Friday, July 30, 2021
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How to Pick the Right College

Mary, the “mom”

It’s started. The search for the perfect college for my son. One that has a good reputation, but not so good that he can’t get in. One that is fun for him, but not too fun (for us). One that is far enough away that he feels as though he’s gone away, but not too far (for me). Other considerations for him are good food in the cafeteria, decent dorms, sports teams he can get excited about, a high ratio of girls to boys, and lest I forget, courses in his area of academic interest. Other considerations for us are tuition costs, tuition costs, and tuition costs.

As we start to look at various schools it has become apparent that he could probably be quite happy at any number of them. So, how does one decide? Rach, how did you decide where you wanted to go to college? “Dad”, how did the Valkyrie decide? Any suggestions for us?

Rach, the “teen”

Looking for colleges was the easiest part of “the process.” Lucky for me, my high school has a service called Naviance – it’s a web-based program that helps students find colleges. You enter a lot of data about what you want – majors, location, the ratio of girls and boys, sports teams, everything, it even lets you enter your test scores and gives you a little map that shows how likely it is that you’re going to be accepted. Despite what the map said, I applied to eight very competitive schools. Only one of which was not on the east coast (I like it here).

Deciding on a college was the hardest thing about “the process.” I was accepted to four, waitlisted at two, and rejected at two. The schools I was accepted to were great, but when I visited they didn’t seem right. The two schools that did feel right were, of course, one that I had been waitlisted on and one that had flat out rejected me (I cried for two hours when I got the little envelope). And so I wrote the most important email of my life, telling the waitlist school that I still really wanted to be there. The next day I got a phone call telling me that that email got me accepted (best day ever!).

So, you guys are in for it. My parents drove me to many a college and were part of the process at all times. They were all kinds of moral support when I was writing essays (write them now, not later), and sending applications, and getting big and small envelopes back. My one word of advice is, start filling out applications in September, no matter when the deadline is. In the end, I chose what college felt right. I made a pro-con list of schools, but it was really the gut feeling that leads me to my final decision.

Brad, the “dad”

Actually, “Mom,” we did pretty much what you’re already doing. First, we talked with the Valk about what she seriously would like to study in depth …and it was amazing how many of her areas of interest withered under the heat-lamp of four long years. That discussion included what the heck she was planning to do with all of this passionately acquired knowledge when it came to, y’know, like, a job. Because as fun as we wanted college to be, we made it clear: this wasn’t going to be a 48-month all-expenses-paid vacation. Not at these prices.

Once that was done, we pulled out a map and decided how wide the circle would be. We live in Southern California; so our contention was that she could choose just about any field and find a top-flight school that taught that subject somewhere in our half of the state. Within our home town was too close, but two towns over were okay. More than three hours driving distance was too far, but she could manage about 200 miles because Grandma had given her a used car for graduation. Farther than that and it would be too hard to come home and do laundry on the weekends, she said. And then, after a moment, she added, “Oh, and to see you, of course.” Once we had drawn the “doughnut,” we started studying up on what schools fell within that circle.

What we didn’t do was add many other restrictions at this early stage. Private college, state colleges, state universities …didn’t matter. It just mattered that we get a clean list of eight (an arbitrary number) or more colleges “inside the circle” that could give her a good and applicable education. We got that list by flogging the Internet, reading a bunch of current-edition books standing up and reading fast in the local Borders or Barnes & Noble). And when we’d narrowed the list somewhat, we started asking friends, colleagues, co-workers, and relatives, if they knew anybody who had attended one of our ‘candidate’ schools. Maybe because our ‘doughnut’ was relatively local, we had a high hit-rate. And THEN, when the list was narrowed down to four…the visits, the tours, the talk about cost. And by the way, “Mom,” speaking of cost, private schools and state schools may or may not be more affordable than you think; don’t jump to conclusions.

Oh, and good luck! Because this is actually the fun part. It gets really rough a few months from now after you’ve made your decisions…when you have to start actually applying to the schools of your choice. But that’s a whole different subject.

David Scott is the head writer at TRI PR. He better part of his college life as a journalist for the college magazine. He still writes and he loves it.