College admission. It looms over students – often from an early age. There’s so much anticipation, excitement – and pressure – around college admissions that sometimes parents and their students may not know where to begin. How to you find just the right college? How do you know whether the match is a perfect one?
The first thing that students and their parents need to recognize is that there probably is no perfect match. Current research is suggesting that success in college, as well as after college, may have less to do with where a student attends and more to do with the student’s experiences and attitude while in school. This is important information and may help to relieve pressure on some students around finding the “perfect” school.
As your student begins to explore colleges, a good place to begin is by thinking about what matters to him. If he has an interest in a particular major, does that school have a good program in that area? If he is an athlete, will he have an opportunity to play? What extracurricular activities matter? How important is location? The hundreds of options will begin to narrow as your student begins to focus on the things that are important to him.
But how will your student get a real sense of each school? There are many things that you and your student can do as part of the “getting acquainted” process of exploring a particular school. Here are 15 possibilities. Some are obvious and others may be approaches you haven’t considered. Use any or all of them to get a true picture of a school.
As always, these are important ways for your student to explore a school. It will be the student’s experience that will matter. Parents can guide and suggest that students explore, but let your student take the lead.
Getting to Know You – 15 Explorations
- Begin with the obvious. Look at the materials that the school sends – mailings, viewbooks, catalogs, – as well as the college website. Read these materials for the facts and for the tone. Look at the pictures, but look beyond the pictures. How do you feel about the tone and approach of the publication/website? How easy is it to navigate the site? Can you find the information that matters to you? What is the overall image that the college is trying to convey?
- Visit campus. There is nothing quite like actually experiencing the place to get to know it. Try to visit when students are on campus if possible. Take time to explore the campus on your own. Wander around. Sit in the dining hall and/or café. Spend a little time in the library. Sit on a bench and watch the students. Does it feel like a place where you will fit in?
- Attend a group informational session run by the admissions office. Although these may sometimes feel formal and “packaged,” you will learn important information about the school, have a chance to ask questions (think of some ahead of time) and sense what the college feels important to tell you. You’ll learn much by listening between the lines here, too.
- Take the official college tour. Even if you’ve already explored the campus on your own, take the tour and get “behind the scenes” and hear about the school. Tours are often led by students so you’ll get another perspective.
- Ask if the college offers any special interest tours. There may be one specifically for science students or theater students or engineering students. This will help you learn more about things that are important to you.
- Find out whether there are admissions events geared to specific majors or areas of interest. Is there an athletic admissions day? Does the business school hold a special day? If there are specialty days, you’ll have an opportunity to not only learn more about the classes, facilities, internships, but also to meet faculty and staff within that area.
- If the school offers the opportunity for an interview, schedule an interview. This might be in person or even through a medium such as Skype or Facetime. Students often think of an interview as important as an admissions piece – to get in to the school, but it can be just as important as a tool to learn about the school. Plan your own questions to ask – but also pay attention to the questions that you are asked. What does the admissions office think is important?
- Ask whether you can sit in on a class or two.
- Ask whether the college can arrange an overnight visit so that you can experience the residence hall life.
- Ask whether you can shadow a student for a day.
- Ask whether you can talk to some faculty members or advisors in your department.
- When you are on campus, talk to students. Ask them about their experiences. If you can’t visit campus, ask your high school for the names of some students who have attended the school and contact them. Get the student perspective – but remember that different students may look for different things in a school.
- Find some alumni from the school in your area and talk to them about their experiences.
- Attend an Instant Admission Day and ask lots of questions.
- If you are accepted, attend Accepted Student Day. This is the college’s opportunity to impress you and encourage you to attend. Find out what they showcase.
Finding the school where your student will feel comfortable begins by helping your student get to know herself well. Then help her learn all that she can about potential schools. Finally, your student may be ready to make that final decision. As a parent, your job may begin by encouraging the exploration process – and then stepping back and supporting the decision.