Finding a college that fits

September 3, 2012 | Posted in: High School

Choosing a college is a big decision. This is the third contribution by Capital Region BOCES Communications summer intern Ean Dunn, who shares insights on the college selection process.

A big part of high school is making the decision to go on to college or enter the work force. As I told you in a previous post, I chose college. The idea of going to a college or university was ingrained in my head since I was a little boy, whether from watching college sports and dreaming of one day playing for the team, or from my parents, who always encouraged me to dream big and achieve my goals.

In a way, sports were a way for me to rationalize going to college. But which college would I go to? How would I know if it was the right one for me? Would I even get in? These were questions I repeatedly asked myself throughout my childhood and into high school.

I had no idea where to look, what I wanted to do, or even how to go about searching for a college that would suit me. So how did I choose a college? My parents were a huge help. Without them, I’m not sure I would even be in the university I am now.

There are plenty of things parents can do to help their child find the right college “fit.” Start by talking to your child what he or she would like to do. The answers may surprise you! Keep in mind that being undecided on a major going into college is no big deal. Plenty of kids do this and end up finding what they’d like to do. Asking a 17- or 18-year-old what they want to do for the rest of their life could be a tough question to answer.

If they are undecided about a major, look at schools that offer general education courses. These classes, which many colleges require, help give students a well-rounded perspective of many areas of study. College is a lot different from high school; you can take a bunch of different classes that fulfill requirements. You can pick a course that has nothing to do with your main area of study, but just sounds interesting to you, something you’d enjoy learning more about. (My school offers a Hollywood Disasters course, which is unfortunately always filled up.)

Think with your child about the “place” where they would like to spend the next two-four years. Are they city dwellers? Do they really enjoy the outdoors, the countryside, and farmlands? Do they want to go to a traditional college town? These are all questions to consider when looking for schools. I knew in high school that I absolutely could not go to school in the country, narrowing my options to city and suburban schools.

Apply to several schools. There is a very real possibility that your child will not get into his or her #1 choice. Every college and university has certain admissions standards, some much tougher than others. (Keep in mind that those high school electives, extracurricular activities, internships, community service, etc. also carry weight with college admissions folk.) If you only apply only to your first choice school and don’t get in, well then you’re in a heap of trouble.

When I met with my high school adviser, she told me to apply to a “reach” school and to a “fall back” school. I applied to six colleges and universities. I didn’t get into my far reach school, but that was OK because I got into the school I really wanted to go to.

Don’t be afraid of faraway places. Seeing your son or daughter go off to college is both an exciting and a painful experience. Your lives will be different without them around 24/7. It is just something that has to happen, even if they only end up going to a school two minutes away from home. Let them go out on their own, make some mistakes, and learn how to handle life’s curveballs. I did it, and I can’t thank my parents enough for giving me the opportunity.

For more information on how to choose a college or university, and some resources to help you with the college process, check out these helpful links:

NPR: How to Choose a College That’s Right For You.

College Board

Super College

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