Thursday, November 17, 2011

The College Trail: Finding the Right College

Vanderbilt University
Our oldest child, Brittany, is a senior in high school this year.  We are entering the world of college selection and it has changed a bit since “a few” years ago when I was making this decision.  Since we are right, smack in the middle of this journey, I thought I would start chronicling our experiences, from a parent’s perspective.  I’ll share with you things that we learn and also share articles from the experts that we find helpful.

Finding the right college is an exciting yet daunting task.  Brittany is still in the midst of finding the perfect fit but we have already learned many things about selecting colleges.  Here are nine areas that we have found thus far to consider when selecting a college.

  1. Cost:  Ok…this wasn’t the first thing on Brittany’s mind but it was definitely on my mind (and Frank’s mind!).  Most colleges post their estimated cost of attendance on their websites.  The estimated cost of attendance includes tuition, room and board, books & supplies, travel expenses, living expenses, etc.  Basically, it’s an overall dollar amount of what it will cost per year to go to the school.  Be ready for some sticker shock.
  2. Location:  Does your student want to be a short drive from home or an airplane ride from home?  Do they want to be in a city or a more rural environment?  Hot climate or cold climate during the school year?  It’s good to start thinking about this about a year ahead of time.  Some kids have a definite idea of how far away they want to be and others tend to change their minds.
  3. Size of College:  Does your teen want to go to the big, huge university campus?  Or would he/she be more comfortable in a smaller setting?
  4. Majors that are available:  If your teen has a definite idea of his/her college major, the choice of colleges might be affected.
  5. Type of College:  Ivy League, liberal arts, technology, Big 10 Football College?   Different types of schools have different atmospheres.  What type of environment does your teen want to be in?
  6. Extra-curricular activities:  Intramural sports, clubs, chorus, band, Greek life, community outreach, travel abroad, etc.  Most colleges have a wide variety of extra things going on.  It’s good to know ahead of time what your teen might be interested in so that when you visit, you can check out the activities on campus.
  7. Scholarships & Financial Aid:  There are books and websites devoted to this topic.  I will write more as we get deeper into the process.  We have learned that colleges and universities often have their own scholarships so check out what is potentially available at each.
  8. Friends:  Does your teen want to go to a college where some of his/her friends are or not?
  9. And, most importantly, what we have learned...Visit, visit, visit:  I can’t stress this enough.  You can read about a college for hours online and talk to people who attended various colleges.  Those are great things to do, but nothing can compare to actually walking around on a campus.  Take the standard tour, eat in the cafeteria, wander through the library and watch the current students.  Every campus has its own personality.  Many times our perception of a college would change after visiting it --- sometimes in a positive way and sometimes in a not so positive way.

All of these things are important when your child is trying to find the right college.  It is definitely a journey.  We have visited 5 colleges so far.  Brittany has applied for early decision for two of them and will apply regular decision for the others soon.  Then the decision making will begin!

Recommended website for initial college research:


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