Today’s post is by guest blogger Suzanne Shaffer. Suzanne counsels parents in the college admissions process and the importance of early college preparation. Her Parents Countdown to College Coach blog offers timely college tips for parents and students, providing parents with the resources necessary to help their college-bound teens navigate the college maze.
Most teens will tell you that choosing the right college is one of the most stressful decisions of their lives. As a parent, you know it’s not always that dramatic. But it is a decision that can affect their future and you want to approach it properly, knowing that you and your teen can make the decision together.
It’s a process that begins with a little bit of knowing what your teen likes, what their goals are, and that intuition that only a parent has about their child. You are smart enough to know if your teen will function well at a large university or thrive at a small college where they receive personal attention.
You know whether your teen thrives on social activities or would much rather have a few close friends and spend time with them. You know what is affordable and what is out of your reach financially. Knowing your teen and their likes and dislikes will help you in the process.
Making the list
There are over 4,000 four year colleges in the United States and another 1,900 community
colleges. Here are a few items to consider:
- Your teen — Are they more comfortable in a structured class or do they excel doing independent study? Do they require academic challenge or prefer in-class time with little or no additional study?
- Money — Your budget plays a huge factor in the decision process. If your budget is tight, do you want your teen to consider student loans? And if so, will an expensive private university be worth the debt?
- Size — Does your teen want small class size or does it matter? Does being part of a large student body appeal to them or would they prefer a small college atmosphere?
- Location — Does your teen want to go away to college or stay close by so they can live at home? Are they looking for a cultural experience that a big city offers or a down home experience provided by a small town college?
- Extracurriculars — Is your teen set on joining a sorority or a fraternity? Are these offered at the colleges you are considering?
- Academics — Is there a specific major your teen is interested in or will a liberal arts degree suffice? Not every university offers the same academic disciplines.
- Career focus — Does your teen want to study the culinary arts or fashion design? Consider a school that offers these types of specialized degrees.
- Sports — Does the school have a huge sports program for your athlete or do sports play little impact in your decision?
- Competitive vs Non-competitive — Does your teen have the resume that will ensure acceptance in a competitive college like Harvard? Or do they have a strong academic showing that would send them to the top of the list at a non-competitive college and qualify them for a full scholarship?
- Specialized programs — Does your teen want to work in the stock market? Does the school offer a trading room? What about internships, study abroad, undergraduate research, service learning, and even specialized senior capstone projects (integrating and synthesizing what they have learned).
Narrowing the field
Once you have answered these questions you can begin to narrow down the field by going online and using some college search sites that match your student’s needs, interests and abilities with colleges.
Encourage your teen to spend some time on each of the sites changing preferences a bit.
They could wind up with an entirely different list of colleges that might introduce them to unique possibilities. Look at financial aid statistics, acceptance rates, retention rates and admission requirements. Compare the list and choose the ones that will best meet your student’s needs.
Putting all your eggs in one basket
With so much competition for college admittance, students are widening their scope and applying to more and more colleges.
Unless your teen is opting for early decision, it’s always good to have several college choices when headed into the admissions process. Why? You don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket. Once application time is over, few choices will be available, including no financial aid because it’s already been disbursed.
Let’s take a look at the different categories and what types of schools are likely to be included in each. Most college experts agree there are three categories: reach schools, good fit or match schools, and safety schools.
- Reach Schools — These are schools with highly selective admissions. Your teen’s grades and scores are below the averages for these schools. When you study the admissions data, you find that there’s a possibility your teen will get in, but it’s a bit of a long shot. Be realistic here. If they got a 450 on their SAT Math and they apply to a school where 99% of applicants got over a 600, they are almost guaranteed a rejection letter. Elite colleges are among most students reach list and are a long shot for most students. Most top-ranked Ivy League schools accept less than 10 percent of applicants, and those who make the cut have glowing academic resumes.That being said, it’s not an impossibility. If your student can submit a stellar application, package themselves correctly, and can afford the tuition without financial aid, the odds improve.
- Good fit or Match Schools — When you look at the profiles for these colleges, your teen’s academic record and test scores are right in line with the averages. Your teen measures up favorably with typical applicants for the school and has a decent chance of being admitted. These colleges should also represent a good financial match as well.
- Safety Schools — These are schools where your teen’s academic record and scores are measurably above the average of admitted students. Realize that highly selective schools are never safety schools, even if your teen’s scores are above the averages. When you choose these schools, however, make sure that they are schools your teen would want to attend. Many a student has been disappointed when they have to attend colleges in this category.There are however benefits to having colleges on this list. If your student is a stellar applicant, it’s also possible they will receive merit aid and/or scholarships. It is also less likely they will receive rejection letters from these colleges.
The magic number used to be 2-7 reach schools, 3 good-fit or match schools, and 2 safety schools. Many experts have increased the number to 10. Just remember that more applications mean more application fees. If money is no object you can have a bigger list; if it is, stick to 7.
College admission decisions are a subjective process. It’s your job to help your student present themselves in the best possible way and stand out from other applicants. If they do, those admissions offers will roll in.