To students: Selecting the right college is all about weighing your priorities. Be sure to consider a school's location, prestige, currculum, cost, availaboility of social activities and organizations, and any other factors that are important to you. Be sure to visit the schools you are serious about before making your decision. Set up an interview to increase your chance of acceptance, financial aid, or just to learn more about the school. Be sure to consider the amount of stress you will be able to handle as some schools are much more difficult than others. Remember, find your balance. To parents: Encourage them to make the decision themselves while remaining supportive and involved in researching and visiting. Try not to put too much pressure on them, college is their independence and some people must learn through their own decisions. If they make the wrong choice there is always a way to reverse it. Don't become obsessed with the cost of college. If you can't afford to pay let them take out loans. Above all, be patient as they decide, and be willing to drive them to their top choices as visiting plays a major role in their decision.
The college search can be a confusing and stressful journey, but the rewards for being thorough and honest with yourself are four years of opportunities. Looking for the right information now will help you arrive at a school that gives you the academic, social, and personal chances for growth that you want while avoiding the financial and personal disappointments you don't. Here are three tips that will help you make a better decision. First, there is more than one school out there that meets your needs. You don't NEED to go to an Ivy or to a Top Ten state school with a zillion Division I teams. If you think you do, then consider whether there are specific properties those schools have (that you could find elsewhere!) or whether you are simply caught up in a dream of glittering generalities and wishes. Second, don't rule out private schools as "too expensive." Private schools rarely charge sticker price tuition and may (as in my middle-class family's case) be cheaper than public schools. Finally, come up with a list of academic, geographic, and social/extracurricular criteria. Find out as much as you can about each candidate college!
Make sure that picking a college/major is based on the student's talents, preferences, and interests, not the parent's expectations. The best fit is where you find other students with a similar academic mindset, classes gauged to your level of difficulty and personalization, and a living arrangement that is comfortable for you. The best decisions can be made once they are prayed about. As a freshman you will find yourself with an unexpected boldness to make new friends and try new things, which will become less natural as a sophomore and beyond, but you will desire to maintain it. Be careful to learn how to live well as you are more on your own and challenge yourself to move forward and learn new life skills as you master old ones. Take opportunities to find and stay connected with similarly interested people, including your family, new friends, and old friends. Remember that your education is a blessing, so take your academic work seriously, but enjoy it and give yourself room to make helpful mistakes. Trust that God will help you wherever you go and don't be afraid of / resistant to changes that might bring you better things.
I'd advise doing thorough research on potential schools and visititing schools. During your visit, interact with current students and possibly professors, and bring a list of questions with you. Find out as much as you can about student life on campus, academic cirriculum, and extracirricular activities. Then weigh the school's advantages and disadvantages based on what's important to you. A strong personal essay can be very advantageous at many schools, so put a lot of effort into it and make sure it reflects who you are and your pursuits. Also, apply to schools "safety schools", several schools that seem like a "good fit" (sufficiently academically challening), and then a few "reach" schools. Most importantly, don't not apply to a school you want to go to just because you're afraid of getting rejected or someone says you can't. My guidance counselor in high school said that I would never get into my best fit school because "people from here don't go to places like that." I not only got accepted but received several scholarships from the university. Know what you're capable and but don't ever let anyone cause you to doubt yourself.
Find the right school: Visit the campus and do an overnight stay with a student. If you want to know how the weather is year round, ask a student (not your tour guide). For a true experience with campus food, don't go on a parent's or tour heavy weekend. Go without any adults on a regular weekday. Try the popular dining hall at lunch time. Thats the best way to experience the average food quality and service. Talk to professors and department staff in areas you're interested in. Browse the enrolled student areas of the school's website, check out course listings and ask about availibility and size of classes. Talk to coaches/ team members of sports and clubs you are interested in. Never pick a college based on the tution posted. Make the most of the experience: Join clubs and use them to make friends. Speak up in discussion classes. Talk to your professors during office hours, they are paid to help you and often volunteer info you would never learn otherwise. (academic, career/internship) Do internships. Balance work and play. Explore the surrounding area, ask upperclassmen where to go. Use the free career search services.
