The When, Where and Why of the College Admissions Decision Process

Choosing a college is a culmination of a childhood, marking the gateway to adulthood. Thus, Moms, Dads, and teens (and sometimes also stepparents) enter a complex series of negotiations—varying from dialogue to bickering to bargaining to ultimatums—requiring skilled diplomacy, often objective mediation to broker a consensus

Many families are also contending with potentially competing interests for limited fiscal resources, like paying for multiple children’s college education, saving for retirement, as well as the difficulty of reducing everyday expenses. Thus, price can be misunderstood for value, precipitating additional emotions, like teens feeling guilty asking for fiscal help or parents setting boundaries about spending resources. 

Thus, for families of high school seniors still wrangling with their college choice, and for high school juniors and their families who are preparing lists of colleges in anticipation of applications this fall, here’s a framework for discussions: 

  1. Why are you going to college? 

Before researching colleges, take a moment to consider the reasons why one seeks college education, and no reason is of greater importance than another. Reflect on the ideal college experience: 

  • Are you interested in a specific academic subject? Do you seek both internships and classroom experiences to learn the subject? 
  • Do you seek to attend a college with a nationally recognized athletic program? 
  • Do you want to be part of a large student body, where you can be more anonymous, or a smaller academic community, where you’ll have daily interactions with other students and professors? 
  • Urban, suburban or rural? In-state or out of state? 
  • Does climate matter: cold, warm, mild, snow, rain, humid, etc?

Then, in framing an ideal college experience, high school juniors can narrow college lists, or for high school seniors, shortening choices to a top few.

  1. Investigating Colleges

With a more defined set of criteria, students can more efficiently research colleges. Various online sources provide different information: 

  • On college websites, students can find specifics about the faculty, student clubs, academic offerings, as well as research institutes and other support services, like internship advisors, as well as forecasted cost of attendance. 
  • On social media, students can participate in live streamed campus tours, where student tour guides will answer questions in real time, or admissions officer-led information sessions. Additionally, students can browse student-generated meme pages for insights about the student culture. 
  • On YouTube, students can search “A Day in the Life of Students at ____” filling in the blank with any university name, and find student produced videos, including life in the residence halls, social activities, classes etc from many different types of students. 
  1. Visiting Colleges

Yes, understanding the layout of a campus, the city, the neighborhood, and student culture is important. However, many students and families choose to visit during school breaks, which is often when the universities are also on a break. Thus, many take “architectural tours” of empty buildings, while the campus is devoid of the liveliness with actual students, a less than useful trip.

So, before spending hundreds of dollars hopping from campus to campus, be sure to check the academic calendars first. 

And, for seniors who are making their final choice, prepare for any visits, asking admissions officers about special programs for newly admitted students, including shadowing a current student, overnight stays in the residence halls and other behind the scenes views of life at the college. 

  1. Consider the value of the experience in relation to the expense

As Warren Buffett famously said, “Price is what you pay, value is what you get.” Thus, the answers to the first point, “Why college?” are essential for defining value. Then, as outlined earlier too, understanding the expectations of each person—mom, dad, teen, possibly step-parents, grandparents—involved in the financing of college is necessary to build consensus. 

Additionally, for students considering using student loans to pay for college, then consider the income potential of any career to understand the risks of debt. FinAid publishes a reliable student loan interest and payment calculator. 

In conclusion, investigation and as thorough a series of discussions as possible is crucial, as students and their families are taking a leap of faith in choosing a particular college. Essentially, students and their families are evaluating whether a student will most likely gain more understanding of their aptitude, be supported when practicing the responsibilities of adulthood, and be able to audition professions. 

For more information about how to navigate the complex college admissions process to prepare any student for the challenging global socioeconomic situation, contact us at Creative Marbles Consultancy

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About Jill Yoshikawa, Ed M, Partner of Creative Marbles Consultancy

Jill Yoshikawa, EdM, Harvard ’99, a seasoned, 25 year educator and consultant, is meticulous in helping clients navigate all aspects of the educational experience, no matter the level of complexity. She combines educational theory with experience to advise families, schools and educators. A UCSD and Harvard graduate, as well as a former high school teacher, Jill works tirelessly to help her clients succeed.
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