From earning good grades, to achieving the best possible SAT or ACT score, to coming up with a plan to make it affordable, many parents and students view the path to higher education as a multi-year journey that ends in triumph when the first acceptance letter arrives in the mail. But it’s equally important to ensure that your son or daughter ends up at the college or university best suited to his or her aptitudes, interests and needs.
So if you’re feeling a bit of anxiety, you are not alone. Concerns about location, size, academic programs, extracurricular activities, financial aid and even proximity to jobs can seem overwhelming even to parents and students who feel as if they’ve done everything absolutely “right” in the years leading up to this important decision. Fortunately, there are many resources that can help you find the institution where your son or daughter will thrive. Here are some of the best avenues for guiding the way.
Guidance Counselors and College Fairs.
In a perfect world, you and your son or daughter have already spent a bit of time talking with guidance counselors about college choices by his or her sophomore or junior year. But if you haven’t, you should. These professionals are generally well-equipped to respond to questions about everything from the college application process to academic requirements to which institutions may be best-suited to your child’s needs.
With support from counselors, teachers and administrators, most schools and school districts also open their doors to representatives of colleges and universities through college fairs that spotlight many different institutions at a time. These fairs typically offer students the opportunity to learn about institutions’ offerings, and to make a personal connection with someone who can answer all kinds of questions about student life and culture at an institution.
Web sites and View books.
Today’s higher education “marketplace” is extremely competitive, and many colleges and universities go to great lengths and expense to promote their offerings. For this reason, it’s now commonplace to see institutional Web sites with virtual tours and many other resources that give online visitors a detailed view of everything from academic offerings to extracurricular activities to campus life. Most also offer glossy “View books” which also describe their offerings and are available via special request.
Most school libraries also have magazines and books that spotlight institutional offerings and rank colleges and universities according to several factors. U.S. News & World Report magazine publishes a very well-known America’s Best Colleges Guide every year. The guide offers detailed information on affordability, academic offerings, graduation rates and much more. The magazine also presents a rich array of informational offerings on its Web site atwww.usnews.com.
Another excellent resource is the Fiske Guide to Colleges. Called “the best college guide you can buy” by USA Today, the guide has provided insight about top colleges in clear, engaging language for more than 20 years. The author, former New York Times education editor Ted Fiske, has also written a guide to the new SAT, which requires students to write an essay, and The Fiske Guide to Getting Into the Right College, which helps students understand how to choose the best college for them – and excellent information about how to get in. For more information on these guides, visitwww.fiskeguide.com.
Other Online Resources.
The Internet can be a gold mine of information as long as students stay with Web sites created by reputable organizations with their best interests at heart. One of the most effective is the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), at www.nacac.com. Visitors who click on the “For Students” link can obtain information about financial aid packages, college fairs, insight about “early admissions” policies, a college prep and admissions calendar and help in avoiding the numerous “scholarship scams” at play on the Internet.
Another excellent resource is the Web site for the College Board. Created by the organization that administers the SAT, the site (atwww.collegeboard.com ) includes a college search engine, a great deal of information on how to determine which colleges and universities are best suited to different types of students, and plenty of information on the admissions process.
And if you and your teen want to talk with others who are going through this experience and gain insight from experts, be sure to check out College Confidential at www.collegeconfidential.com.
While all of these resources are excellent sources of information, they should never take the place of a campus visit. Students who experience the offerings of a school firsthand will get a far better sense of how well they’ll fit in. Adult family members who join them can likewise be assured they’re making the right decision – and feel a well-deserved sense of pride in the accomplishments that have led to this exciting and important phase of their children’s lives.
Dr. Huntington is co-founder of Huntington Learning Center, which provides personalized instruction for improved performance on the SAT and ACT as well as instruction in reading, writing, mathematics and overall test-taking skills. For more information, contact Huntington at 1 800 CAN LEARN, or visitwww.huntingtonlearning.com.