Finding the right college fit can be a difficult thing. There are the obvious consideration such as:
Does your student see small as comforting or claustrophobic? Is a large campus overwhelming or exciting?
Will your child thrive with big city adventures and safety issues or will they be better able to focus on a spacious, protected campus?
Does your student look forward to dinner discussions of Star Trek and physics problems at a school of technology or do they need widely diverse offerings with lots of student groups that celebrate many beliefs, hobbies, and ethnicities? Do they want the options of fraternities and sororities or a school that bans or minimizes the Greek scene.
Does the school offer the degree that your child wants? Now, it is true that most kids entering college don’t know exactly what they want to major in, but if they don’t have a fairly concrete idea, they really don’t belong in college yet. Once they do know what they want, you need to understand that even top schools vary widely in the quality of their programs. Some schools have excellent math and science and lousy engineering. Some have superb liberal arts classes and really fall short in the sciences. If you are going to the terrific expense of a college degree, get that degree from the place that does it best.
To be honest, most families spend a great deal of time on the topics mentioned above and rarely consider this aspect of the college decision. Yet, I would encourage you to spend some time deliberating this angle. All colleges are not created equal when it comes to the intellectual rigor that pulsates through the campus. Some are laid back party schools where few people actually study and even fewer have employment upon graduating. Some schools are academic torture chambers where students whisper, “Study, sleep or social life. Pick two.” And, of course, many schools fall somewhere in the middle.
It is important that you find a college that will challenge your student. This came home to me one afternoon when I picked my daughter up from a four-year college close to home. At the time she was a sophomore in high school and was learning genetic research techniques from a highly qualified professor. She was impressed with this gentleman and loved the expensive equipment she was working with. However, she was totally underwhelmed with the students she rubbed shoulders with. Sometimes she sat in on a class the professor was teaching and was shocked at how much he had to dumb down the lectures and she was further appalled at the apathy of the students. They obviously didn’t care and didn’t want to be there. As she climbed into the car that summer afternoon, she turned to me and said, “Mom, if I have to go to school there I will jump off a cliff!” She just couldn’t picture spending four years surrounded by folks who were not as passionate about learning as she was.
As you visit college campuses, be sure and do more than take the official tour. Have your student arrange to attend classes, eat meals with students, and possibly spend a night in the dorm. They need to see if it is good intellectual fit and, more importantly, if there is room to stretch there.
Let me give you an analogy. When my children were young and growing fast, we always bought clothing a bit too big to give them room to grow into it. I knew they wouldn’t stay their current size for long. We need to look at college in much the same way. Our young adults are maturing rapidly in many areas. They are going from being under our wing to blossoming into independent adults. They need a place they can grow into and still be challenged. A young friend of mine understands this concept more clearly than many adults. A few weeks ago, she was discussing her various college options with her mother. As she looked honestly at her initial favorite college, she wisely said, “This school is right for me today, but it won’t be right in two years.”
If you are prudent, you’ll take her words to heart.
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