U.S. News and World Report publishes each year their edition that ranks 60 to 70 colleges. We like rankings; they give us an easy way to compare, and we need some standard of measure when there is such choice and we know less then we should. But, remember only a small percentage of colleges are even considered for U.S. News‘ ranking. Many other criteria should be used in picking a college.
You’re not going to college but your son or daughter is, and you have anxieties, about his future, her ability to adjust, the college costs, your own life without John or Kate. At the same time you have to guide your son or daughter toward the right decision, because this is an important decision. What should you be aware of? What can you do to help? How can you best advise your son or daughter?
Pressures in the Process
The first thing you should be aware of is pressure. Pressure is very strong on students today to meet expectations when it comes to choosing a college. They feel it from their peers, from media, from high school mentors—both teachers and counselors–, and from YOU.
And, there is a lot of competition out there. Each year there are 3.2 million high school graduates, and more and more are applying to colleges. Today’s application process is different from the process you may have gone though, with more emphasis on essays, choice in kinds of admission testing, more opportunity to retake tests for better and better scores.
Harvard, Yale, Princeton! Students hear these school names, and they feel the rising need to buy one of the brands. Students ask their friends which schools they are applying to and hear the names of the selective schools first, maybe only those names. Students hear their teachers and counselors urging them to do their best and sometimes misinterpret those urgings to mean they must excel or meet others’ expectations before they even begin to explore what they want. And, they live with your hopes for them and your own need to seek what is best for your children.
How can you help them deal with these pressures? Below are some suggestions.
Don’t Rely on College Ranking Only
U.S. News and World Report can help, but remember only a small percentage of colleges are ranked by U.S. News. What about all the others? Also, these rankings are based on good information like SATs of entering students, graduation rate, faculty resources, etc., but that information is supplied by the colleges themselves. Also 25 % of the magazine’s ranking is based on a survey of 260 college presidents and deans, who do not know first-hand the colleges being ranked and who pick and choose among the data that is supplied. Is it a fool-proof process? Not at all. Many other criteria should be used in picking a college, and you would be doing your son or daughter a favor to explain this important lesson in statistics—numbers don’t tell the whole story.
Be Practical in Evaluating Selective Colleges
The most selective schools are very good schools, no doubt. However, there may be drawbacks. One kind of drawback is these schools are driven by their own reputations, following what is demanded or what has been good advertising. They do not always react quickly to individual and personal student needs.
Second, although these institutions are doing better to provide funding for students who lack money to attend, they are very expensive. One should consider post-graduation debt. Is a four-year undergraduate degree worth tens of thousands of dollars in debt? And, because selective colleges are expensive, there are other considerations, like how many other students will have the means to live a life-style that may separate them from your son or daughter, or will they come from different cultures that may not match your family’s values?
Another question to ask is, “Can only a few colleges provide a good education?” Hype may be part of why some colleges look better than others.
Open the Door to More Options
There is truly a wealth of great schools out there; some you may never have heard of. Your best tool is information. How do you get it?
• Call your high school’s guidance department.
• Ask parents of students who have been away to college or ask the alums themselves to make recommendations.
• Email students who presently attend the college you are thinking about.
• Use the internet and check beyond the first websites that come to mind. There is the Annapolis Group and College Options On-line that provide good information on the internet.
• Don’t dismiss public universities. 75% of all college graduates graduate from public schools.
Visit Campuses of Schools Your Student is Considering
Hands down, the consensus is a school visit provides the best sense of whether or not a college will be a good choice. Many students who love their college experience based their correct choice on the “feel” of the school. A college visit may take time and money, but if your son or daughter chooses the wrong school much more time and money will be wasted.
On a campus tour students have the opportunity to attend classes, talk to students, see the campus, even spend a night in the dorm. These are good indicators, and they are first-hand. Students can see the day-to-day activities and sense the pace of the campus. Some colleges give individual tours so students can talk to the tour guide more personally, and the tour can be molded to their interests.
Explore What will Make A Good College Experience With Your Son or Daughter
What makes a college experience a success is usually the match between the college and the students. What factors help you to decide if a college is right: size, out-of-class-life, and college major?
You can sit and talk to your son or daughter about these factors. Start by exploring their values. What kinds of environments are important to them and why: small, large, rural, urban, diverse, unified? Are they competitive, compassionate, fun-loving, serious, goal-oriented, artistic? Do they like crowds, small groups, diverse activities or pursing a hobby in depth? Do they want a highly visible adult life, a quiet life? Is family or work more important to them? As you talk with your son or daughter there may not be definite answers, but there will be some thinking going on and some possible elimination of factors that help in narrowing down a choice.
Also discuss their majors. It’s nice if people love their work. One should love what one does for a living. Maybe your son or daughter should be looking for extracurricular offerings at a college because something associated with his/her avocations may be what s/he ends up doing because of a love for it. Maybe she should be looking for a liberal arts school that does not require a declared major for at least two years. Maybe you should explore with him what his interests are, not what his career should be. It is important to note there are far fewer doctors than there are first-year majors in pre-med!
Try to Alleviate your Son’s or Daughter’s Fear of not Making the Perfect Choice
College is only four years, and it is the stepping stone to bigger pursuits such as going to graduate school, specializing, or building a career. Your son’s or daughter’s focus is going to be much different very soon. There is Life Beyond College. It is also important to note a couple things. One, people in Iowa may never have heard of Middlebury. Everything has a context. Two, the person who graduates last in his medical class will be known only as doctor!
Your son or daughter should not be encouraged by you to be a resume-building robot. S/he really needs your guidance for developing into a wonderful human being.