With the average cost of attending a four-year public college at approximately $28,000 per year and private at $59,000, the numbers are simply too high for a young person to attend an ill-fitting school.
Transferring to another school can be extremely stressful and pricey; approximately a third of all students experience this following their freshmen year. As a result, students need to carefully consider which college is best for them.
While many students automatically select the school with the highest national ranking, others choose state schools for their relatively reasonable tuition. Some students take the most economical route and attend community college.
As someone who has guided hundreds of students through the college admissions process, here are my insights on what constitutes the “best” school.
Maintain Your Objectivity
Many students place too much emphasis on falling in love with a college. While wanting to feel a connection with a campus is normal, it’s best to spend some time examining the college’s course catalogue. Are there a variety of courses offered for the subjects that you’re most passionate about?
Review the college’s department website and get a sense of the number of faculty in your anticipated major. A college with a low number of professors is likely to have limited course offerings and outside-of-class opportunities. Engaging in cutting-edge research makes a student stand out; future employers and graduate schools want students who have contributed to the global scientific community.
Many students want to attend huge rah-rah colleges without understanding the realities of these massive schools. Young people need to know that many classes at these large schools are filled up with students like small stadiums; most students are just an ID number to their professors. To excel at such colleges, a student must engage in some self-reflection. Is the student self-motivated? Can the student fend for himself?
Draw on Your Emotional Resilience
College is a time for new beginnings, but not everyone is able to start over. Living with new people and making new connections can be very stressful.
Male students have a tendency to become overwhelmed with this transition to the point at which they drop out of school. In fact, boys are 30 percent more likely than girls to drop out of college. Many boys have difficulty acclimating to the college environment and do not know who to turn when they feel frustrated or depressed. As a result, it is critical that parents know their child and make sure that he attends a school that provides structured support.
Maintain Your Focus
Some students select schools based on superficial criteria; they want to attend the college with the best weather. Others base their selection on an active Greek life. Still others choose a school with the best male-to-female ratio. In such cases, parents need to get involved quickly. Reminding these young people that college is not a four-year vacation is necessary.
Look at the Return on Investment (ROI)
Students should research schools’ ROI. There is no question that engineering schools dominate this department, with Harvey Mudd leading the pack. While a student should not force himself into an engineering college if math and science are not his passions, taking notice of his prospective school’s ROI is important. After spending a quarter of a million dollars, students and parents deserve a return on their dollars.
Use the Career Services Center
This is an area that many students and parents tend to overlook. A school’s Career Services Center provides invaluable resources for students. Beyond helping you write a strong resume and enhancing your interviewing skills, the Career Services Center arranges recruiting events.
It is important for students and parents to know which companies engage in on-campus recruiting. Names like McKinsey & Company, Google, and Goldman Sachs excite many students and parents. The Career Services Center can also help students arrange internships through its extensive network.
Take It with a Grain of Salt
Before enrolling in a college, students should talk with current students and alumni. Hearing firsthand about a person’s highlights is exciting, but be sure to ask about aspects of the school that may have frustrated that individual. Listening to tales of incredible parties and football games is seldom boring, but the real goal is finding out the actual demands of various courses and details about school housing and other facilities.
Consider the Brand Name
Study abroad has become the norm for most college juniors. With so much excitement around travel, most students do not know where they will end up after graduation. As a result, selecting a college with a strong brand-name can be helpful. Schools like the University of Michigan and New York University are known across the world. If you have the travel bug, you may want to ensure that you attend a college that has a global reputation. It could help you land a job overseas.
Resist Knee-Jerk Decisions
Many kids have been inundated with a Platonic concept of college. The truth is that college is not four years of endless bliss; it can be a struggle at times. But do your best to give your college a chance. Try not to give up on a school after your first argument with your roommate or your first C on an essay. While transferring is an option, the grass is not always greener on the other side.
Daniel Riseman, founder of Riseman Educational Consulting in Irvington, New York, has been counseling students and working with families for 16 years on every aspect of the college admissions process, including tutoring students for SAT and ACT tests and selecting schools and majors.