With an abundance of college choices, picking which school to attend can be a very difficult decision for teens. Some students will say that they knew immediately when they stepped on a certain campus that it was the school for them. But for other students, the process of finding the right school may be slower and they may get discouraged and think, “Will I ever find a college that is right for me?”
The Myth of the Perfect Choice
Students may believe they will have an “a-ha” moment when they arrive on the campus that is perfect for them. This pressure to find “the one” can make students and their parents worry when school after school just doesn’t feel 100% right.
Christine K. VanDeVelde, coauthor of the book College Admission: From Application to Acceptance, Step by Step, cautions, “Students can get sold a bill of goods that there is a ‘perfect place’ out there for them. Reject that mindset. There are many schools that are likely to be a good fit. Don't let ‘perfect’ be the enemy of ‘great.’”
In fact, falling in love with one school can actually be a mistake. Students that have their heart’s set on a singular school may face disappointment if they are not admitted. Private college counselor Brittany Maschal says, “Just ‘loving’ one school and one school only never ends well. There are so many schools with so much to love. I advise my students to fall in like with a bunch.”
Make a List of Must-Haves
Lisa Sohmer, Director of College Counseling at the Garden School says, “I tell my students to make a list of five things that any school they go to ‘must have’. The list can range from location to course offerings to club activities. The list allows them to filter through the overwhelming list of college choices. Once they have a list of what they want, they can research what colleges have the want and then go visit and learn more to determine if the college is right for them.”
Working off this kind of list is a valuable tool. Students and their parents have limited time and resources to visit schools. If a student is adamant that Greek life is important to them, they do not have to waste valuable time visiting schools that do not have this feature.
That said, students should not be afraid to modify their list of “must-haves” as during the college search process. Sohmer recommends, “Students will change and grow during the 6-8 months they are searching for colleges.” My daughter Jenny, currently a high school junior, began her search looking only at schools within driving distance of our house. But after not finding exactly what she wants, she has decided to look at schools she has to fly to.
Be Open Minded
Students may have preconceived ideas about a school (positive and negative) from what they read online or hear from their peers. But it is best to approach the college search process with an open mind. When visiting a campus, students should try to really experience the place and get a feel for the student body by going to the cafeteria, reading the bulletin boards, sitting in on a class, etc.
Sometimes a student can be turned off by something that happens on a campus visit. VanDeVelde advises, “Students should really try hard not to let one bad experience—such as a blizzard or a pretentious tour guide—turn them off entirely. One experience on one day is probably not an accurate reflection of what it's like to live and learn there for four years. On the other hand, if a student is excited about a school despite a poorly trained guide or subzero temperatures, pay attention. They might want to move that school to the top of the list.”
Also keep an open mind when it comes to a school’s ranking and reputation. Just because a college is not on the top of a ranking list, it does not mean it can’t be on the top of an individual student’s list.
Sometimes Love Takes Time
My daughter Allie had a really good feeing about one college after reading their website and school newspaper. Then she went for an overnight visit. The school had so much to offer academically, she tried to sell herself on it even though socially she could not see herself there. Eventually, she crossed this school off her list of choices.
Conversely, the school she wound up attending was one we had to drag her to look at. Says Allie, “I really thought I wanted a very small school and not a university. The only reason I went to see it was because it was near other schools that I was interested in.” It definitely was not love at first sight. She left her first visit noncommittal. But on her second visit, something clicked. Allie says, “The first time I went, I liked the campus but I thought there might be another school out there that I would like better. On my second visit, I met a lot of great people—teachers and students—and I became convinced that this was the right place for me.”
Is Fear a Factor?
If every school a student visits seems to cause a negative reaction, they student may be something else upsetting them. Says Sohmer, “The college process is filled with so many mixed emotions from excitement to fear. Students may begin to fight with their parents at this time because they are afraid of being on their own.”
The whole college process can be very stressful and overwhelming for students and their parents. Communication between parents and teens is important. Discuss honestly what they are feeling. VanDeVelde asserts, “Don't be afraid to explore your son's or daughter's doubts. Students can learn as much about what they want from a negative experience as they can from a positive one.”