Senior year has arrived! Your son or daughter thought it would never come after all those eager years of fantasizing about the freedom of college. The only problem is he or she probably has little to no idea on what schools suits them, what is important to look for in colleges, or what career path to even follow. This process can be a kick in the teeth for the whole family, as everyone just wants what's best for their senior. To simplify this process, I've laid out three main considerations for the aspiring college student.
By early on senior year, your child's college counselor should have already made a list of college recommendations. If not, it might be a good idea to contact the school to see if there are any resources to start the college picking process. While there are an abundance of websites devoted to school lists, getting started on narrowing that down can be an elephantine task.
Small to Ginormous-- School Size
The best thing any student can do is to first evaluate what kind of college experience they want to have. An age-old debate remains big schools vs. small schools:
Pros of a Big School
- Large selection of majors and courses to choose from
- Great number of clubs and wide diversity of students
- International name recognition
Pros of a Small School (see: Liberal Arts College)
- Smaller campus with easier navigation
- Intimate classroom setting and better professor:student ratio
- Highly-personalized guidance counseling
Have your child make a list of all of the things they think are valuable for their college life. Having said that, remember that a high school student’s concept of college might not be realistic: most colleges aren't actually like Animal House. Look for connections with family and friends and consult with them on where they went and the type of experience they had. They are an invaluable resource in this process.
After assessing the size and academic programming needs, a student should consider what type of campus life they want. Often times students have a hard enough time adjusting to leaving home, add on a new environment and the adjustment can be that much more difficult. Here is a sampling of important considerations for choosing the right campus:
- Do they want easy transportation options to visit home?
- Do they require access to shopping options or walkable distances to grocery stores?
- Does the student enjoy outdoor activities that might be available in certain geographic regions?
A "Major" Decision
Majors are often difficult to decide upon before actually setting foot on campus. Many students enter their college career as undecided. However, for those students who are angling for a specific career path, be careful not to pick a school that doesn’t offer all of what that student needs. If your child has an interest in chemistry, or maybe just has a general knack for science, then an art school certainly wouldn’t be a good choice.
Every college has ample resources on their websites that detail their academic departments and majors. Making a college visit with your child can also be a very valuable experience. Try to find current students with your child's major and speak with them privately
Realistically, most students will not get into all of the schools they want to apply to. In other words, the list of potential colleges shouldn’t be too narrowed.
Thankfully, the Common Application has made it infinitely easier to apply to several colleges at once – reducing the application stress and offering several options at once. They don't all need to be dream schools; your child should take advantage of how easy they've made the process and apply to several schools that interest them.
Students, on average, apply to somewhere between 6 or 8 schools. That is a manageable amount for the money and for the stress of compiling essays, transcripts, recommendations, and the like. Students should be realistic with the number of schools they apply to, just as they should be realistic about the chances of getting into some schools.
One Last Word
Overall, the process of selecting schools shouldn’t be the most stressful part of this process. This is a time for a student to dream big and explore what kind of experience they want to have for those four years. Encourage your child to soak up every modicum of knowledge possible about their interests. It's a big decision. In the end, the well-informed student will have the ability to make a more confident decision come spring time.
For more tips and ideas, be sure to download our free e-books on the college application process.