finding a college

Finding a College to Meet Your Needs

We can make the whole high-school-to-college process really complicated! The truth? Finding a college is kind of this simple:

  1. Pick some colleges
  2. Apply
  3. WAIT (the worst step!)
  4. Decide
  5. Pay
  6. Go to college

Doesn’t sound too bad, right?! But when it’s time to move from #3 to #4, the student can get paralyzed. Here they are with 2, 3, 4 (or more) different colleges that have said “yes,” and they can’t pick one. Now what?!?!

What were your search parameters?

When we talk with families about searching for a college, we share several common criteria to help mold their search: location (urban, suburban, rural), size, distance from home, social life, cost, and type (public, private, co-ed, etc.). These criteria are easy to identify, and those boxes are easy to check. College A is large, public, in the city, in the budget, etc. Perfect! But College B and C maybe fit those criteria as well. They all have a spot for your child.

Ok…What’s next? How can we get closer to a decision?

You might have noticed a key criterion missing from the list above—college major. Sometimes families can lose sight of that! All around us, families will focus on the selection of the college and forget the main purpose of college—getting a degree in a major which will lead to the desired career.

We have our list of criteria and off we go on the hunt. It’s so easy to focus on the schools…and push off most thoughts of the college major and the career and hope it will follow the college education. It’s an easy trap to fall into—the college choice is so tangible and the major/career may be “mushier” and harder to conceive.

We challenge you to think differently. Flip it around.

Students tell us the purpose of going to college is “to get a job” or “to get a better job.” The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People hit the nail on the head. “Begin with the end in mind.” As with any process, we need to have a goal – in the college process, it’s typically the “better job” goal.

If a student wants to be a teacher, we know they need to study elementary education. If they want to study elementary education, they can choose a college with a great program in that major. From there, choosing a college becomes so much easier. Your college criteria (size, distance from home, etc.) COUPLED WITH a great program in your major will narrow your choices—maybe down to 1 or 2.

Yes, we know. Deciding on the goal (first career) can be hard.

The challenge with this approach is figuring out that targeted first career. Students can struggle with this thinking. It is perfectly normal. Most of us adults have struggled, too!

Students can start by thinking about what they know about themselves–their strongest personal traits, skills, values, interests, preferences, etc. Then, they need a certain understanding of what careers fit with what they know about themselves. There are tools that can help with exploring careers, like:

  • Informational interviews – in person or watching videos online
  • Shadowing someone with an interesting job
  • Retake/review any career assessments you’ve taken
  • Google “jobs for someone who likes xxxxxxxx”
  • Occupational Outlook Handbook from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.GOV)

Another valuable tool to help

Sadly, sometimes the tools above don’t help much. Because we know that students can struggle with this thinking about themselves and identifying careers, we offer Guided Self Assessment to students in grades 10 through early college. The series of one-on-one conversations with an expertly trained facilitator helps students dig deep to discover more about themselves.

The student can sort and sift, question and ponder with an unbiased guide skilled in the art of interviewing. There’s a fantastic family conversation at the end to discuss it all and how to use this insight. The final report includes potential careers to explore (based on the student’s input) and specific next steps to pursue.

How to evaluate the college now that you are focusing on the major and their program?

Now back to the college decision! Armed with the selection of a career/college major, the college choices of A, B, or C can be compared one against the other. With all other things being equal (size, cost, location), you are down to the nitty-gritty and frankly, the most important. What college has the PROGRAM and EXPERIENCES which will best meet your educational style and will move you toward that first job?

Examine the list of classes they offer and require within the major. Would you like to take those classes? What kinds of facilities/equipment/technology will support your learning? Take a peek at the professors to learn more about them. Does their research line up with your interests? Does the major have clubs, activities, or Greek organizations on campus associated with it? What experiential opportunities are there (study abroad, internships, co-ops)? What speakers do they bring in to supplemental in-class learning?

Employers today will tell you that it is the extra stuff which make a graduate more attractive. When you are a job candidate, you want to tell the story of the research you took part in studying the effect of using computer tablets to help autistic children learn. These experiences can shape your education and your future!

The internet is a treasure trove of information.

In addition to the basic Google search, you can learn a lot about a college’s program by exploring their own website online. For example, we took a quick look at the College of Education and Human Development page of Bowling Green University. At the time we looked, we discovered that “the college is nationally ranked by US News & World Report as one of the top programs for education.” Their apparel merchandise and product development major is ranked 75th nationwide as one of the top fashion merchandising programs in the U.S. They recently welcomed educators from 21 countries to participate in an intensive six-week education and gender equity professional development program on campus. We learned all this in 30 seconds. Do the research. It will help!

The choice becomes clearer.

Armed with these additional details about the program, the choice becomes easier. Keeping the end goal in mind, the path to get there becomes clearer. Good luck!

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