Availability of information is not the problem when starting a search for colleges. The sources of information–admissions statistics, YouTube, college websites, college search engines, Facebook pages, parents swapping stories on the sidelines at the soccer game, alumni returning to high schools to talk about their college experience, aunties and uncles freely offering college advice at every family function once a teenager starts high school, work colleagues sharing their sons’, daughters’, nieces’ and nephews’ experiences and college admissions war stories, the news media reports, college fairs, school counselors, teachers, the produce guy at the grocery market, books the size of encyclopedias profiling every college in the United States, not to mention the abundance of brochures, view books, and open house invitations arriving by snail mail and email daily–all provide an pile of facts for students and families striving to create a list of potential colleges for application. The problem can be how to effectively sort and use the information for the advantage of the individual student.
When faced with what can seem like a mountain of information, the natural question to ask is, “Where do I begin?” First, start with what the student knows about himself/herself–academic interests, weather s/he prefers in a new city, clubs and activities s/he likes to engage. Then, match the colleges to the student. Students and their parents will be able to eliminate whole states’-worth of colleges, if the student knows s/he only wants to go to a college where there will be snow. Plus, students will find the value in the colleges they ultimately select, which may help reduce the sting when paying tuition and expenses over the next 4-5 years. If the student knows what s/he both wants and doesn’t want in a college experience, then mail can be sorted and recycled before stacking up on the dining room table and emails can be deleted immediately. Also, students and their parents will listen with an ear tuned to glean just the facts needed to make decisions and disregard the additional information from the stories and freely given advice from various sources (see above listing) about college. Plus, students and their parents will know what information is missing and can make focused searches for just what they need in the above listed sources of information. Parents and students can choose the source that will most likely merit them the information they seek, rather than having to set a Google-type search that brings back millions of hits to review, with who knows what credibility as reliable information.
In the college selection process, a little bit of self-reflection can go a long way to maximizing the time and resources a family can allocate to college visits and other searches for information. At the beginning of the college selection process, self-reflection can be a framework to know what facts and information to pay attention to and what to disregard. In the middle of the college selection process, self-reflection can help students and parents revise their criteria for choosing colleges, as well as write competitive application essays specifically outlining the reasons a student fits the said college. And, in the end, students will have a months or years long series of conversations about the various college choices that will help him/her make a confident decision about where to enroll, once the acceptances are returned in the spring of Senior year. The effort will not always be easy or with happy smiles. Yet, faced with a $125,000 to $250,000 investment of current, past and possibly future earnings (i.e. student loans), why not take a little time to be self-reflective and be as sure as possible your college choice is the most valuable option?