If I could talk to myself as a high school senior, I would encourage myself to think more seriously about Plan B. I've always known that I wanted to work in health care, and Physician seemed like the logical choice. Unfortunately, I've come out of the application process with nothing more than a single spot on a wait-list. So here I am, a few weeks before graduation, applying to massage therapy school as my Plan B before reapplication to Osteopathic medical school. I'm currently several thousand dollars short of tuition because I can't get loans without a cosigner, and I don't have anyone willing and able to be a cosigner for me. I would tell high school me to consider the "what ifs" long and hard. I would never recommend a different college, because the U of R was wonderful, but I might suggest enrolling in the evening massage therapy program at the Onondaga School in Rochester, or deferring enrollment for a semester to finish the masage program first. It would have looked great on an Osteopathic School applciation, and can you imagine a better college job? Beats working for Dining Services!
Make sure to think about your needs three years or so from now, and not just what you're looking for freshman year (this is easiest to keep in mind) and your career plans (these will most likely change). How will you grow and change, and how will this affect what you'll be looking for while still an undergrad, but in a few years? The steps to declaring a major or finding internships, leadership opportunities available, and living in upperclass housing are just as important as what orientation is like and how the college fits into your planned career path. One thing that I never read about in advice books, but that I have found to be important, is access to necessities: at each school, how easy is it to find and purchase YOUR PREFERRED BRAND of shampoo, cold medicine, etc.? This seems like a minor detail but really affects day-to-day life. In terms of success in college, it's important to learn about your own learning style. Do you do better taking notes in class, or recording what's said? Rereading notes, explaining them verbally, or writing study guides? Try different methods and see what works.
My recommendation when looking for the 'right college' would be to keep in mind that every university will have its pros and cons, and as a corollary, no amount of campus tours or brochures or internet reviews can let anyone know how well he or she willl individually enjoy any university. The best you can do is honestly evaluate your circumstances (financial, academic and otherwise), decide what you most value and what you most want to get out of a university, find the schools you think best suit your interests, and apply. Once you're in university, keep in mind that barring extenuating circumstances, almost no decision is final. There are a lot of big decisions one has to make during college and one's plans going in are almost definitely not going to be the same as one's plans going out. Changing majors, transferring and sabbaticals are all options during your time at university, as someone who has taken advantage of all three, I advise people to utilize those options to explore. Perhaps the most important thing is that at the end of your senior year, you can graduate with minimal regrets.
Choosing the right college is all about finding the school that is best suited to make your next four years the most enlightening, challenging, and fun that they can be. It is essential that you choose a college based on more than academics - investigate housing, food, facilities... As silly as those things may seem, they seriously effect the quality of your college experience. Remember, you are going to spend the next four years of your life at this school! Try to choose a one with as many qualities that you like as you possibly can. Be wary of sacrificing characteristics you like in order to go to a school with a better name. The name of the institution on your diploma really doesn't matter. What matters is what you achieve as an undergraduate, and you are far more likely to achieve greatness at a school you enjoy attending. And once you get to college, think of one word: balance. This is the key to a great experience. Party, play a sport, volunteer, study like mad, be lazy, but do all of these things in moderation. If you can do this, you are ready for the time of your life.
The advice I would give parents about helping their child find the right college and making the most of their experience is to not be bias and allow the student to make their own decision. Financially discuss with the student how much can be spent toward their education. Encourage the student to be active around campus joining clubs, sports teams, student government, and even getting a job. Remind students that,"the purpose of the university is to make students safe for ideas-not ideas safe for students" (Clark Kerr). I would advise students to choose a school that they feel most comfortable with when visiting and that offers everything they are are looking for in a college. This will be a place where they will be spending most of their time for four years so never settle for something less than what they want. A list of pros and cons often helps. Once in college a student should get involved around campus and make an effort to learn new things. I had a great time in the clubs I joined and met alot of great people so it is definetely worth your time. Not only study hard, but have fun!