Picking the Perfect Shoes, I Mean, Schools

Wouldn’t it be nice if choosing a college were as easy as choosing a pair of shoes? Just drive to the “college” mall, consider a style—sensible, party, professional, bohemian, sporty, outdoorsy; listen to your friends; evaluate your budget; make your decision and drive home with a choice that fits without pinching and will look good on you for the next four years!

Unfortunately, choosing a college is a bit more complicated. So what do you need to consider in order to find a good fit in higher education?

Some considerations are basic common sense. If you barely squeaked through high school with a 2.5, then set aside that childhood dream of attending Yale.

If you can’t tolerate cloud cover and snow, Michigan may not be the best state for you. If you know you want to be able to return home on all holidays including Women’s Equality Day (August 26) and Leif Erikson Day (October 9), then choose a school within easy driving distance.

Other important considerations take a bit more research, such as degree offerings, cost, financial aid, public versus private, class size, safety, housing options, accreditation.

In addition to those basic considerations, Martha O’Connell, executive director of Colleges That Change Lives, offers these guidelines:

1. Start with who you are and why you are going.

Determine your abilities, strengths, weaknesses, and what you want out of life.

Are you socially self-sufficient, or do you need warm, familial support? Talk with your family, friends and high school counselors/teachers as you ask these questions. The people who know you best can help you most with these important issues.

2. Size matters: Your college does not have to be bigger than your high school.

Most good liberal arts colleges have a population of fewer than 4,000 for a reason; college is a time to explore, and a smaller community is more conducive to internal exploration. Many large universities have established “honors colleges” within the larger university for these same reasons.

3. A name brand college will not guarantee your success.

Employers and graduate schools are looking for outstanding skills and experience, not college pedigree…success in life has less to do with the choice of college than with the experiences and opportunities encountered while in college, coupled with personal qualities and traits.

4. You don’t need to pick a major to pick a college.

Very few high school students have enough information or experience to choose a major. You need the variety and depth of college coursework to determine your interest and aptitude.

Most college students change their minds two or three times before they settle on a major, and they can still graduate in four years! Being undecided is a good thing and will leave you open to more academic experiences.

5. Don’t be scared by the stories.

If you only pay attention to the headlines, you might start to believe that “no one is getting in anywhere!” The truth is that the majority of the colleges and universities in this country admit more students than they reject.

If you’re worried about your chances of getting admitted—and you’re willing to investigate beyond the very narrow band of highly selective colleges—you’ll find that you have many options that will lead to a great fit for you.

6. You can afford to go to college.

If you make the assumption that you cannot afford college based on the “sticker price” of tuition, you will miss out. Investigate early and ask for help to find affordable choices.

7. You don’t have to go to college right away, and it’s never too late.

There is no such thing as the perfect time to start college. Some students benefit from a year off to work, study or travel, and these experiences allow them to be better, more engaged students.

Some students choose to apply to college and gain admission and then defer their entrance, while others wait to apply until after they have had an alternative experience. Either way, admissions officers will be anxious to learn about your experience during your time off, and they’ll ask you to write about it as part of your admissions process.

High school and college admissions counselors can provide resources for investigating alternatives that may be right for you.

8. The most important factor in choosing college is fit.

Choosing a college because your friends are going there or because of where it ranks on a list does not take into account who you are and who you will become.

Spend time on the campuses of your top choices and then listen to your heart. Colleges can be like internet dates. The picture on the website may make your heart beat faster, but reality may not quite match expectation!

“When you visit, try to build in time to sit in classes, eat in the dining hall and hang around in the student center or other high-traffic areas,” says O’Connell. “That will help you imagine yourself as part of the community.”

O’Connell also recommends spending time on college websites actually reading student profiles. “Individual student stories can speak to prospective students in a way that other materials cannot,” says O’Connell.

“Contact your top college choices and ask if there are students in your area who could e-mail you about their experience at the school.” The real experience is “told in the stories of the students,” says O’Connell.

Finally, O’Connell says to “take a deep breath and realize that it’s about fit and not about ranking.” In other words, those Manolo Blahnik stilettos may be the shoes of your dreams, but if they don’t fit your feet, you won’t be happy wearing them!

For more information about Colleges That Change Lives visit ctcl.com.

Categories: Education: Middle and High School