College Admissions: How To Keep From Choosing The Wrong College

Monday, March 27, 2017

 

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It's nothing to laugh at--decision season is coming up and you don't want to choose the wrong college.

April 1 is just one week away, and most college acceptances will soon be received by anxious high school seniors. Often, students and parents have a difficult time making a decision. While a “gut feeling” based on a campus information session and tour is one good factor to consider, there is other information that needs to be considered. Don’t jump before you look carefully. This is one of the most important decisions and largest financial investments, you will ever make. Here are some key things to review.

Beware of Student Gossip

The old adage “bad news travels faster than good news” is especially true with regard to colleges. Be wary of online sites that host bitter student reviews. Few happy students have the time or the inclination to go on and post a positive review. Also, take the gossip in your high school or neighborhood with a grain of salt when someone leaves a college. Look instead at the overall statistics; do not make a judgment based on one individual. For a great guide centered around hundreds of student surveys and interviews, I recommend The Insider's Guide to the Colleges by The Yale Daily News. It only reviews about 300 colleges and universities in the country, but it does a terrific job of giving insight into campus life, course rigor, professor access and the surrounding community.

Spend the Night

I highly recommend that students do an overnight visit at their top choice colleges before making a final decision. The admissions office at most smaller colleges will help facilitate this, but at larger institutions, you may need to network with friends and family to find an existing student to host you for the night. Go to classes on a Friday and then check out the “on campus” and “off campus” social scene. This real life experience will give you a valuable feel for the flavor of the student body and the quality of the classes and professors.

Majors and Courses

Some seniors will have a good idea of what they want to major in. If so, take a deeper dive into the courses offered, professor credentials, and internships or research opportunities. Remember that course catalogs are VERY deceiving. They usually contain every course taught in the last 5 years (or that may be taught in the next 5 years). It does not mean that those courses are taught every year. For a more accurate understanding of the classes that you will have to choose from in your major, call the department and ask for a course list for this year and next year. If you are a student who is undecided on a major, carefully consider the breadth of offerings at your potential colleges and make sure they line up with your interests.

Review the Data

There are some important statistics that parents and students should review before choosing a college. These are readily available on Web sites like www.collegeboard.com or www.collegedata.com. The first one that I look at is “students returning for sophomore year” - this is a key indicator of how happy students are at a college and the support they receive. If a college has below a 70% return rate, I get concerned. The next data point I suggest you review is the “4 year graduation rate”. While nationally this is quite low (many students take 5-6 years to graduate), you should know what the likelihood is that your costs will extend beyond 4 years. Another item that can be important to students who wish to pursue an advanced degree is “percent of students going on to graduate school”. The one published statistic that I find suspicious is “percent of students finding full-time employment within 12 months of graduation." Given the poor economy, I think the high numbers reported by many schools are hard to swallow. Lastly, families should investigate the economic health of a college, including the endowment fund and state of the physical campus. 

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Cristiana Quinn, M.Ed. is the founder of College Admission Advisors, LLC which provides strategic, college counseling and athletic recruiting services for students. www.collegeadvisorsonline.com

 

Related Slideshow: 10 Pieces of Advice for College Freshmen and Their Parents

Heading off to college can be a stressful time. To ease the anxiety, Cristiana Quinn, GoLocalProv's College Admissions Expert, has some sage words for children and parents alike.

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Students

1

Organize your dorm room items now, and assess what you need to ship vs. transport in the car. This will alleviate stress before you leave for school. Use a printable checklist for your dorm room, like this one

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Students

2

When you arrive at college, don't expect everything to be perfect. Your roommate, classes or sports team may not be everything that you dreamed of, and that's okay. Make the best of it, and remember that college gets easier after you adjust in the first semester. Stay in touch with friends and family from home, but transition to your new life. Don't live virtually (texting) hanging on to the past too much--live in the moment in your new community.

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Students

3

Textbooks are extremely expensive; save money by renting or buying used text at Chegg or Amazon vs. buying at the on campus bookstore.

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Students

4

Make sure you know where health services is on campus and the hours. Also, know where the closest hospital is, in case health services is closed. Visit the academic support center and learn about tutoring and study skills resources in the first week of school---BEFORE you need them.

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Students

5

Join at least 3 organizations or clubs on campus. This will give you a chance to meet a variety of people outside of your dorm and classes. Chances are that these students will be more aligned with your interests and values. Intramural sports teams, the campus newspaper, community service groups, political groups, outing clubs are all good.

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Parents

1

Don't hover at orientation and drop-offs. This is a difficult time, but resist the urge to linger.

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Parents

2

Get a healthcare proxy signed before your son/daughter goes off to campus. This is critical for students over 18, otherwise you will not have access to medical info in the case of and emergency (due to healthcare privacy laws). You need to be able to speak with doctors and make decisions remotely and quickly if anything happens.

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Parents

3

Expect some bumps in the road. Homesickness is normal, as are issues with roommates and professors. Be supportive at a distance. Never call a professor, and try not to text your child multiple times a day. This is the time to let them learn independence and more responsibility. They can deal with issues if you give them the chance.

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Parents

4

Book now for parent weekends and special events on campus for the rest of 2015-16 year. Hotels get overloaded during big weekends.

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Parents

5

Avoid pushing a major--this usually leads to unhappiness and causes stress in the family. It's good to provide students with resources, but encourage them to seek career testing and counseling on-campus with professors and the Career Center. Discuss options, but don't dictate or pressure students to select something too early.

 
 

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