keys to making it through school. Find people with your own interests, they are all looking for friends too! Good Luck!
In order to find the right college it is not always just about what is best for you. Instead, in my case I visited the different schools. It wasn't until I visited wooster that I realized that wooster is what I needed, and what clicked with me. I already felt as though I was a member of the community when I stayed overnight, and it seemed as though everybody else was very happy where they were physically, but also just in life while going to school in wooster. In order to make the most of your college experience, I think it is extremely important to open your eyes and heart to everyone and everything around campus. You should try as many things as possible, because it is the first and last time in your life you will probably have as many chances. Make as many friends as you can, because that just allows you to enjoy yourself more. Also, experience everything you would normally or in the past ignore. All of these things were what made my first year as enjoyable as possible, but also why I am still greatly enjoying myself.
When I was applying to college, I thought that there was a perfect school for me. I had my dream school picked out and a line of back-ups waiting for me (all of which I had decided that I did like, even if it wasn't my number one). I got accepted to my dream school, but the College of Wooster offered me a very generous scholarship. My biggest advice to give in choosing a college is not to set your heart on one school before you get your acceptance letters. I quickly found at the College of Wooster that I was going to get everything from this school that I would have gotten at my one-time "dream school" but wouldn't be paying off school loans for the rest of my life. I guess my advice is to be open to your options, because there isn't one perfect school for everyone - there's plenty, and it's important to take advantage of what is offered to you. All schools have numerous clubs, activities, majors, etc, and even if it takes some people longer than others, if you put yourself out there you will find your place.
At the beginning of my first semester, I arrived on campus early to participate in the girls varsity soccer team preseason. During the summer we were expected to workout and follow a program that was supposed to get us into shape for the soccer season. However, I did not take this packet of information seriously. Insead of legitimately executing each of the activities, I did them to the best of my ability. I made it all the way through preseason, but I was not getting the results I wanted. The coach explained to me that I would not receive playing time till I was up to par on my skills. School work became hard to complete as well, so I quit the team to better pursue academics. If I could go back to my high school self, I would explain the hard work it takes to participate in a college level sport. Instead of worrying about my summer with my friends, I would try to explain how hard it is to not play soccer anymore because I was not taking my work outs seriously. I regret not being dedicated enough to a sport I love.