The College List Part II: College Selection Criteria
by Kathy de Jong, Independent Educational Consultant
When asked, many students can’t articulate what they want in a four-year college. Many times, it’s because they haven’t given it any thought or perhaps they haven’t had the opportunity to visit college campuses to realize each one has its own distinct offerings and character. In Part I of this blog, we discussed preparation for the college list.
Once a student has a frame of reference, whether by visiting colleges in person or virtually through college websites, it’s time to think carefully about the important criteria when deciding where to spend the next four years. You will notice that the US News and World Report College Rankings or other ranking sources aren’t mentioned below as an important criteria. While these reports are good as a resource for identifying colleges and their wonderful attributes, students should not assume that these schools are the best for them because they are highly recognized and often very selective.
The criteria below will help a student determine where he/she will thrive.
College Acceptance Criteria
Be realistic. Not everyone is cut out for a highly selective school such as the Ivy’s, Stanford, Duke, etc. Every student should seek out their guidance counselor or other college admissions professional for advice on colleges to consider, or they should prepare to spend a considerable amount of time researching each college’s “freshman profile” to determine a segment of colleges in which they have a reasonable, if not good admissions chance. The first place to start is with a GPA and standardized test score comparison. The higher a students GPA and test scores are in relation to the average freshman that entered the previous year, the more likely he/she will be a compelling candidate at that college. The freshman profile for a college can usually be found by entering the term in the college website’s search feature.
Location, Location, Location
This saying rings true not only in real estate, but also when selecting a college, and for many student, it can quickly pair down 4,000 US colleges and universities to a manageable number. How far from home to go to college is a very personal decision for students, and should be given considerable thought. However, the more you can pinpoint desirable locations, the better. One method is to draw a circle on the map that represents a 5 hour (pick a number) drive from home. Perhaps you can narrow it down to a region or two in the country, such as the northeast and mid-atlantic.
Urban, Suburban or Rural
City life, a bucolic campus or somewhere in the middle? Students can often make the mistake of making assumptions about what it would be like to live somewhere. This again, is where spending time on campus helps validate or correct beliefs. It’s easy for students to think that the fantastic two day vacation spent in New York City means it would be a great place to go to college! Loving a place on vacation, and enjoying living there, however, may be two different things. Each environment has something to offer, but a location where a student will feel most comfortable, yet able to explore new interests and activities, is ideal. It just maybe New York City.
Small, Medium, Large or Extra Large
This decision can be integral to the learning experience, and knowing your learning style and preferences should help with this decision. Very generally speaking, the larger the school as measured by the number of enrolled students, the larger the number of students in entry-level classes. If you don’t want to sit in a lecture style classroom with 600 students via video conference with huge screens, larger schools may not be the place for you. However, if you do not like personal dialog and discussions in a small group setting, maybe smaller schools should be ruled out. Knowing how you learn best and the extent to which you like to be engaged in classroom and class activities, can help narrow the size of the school you should consider. However, these are generalizations. It’s important to research freshman and sophomore class sizes for each college or even a program of interest. Many colleges offer something for everyone.
Program of Interest
According to a recent US Department of Education Study, 33% of all undergraduate students that declare a major entering college, end up changing majors and 10% change majors more than once. Beginning College Students Who Change Their Majors Within 3 Years of Enrollment
What does this mean for choosing colleges? Major or course of study should be considered when investigating colleges, but students should focus on all the attributes of a college. If a change in academic focus is appropriate, a student can do so in the environment they most enjoy.
You’ll want to be in a school that can offer you a solid education, whatever you end up selecting as your major. Students may choose to pursue a Liberal Arts college that offers a broad educational base on which to build and is increasingly desired among employers.
There are many other criteria to consider when evaluating colleges such as religious affiliation, political preferences on campus, cost of attendance (scholarships and financial aid), extra-curricular sports and clubs, campus resources, housing and a host of other important factors.
The Goal: Fall in Love With All of the Colleges to Make Your List
In the end, you will want to be thrilled to attend any of the colleges on your list. Your passion for each one will likely be for different reasons, but if you’ve been true to yourself on your criteria and evaluations, the school you “get in” and choose to attend, will be a great choice for you.
Part III of this blog series will cover creating a balanced college list.
College in 3-2-1 provides comprehensive college preparation services for high school students including high school course selection, college research and list development, application assistance, essay consultation, and financial aid, extra-curricular and summer enrichment counseling.
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