Choosing The Right School
By Cheryl Fenton
There is no magic formula for choosing a college, but there are steps you can take to find a good fit.
While dropping admission rates and perceptions of randomness in the selection process can dominate the headlines, the fact is the deck is actually stacked in the students’ favor, according to David Lyons, Director of College Counseling at The Rivers School in Weston. “There are literally thousands of colleges in the U.S., and the vast majority are looking for reasons to accept students,” he says.
“I tell my students that only they can determine what is ‘right’ for them,” says Needham High School Counselor Will Grannan. “There’s a lot of great advice and wisdom out there, but it is always filtered through someone else’s perspective, desires, history, and identity. We counselors are supports and guides, but the student takes ownership of the search process.”
Here are expert tips to get you through the process of choosing the right school:
IDENTIFY YOUR CRITERIA
Are you someone who feels comfortable in crowds or do you prefer learning in a more intimate setting? Do you want a school near home? Do you care if your college has a football team or Greek life? “We ask our students dozens of questions to help them identify their wish list for a college,” says Lyons. This must-have inventory can provide direction early in the process. Make a visual record of pros and cons for each school as you think about your priorities.
KEEP AN OPEN MIND
Maybe you associate college with big city life or perhaps you envision a grassy quad and tree-lined streets. “Many students enter the process with a preconceived notion of what college will be for them. College searchers should do their best to challenge their vision,” Lyons adds. Translation: Think outside the campus you had in mind. If you’re seeking a rural environment, check out a city school. This will either solidify your original choice or put you on a different path.
BE MONEY MINDFUL
“Think about cost and value, and have that conversation with your parents early in the process,” says Davin Bergquist, Director of College Counseling at The Cambridge School of Weston. “College is very expensive, and you should all be on the same page. Doing so will help you get the best-fit education possible with the resources you have.” This could even mean going to a state school when you always thought a private institution was for you. “Some of the highest quality educations in America are offered at public institutions, many times at fractions of the private price tags,” he adds.
Linda L. Buckley, Lead College Counselor at Arlington High School, suggests having a list of schools that are: a slight reach as far as grades and test scores are concerned (but you would love to attend); realistic (you meet all qualifying criteria); and where you have slightly higher qualifying scores than average. “This gives students and families the assurance that they have all their bases covered,” she adds. “While the process can be stressful, most students end up doing well and enroll at a college that’s a fabulous fit,” says Bergquist. “That’s your end game. That ‘fit’ is someplace that will leave the application process in the rearview mirror and allow you to enjoy your next big adventure with verve, authenticity, and excitement.”