Every year, high school families spend many hours and dollars (!) on “college selection.” We all get swept up in the process. We visit, research, look at acceptance stats and debate the best application strategies. Often this focus on getting in is a missed opportunity to view the college selection through a different lens – one that most college parents would urge you to consider.
Once students get “in” somewhere, the shift is sudden and sometimes stunning. Coursework. Experiences. The career fair. Internships. College GPA. Resume and cover letter. Study abroad. Undergraduate research. The real work of college plops into our student’s lap.
1) How are you going to leverage your college experience?
The years of college go VERY fast, and without a rudder in the water, you can finish college with no tangible skills that anyone will hire you to use. And that is not what anyone wants.
We urge families to do some of this thinking as part of your college search—not after a student gets on the college campus.
2) What do you want to study?
We are saddened sometimes when the college’s program in a chosen major is not one of the primary considerations when choosing a college. Students say, “Oh, I want to go to XYZ College.” When asked what they want to do there, they reply with a vague comment about psychology or business or biology.
We get that. Narrowing down the field of study can be challenging. Students are wary of making a wrong choice, and we would never want a student to be tied down without the freedom to explore. We suggest students spend time devoted to answering this question about what they want to study before deciding on a college and have a firmer grip or some specific ideas on an answer. (Our whole Guided Self Assessment process was built to help these students.)
3) How does each college approach the field of study you are interested in?
We want students to have a firm understanding of the details of what a major in psychology or business or biology at that college will include. What specific courses will you study? What have the students in that major at that school gone on to do? Anything special about studying a major at XYZ University vs that same major at ABC College? Is there a senior capstone project or a requirement for research or work experience?
4) How do the actual courses required for this major sound to you?
Knowing the answers to #3 above, how do those courses sound to you? You’ll spend about half of your time in classes in your major. We want you to really like them (easier to make that 8:00 am class if you want to go). Look at the curriculum map. See how many electives you can select. Understand how classes you took in high school yield credit in your major at each college. Spend time in the classrooms and labs for this major. This effort will help you feel confident in your college and major choice.
5) What are the professors like?
We always encourage students to visit with a professor if possible. You can also read about professors in your major on a college’s website. What research are the professors in that major involved in? How are courses taught—is it just lecture-style learning or is there collaboration and group projects? These professionals have a real impact (positive or not!) on a student’s learning.
6) What career support is provided by the college?
If getting a good job is one of the reasons students go to college, then we want to choose a college which can help us get there. Visit the career services office. Check out their website. Students will need help creating resumes, practicing for interviews, visiting career fairs, learning how to search for jobs, etc.
Recently, we are happy to see colleges turn more of their focus to their career services support. Families want to be sure their tuition dollars will successfully lead to a career after graduation.
7) How will you build your resume?
In 2019-20, 387,900 bachelor’s degrees in business, 128,300 in engineering, and 126,600 in biological sciences were awarded in the United States. That’s a lot of fellow grads who, on paper, look nearly identical. Students need more than the courses they took to stand out from the crowd for employers.
When thinking about your college selection, also consider those experiences which will enhance your resume and grow your skills like internships, co-ops, study abroad, part time jobs, volunteer opportunities, undergraduate research, etc. Do undergrads get to participate in research? How will the colleges on your list support your student with these considerations?
8) Is it a “fit”?
Yes, we want your college choice to be a good fit—academically, financially, and socially. But we also want it to be a good fit in terms of your career goals. Will the program they offer and the support they provide help you get to that targeted first job after graduation?
9) Will the college spark your curiosity and encourage your growth?
We use this phrase in our College Research webinar. Answering this question may not be black or white. It may be more of a feeling you get. Talk with a professor. Check out the labs. Ask a student in that major a few questions about their experiences. Are there special interest groups you can join? We want your courses and work outside the classroom to inspire you.
10) Will a minor, dual major, or program certificate complement your studies?
When you view a college’s list of college majors, you’ll also see a whole list of minors and certificates offered in targeted areas of study. These options will allow a student to craft an education that is unique to them and allow them to explore their interests.
Taking advantage of opportunities to earn college credit in high school with programs like dual enrollment, AP, or IB can free up space in a college schedule. We often talk about course selection in our high school and college planning programming.
When choosing a college, we want you to look beyond just the “getting in.” We hope that students spend time (before they even get there) thinking about what they will do when they DO get there and how the college they choose helps them reach their goals.
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