Tips for College Planning: An Interview

Recently I was interviewed online by a writer from Alaska Airlines Magazine. I thought her questions were good and enjoyed answering. Our exchange follows below:

What are some of the most important things that students should consider when deciding where to go to college? Considerations for making a choice vary with the priorities of individual students: institutional reputation, academic selectivity and rigor, geographic region, available programs, traditional vs. alternative campus ethos, and on and on…. Increasingly, given the economy, cost is a factor. Among other things this is fueling enrollment in in-state public schools. One broad factor that I would encourage all students to investigate is the reputation of the school with prospective employers and graduate and professional schools, so they have the assurance of a degree that is truly marketable.

What are common mistakes that students make when trying to pick the right college for themselves? A common mistake is limiting options too quickly. Most students are familiar with colleges near where they live and perhaps the Ivy League and a few other well-known institutions. There are standout colleges of all types all over the U.S., many of which students have never heard of depending on where they live.

Another mistake is assuming that a given school isn’t an option given the “sticker price.” Multiple types of financial aid are still solidly available, and virtually all schools do their own discounting in order to woo desirable students.

How important is it for students to know their majors ahead of time? I have long felt that we do a disservice to 18 and 19 year-olds by expecting them to know their major, especially when 70% of college freshmen are either undecided or change their minds, sometimes multiple times! Most recent high school graduates simply haven’t had enough experience and exposure to make a realistic choice of a major and career path. Thankfully, the majority of colleges have curricular requirements that mandate enrollment in general education courses and electives, giving students as much as a year and a half before they are compelled to declare — while still making real progress toward a degree. In the meantime, there are career counselors and advisors at most schools who can help students narrow their options.

Is there only one right college for students? Absolutely not! With over 2300 four-year colleges in the U.S. there are likely multiple right colleges.  The trick is identifying them and checking them out. This fact, along with the paucity of counselors at many high schools is one of the reasons for the growing profession of independent educational consulting.

How important are gut reactions or first impressions when it comes to campus visits and choosing the right school? I validate the gut check as an important factor, but preferably at the end of a solid visit including a tour, information session, conversations with professors and students, hopefully even an overnight stay in a dorm.

What are some of Pinnacle’s most popular services? College matching (development of a personalized list of potential colleges), essay development and editing, SAT/ACT prep, career assessments/major exploration, and comparative institutional research.

What type of student would benefit most from Pinnacle’s services? Most students would benefit from individualized help tailored to their needs and interests, especially now that the college application process is more complex and competitive than when many parents attended. To get the most out of working with a college planning professional students should be invested in the process and proactive. I enjoy working with all types of students.

Are campus visits important? How can students get the most from a campus visit? A campus visit isn’t absolutely necessary, and may not always be possible, but I think it is advisable. A tour and information session arranged by the admissions office is standard, and many colleges allow prospective students to sit in on a class, converse with faculty members and students, and even stay overnight in a dorm.

How soon should students start thinking about which school is right for them? Serious consideration would ideally begin during the junior year in high school, but I advocate that families begin immersing their kids in thinking about and visiting colleges much earlier in order to establish some perspective. Early visits don’t need to involve the admissions office, and may simply involve walking around the campus, eating at the student union, and/or attending a sporting event or performance of some sort.

Does choosing the right school guarantee success? Nope: students still must attend class, study hard and commit to the process of higher education. In addition, research shows that students who become involved in campus activities are more successful than those who do not. Even a work-study position increases persistence!

Here is the link for the full article:

Lisa Ransdell, Ph.D.

Pinnacle Education Consulting, Denver, CO