Choosing a college is one of the first steps to take in college planning. Some students choose colleges impulsively and for the wrong reasons. Others put some real time and effort into the college search to make sure they have chosen schools with a good fit.
Many times parents and students have questions and they don’t know where to turn for answers. Sometimes they think their questions are too dumb to ask. Here are 5 recent questions I have been asked about choosing a college.
1. How do we begin the process? I think it is important for students to do some self-reflection and consider what it is that they want in a college experience. They should write down the answers so that they have some criteria to go on. What locations are preferable and is there a size range that seems comfortable? Do you need a city nearby or is a small town more appealing? Are there activities you want to pursue and how available are they? How much academic challenge do you want?
2. Do we need to know what our child wants to major in before we start our college search? With few exceptions, students do not need to know what they want to pursue as a major. Choosing a college that offers a wide variety of majors will give students a chance to explore many different options. Many students do not declare a major until the second semester of their sophomore year. If I have a student who expresses an interest in engineering, obviously I want them to look at schools that offer an engineering program.
3. What if we don’t know about many schools? You need to find a place to start. For a while, some of your research might be hit and miss. There are websites that provide a list of schools based on criteria that your student checks off. Some of these schools may be appropriate and some may not. You can visit different college websites and get a feel for what is important to the school. There are some good books at the library that can also help you begin choosing a college. High school counselors and educational consultants can also assist with putting together an initial list.
4. Are public colleges and universities better than private schools? Some students prefer a large public university because they want to go to school with a lot of people. They don’t object to large lecture classes and they like the idea of being anonymous in a big school. Sometimes they are also less expensive. Other students want a smaller college with more discussion classes, getting to know their professors and having more opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities. Some private schools are more expensive, but they can also be very generous with their financial aid and scholarships.
5. How many schools should our teenager consider? I usually suggest that students keep an open mind when choosing a college. Sometimes teens change their minds from the initial college search to the time they begin the college application process. With college admissions as unpredictable as it is, I think students should apply to at least 5-7 schools.