Tips for Parents

Five people your student should talk to when choosing a college

By Dana Elmore

By now, your student has submitted most if not all of his college applications. Acceptances may already be trickling in (hooray!), which means the final phase of the admissions process has begun: selecting a school.

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When students first consider their options, they often turn to college rankings: the best liberal arts colleges, the most affordable universities, and so on. These numbers offer some insights but are only a small part of the story. Truly understanding a college’s culture and resources — most importantly, is it somewhere your student will thrive? — requires a more personal approach.

It’s a given that your student will discuss his options with you, his parent(s). But who else can help him make the final decision? Here are five people your student should talk to before committing to a specific school:

The guidance counselor

Encourage your student to check back with his guidance counselor. Counselors can provide general information about a college and can also help your student connect with alumni and current students.

For many students, program choice affects their final decision. But what if your student is unsure what he wants to study? The guidance counselor can help your student identify potential career interests and in light of that evaluate programming at the schools he’s comparing.

A current student or alumnus/a of the university

Ideally, the high school guidance counselor can put your student in touch with a current student or recent alumnus or alumna. If not, you can likely do the same through the college’s alumni relations office or admissions department.

This contact can provide an honest depiction of the school — whether Greek life dominates the social scene, if it’s easy to get the classes you want and get to know professors, what resources are available to struggling students, etc. Alumni and current students have been in the position your student is in right now and may share how they chose this university over others. Talking with an alum is also an opportunity to learn how successful the school’s students are after graduation. Do they typically move on to graduate school? What is the job placement rate for recent graduates?

A professor in your student’s expected department

Speaking with a professor is a great way for your student to learn more about his potential major — and make a good impression on someone he may eventually study with.

Meeting with or emailing a professor will provide insight into the department — research opportunities and specialization areas, overall academic expectations, and relationships the department has with various companies or government agencies. Do the department’s specialties and opportunities align with your student’s goals and interests?

Someone working in a prospective industry

If your student is set on a particular career field, it’s worth locating a contact within this industry.

Meeting with an industry connection is the perfect opportunity to ask questions that your student may not feel comfortable asking a professor, current student, or alum. Is the program well respected and well known within the industry? Does a degree in a particular sub-field open more doors within the industry? This conversation may reinforce your student’s decision to go to a certain school, or it may send him on a different path.

A current teacher

Of all the people on this list, a current teacher (possibly the same one who wrote a letter of recommendation) may know your student the best — his strengths and weaknesses, personality, and academic experiences — and is therefore well-positioned to advise on college choice. This may be especially helpful if your student is comparing a research university with lecture-style classes to a smaller college setting. Does a school have standard general education requirements or an open curriculum? What majors are strongest at the schools your student is considering? There’s lots to mull over in a conversation with a caring teacher.

College rankings have their place in the decision process. You yourself are sure to take a final peek at those lists. But it is also important to find people who can share personal experiences, advice and expertise with your student so he can gain a realistic view of what life at a particular college is like on a day-to-day basis. Encourage your student to speak with a variety of people — strangers and those who deeply care about his future — to develop a fully informed opinion of each school on his short list.

About the Author:

Dana Elmore is a contributing writer for UniversityTutor.com, the world’s largest global marketplace for finding independent tutors.

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