When working with students on the college search process, I focus on fit. This means that each student’s unique characteristics and values drive our conversations and will lead us to a school in which the student will love and feel at home. As an Independent counselor, I have the time to explore colleges around the country to learn about the types of students they best serve. Some of the schools I discuss with your student may be ones you’ve never heard of, or in a part of the country you may never have considered. When people discuss fit, they often consider Academic, Social, and Financial fit. I take factors a step further using the GRAND fit Method.
Goes beyond the location
To me, geography goes beyond the location and weather. While distance from home, size, and setting (urban, suburban, and rural) are all important characteristics, I also have students think about the campus culture they want to call home. Is the student body conservative or liberal? Are religion classes/services required? What percentage of campus is first-generation? Are there people like me on campus?
More than admisions
Rigor not only looks at the difficulty of admissions, but also the learning environment once a student is in the college. Does your student learn best from lectures or discussion based classes? What percentage of courses are taught by a professor vs TA, and what kind of interaction can you student expect to have? What opportunities (research, learning communities, accommodations, etc) will be available to your student? If your student has a specific major in mind, is it available? If your student is planning to go to graduate or professional school after, what are the placement rates, and where are the graduates getting in? These are just a few questions to consider.
How to be involved
Most likely your student has been involved in some sort of extracurricular activity throughout high school, so it is important to think how your student can be involved in college. It may be through sports (NCAA, Club, or Intramural), Greek Life, Performing Arts (is it available to non-majors), community service, or some other avenue. Does your student want to study abroad? What internships/co-ops are available and what are the placement rates like?
Visit beyond the campus tour
I am always surprised when a student mentions that their “dream” school is one they have never visited. I understand that visiting a school may not be possible before the application goes out, but I do encourage my families to visit before they put down a deposit. This will be your student’s home for (hopefully) four years. When families visit, I encourage them to go beyond the campus tour. Talk to students and faculty. Pick up a student newspaper and read the flyers posted around campus. Explore the town and surrounding areas. Is this a college town or a town with a college? How safe does the campus feel? Can you see yourself living here for the next four years? How open do people seem to be? Are students excited about their school?
Students are aware of costs
This category is usually more important to the parents than the students, however I do encourage my parents to be open with their student regarding the financial aspect of college. So often in the high school I saw students committing to schools without talking to their parents only to find out in April that their parents couldn’t (or wouldn’t) pay for college. These students oftentimes had to turn to private loans (if they could qualify) or abandon their dream of attending that school and having to settle for a community college. I work with my families to understand the Cost of Attendance of schools they are considering and their Expected Family Contribution. I educate my families on HOPE/Zell Miller, Academic Common Market, how to find schools with the best merit aid, and schools that meet full financial need. We consider things like the graduation rate, job placement rate for the student’s intended major, and the average starting salary in the field. If loans are necessary, we discuss the different options, and I explain the various repayment options the student will have. I believe that college is a great investment, but also one that should not be taken lightly in terms of cost.