List of colleges

Making a List of Colleges: Are You Ready for the Tough Questions?

Sometimes the tough questions can give us pause. Recently, a mom reached out with what she thought was a quick question. She just wanted “a list” – a list of colleges her son should apply to. Could we help?

Because we never assume that we can help without knowing a lot more, we probed a bit to identify a few key criteria for an effective college search and to learn more about her son’s current high school situation—does he enjoy school, how is he doing academically, etc. When asked about his thoughts on a career/major, mom responded that he had no idea.

“But that is not why I called!” I could tell she was getting frustrated. “We need help making the college list.”

We had come to the proverbial fork in the road.

To make a great list of colleges, either this family was willing to dig into the next questions – the very important (and tougher) questions – now, or they were going to plow ahead blindly.

  • How excited is he about four more years of school?
  • How will he eventually pick a major and set some career/first job role goals?
  • What can he share (as specifically as possible) about the criteria driving the college search process?
  • Is he willing to be honest, frank, and upfront with what he wants from his college experience and life after college?

These questions MUST BE ASKED and answered. The sooner families engage with this thinking, the better. Putting it off, hoping they figure it out, or believing the story your kid is telling (even if you know it’s not backed with any substance) will only lead to these very same questions later.

The right “list of colleges” for your child is driven by the answers to these questions.

The high school years offer countless opportunities for kids to experience the “stuff” that will guide them to confident and clearer choices at the end of high school. And, as hard as it may be to do, sometimes we have to remember that there are many paths to success. Our children’s path may not look like our own or the one we had in mind for them.

To help families, we constantly share in our newsletter, social media, and programming the myriad ways students can take advantage of their high school years by exploring all that is available and that interests them.

So, how can we help this family?

Without a clearer picture of why a child goes to college, we can’t help them know how to build an effective list of colleges. We’d suggest that the student engage in some important thinking, and the best method we know is our Guided Self Assessment process. It’s a verbal interview-based process that the student completes while paired with an unbiased “guide” (an At The Core facilitator). It’s kind of the opposite of an online assessment – it’s words, eye contact, listening and probing, non-verbal clues, connections, ah-ha moments. Our work with the student yields tangible results and a roadmap for the family. There’s really nothing else like it.

Not all parents are ready for this deeper thinking.

We don’t blame them. As humans, we often want the quicker, easier answer. The questions we posed above are hard (or harder) to answer than the “what is a good list of colleges?” question. But you can’t get the answer to one without the answers to the others.

Guided Self Assessment is a deliberate exploration of a student’s experiences, aspirations, and uncertainties. We sort and sift. This deeper thinking is hard, and that’s why we have a guide to lead the process.

In the end, we all want the same things: to move forward after high school to the next step with confidence and clarity. A step taken with a solid sense of “this is right because…” After years of serving families, we know this will not magically happen. It does take work. And as parents ourselves, we think it’s among the most important work we can do with and for our children.

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