There are thousands of colleges in the US.
As if the college application process wasn’t difficult enough, students have to decide which of these colleges to apply to.
Daunting task, right?
Your teen's time in college is going to be some of the most eventful and memorable years of his or her life. It’s a big decision!
So to help you make this process a bit easier, here’s a list of seven things you and your teen should consider when deciding which colleges to apply to.
1. Majors, Minors, and Departments
If your teen knows they want to be an artist or an anthropologist, software engineer or biochemist, then check to see if the school they apply to is known for that major. Or, it's in the top 10 - 15 majors. Or if the school even offers the major.
For some colleges, they offer every major under the sun, but how do you know if it's a solid program? Do your research!
When researching or visiting the college ask these questions.
- When was this program started?
- What percent of the students at the college major in this particular program?
- How many full-time faculty teach the core courses (vs. grad assistants or adjunct professors)?
- What is the background of the faculty?
- What recent research has the faculty done in this subject (are they up-to-speed with what's currently happening in the industry)?
- What types of jobs do students who graduated with this major have?
- Can I talk to these students and/or students currently in this major?
- What is your placement program like for this major (are they well-connected with companies that hire for the job you are pursuing)?
2. Reputation and Ranking
This point is definitely controversial. Some people think that rankings don’t really matter, and just allow schools to charge families more for their tuition. Others believe that it can really help when finding a job post-graduation. If you’re in the latter group, then this is definitely something to consider.
One of the most popular list of rankings is done by U.S. News.
Will your child thrive in a city setting or would they prefer somewhere more suburban, but with access to the city? Are they accustomed to the country and wide open spaces? There are plenty of colleges off the beaten path they might want to consider.
These are geographic things to consider, but more importantly, how comfortable will your child be going far away from home sweet home? Be honest! The worst thing would be to apply and get accepted to a college clear across the country and then realize homesickness is keeping them from studying and just wanting to go running back home.
Have a conversation with your child about what you can afford way before they even start looking at colleges. It will save a lot of heartache in the end.
There’s no point in your child getting all pumped up about going to a school you can't afford. So, set the ground rules early so everybody is on the same page. It would also be helpful to get a sense from a college financial advisor to see if you'll be eligible for financial aid based on your income.
With that said, keep in mind that there are scholarships and financial aid to help with costs, but if you're looking for that to cover a majority of the expenses at a private university, it's probably unrealistic. You might want to look toward a state school or 2-year community college with the idea that your child will be able to transfer to their dream school after two years.
5. Extracurricular Activities and Sports
Some of these things matter more to some teens than others, but if your child LOVES going to sporting events, then maybe going to a school with a Division I athletics program would be a good fit. Love to dance? Look for schools with a variety of dance teams. Always wanted to join a fraternity or sorority? Make sure the college has them. Or, if you want to avoid that scene, many colleges are frat house free.
6. Size of School
Is your child introverted? Then they might want to look toward a small, intimate college setting? Is your child outgoing and wants to get involved in everything? They'll probably gravitate toward the large campuses filled with all sorts of activitities and opportunities.
7. Word of Mouth
Speak to any connections you may have at various schools to learn more about them! Classmates who graduated years before you, cousins, siblings, family friends, the list goes on! Even going online and searching for blogs or forums can be helpful. College fairs can also be of assistance.
When I was picking which school to attend, my brother put me in touch with one of his friends from high school who attended BC. It was really helpful hearing about what the school was like from an actual student, especially since I could ask any specific questions I had.
Overall, this is a process that takes a lot of time and consideration, so do your due diligence, as this isn’t a decision to be taken lightly! But don’t let that scare you either, wherever your child ends up, they will be just fine.