It’s all good. Your high school student applied to multiple colleges – and he’s been accepted to all of them. You’ve made it through the harrowing admissions process.
But wait, the process isn’t quite over yet. You and your student have survived the agonizing wait, but now the ball is back in your student’s court. He needs to make a decision – in just a few short weeks he will need to decide which college to attend. This sounds like an ideal dilemma, but put the emphasis on dilemma.
For some soon-to-be college students the decision is easy. They have had a clear favorite from the beginning and there is no hesitation. For many more students, however, the decision may not be as clear. There are many factors to weigh, options to consider. For many high school students, this is not only a big decision; this may be the first major life decision that they have had to make. To many students, this decision may be overwhelming and paralyzing.
Many students struggle with the college decision not only because it is a big decision, and because students feel there is only one right decision, but because making this decision requires a lot of soul searching and self-understanding. These are not necessarily easy things for teenagers to accomplish. “Know thyself” may be good advice, but it is not easy. However, the more that your student can honestly explore the question of what matters to her, the more clear the college decision may become.
High school students faced with this decision are often given good advice about factors to consider. Perhaps you’ve even suggested some of these to your student.
- Consider the bottom line financial cost
- Consider the environment – big school/small school, city/suburban/rural, Greek life, etc.
- Consider your extracurricular interests/opportunities – athletics, music, drama, community action
- Consider academics – majors, internship opportunities, graduation rates
- Consider the college’s reputation, distance from home, diversity, facilities
All of these factors, and many more, are important, and considering them may help your student narrow down his choices.
However, it is essential that your student take another step to hold the mirror up to herself and think closely about who she is and what matters to her. This may be easier for some students and more difficult for others. It may be downright uncomfortable for some. Here are some questions that you might suggest that your student consider. Don’t expect her to answer these questions for you, they are things she needs to answer honestly for herself.
- Create your must-have list. What are make-or-break factors in a college? Now – take time to think about why the things on your list are there. Why are they “must haves?” What really matters? What does your list say about you?
- Close your eyes and visualize your ideal college experience. What are you doing? Who is there? How does it feel? Take time to see the details in your mind’s eye. Now think about each college. Which comes closest to your ideal vision? Why?
- How do you define success? Don’t just think about the obvious, superficial successes you may encounter day-to-day, think about true success in life. Does it have to do with career, money, accomplishments, changing the world, relationships with other people, religious or moral factors? Now think about each college in terms of your goals. How does each school align with what you want?
- Think about your high school experiences – the very good and the not-so-good. Why were they good or bad? How much do you want to duplicate your high school experience and how much are you looking for something different? Which school offers what you need?
- What matters most to you in life? What are your priorities? How would you rank connection to family, adventure, exploring diversity, challenge, social connections, career development, or other factors? Why are those things important to you? Which school will help you with what matters?
- How ready do you feel for college? What areas are you most confident about and what areas worry you? Will any of your college choices better help you achieve in those areas in which you feel strong and support you in your weaker areas? How do you know that?
These are not easy questions to answer, and your student may struggle with several of them. But whether your student’s approach to the college decision is methodical and organized or more organic, these questions may help him find the important synthesis between who he is and the college that may be a better match.
Whatever your student decides, it is important that he keep in mind that ultimately, his college experience will be what he makes of it. Once he decides on a school, his next important decision will be to decide to be happy, to take advantage of all of the possibilities.
And as a college parent, you may need to bite your tongue. You will need to remember that the choice of college is a very personal one. You may never completely understand why she makes the choice that she does, but you will provide the support and the sounding board as she lives out her college experience. It is an adventure for both of you.