There is nothing better than when I speak with my students after their first year of college and they tell me that they couldn’t imagine themselves anywhere else.
There are very few “absolutes” in the way I work with them, but one of the things I insist on is that there are no “safety” schools on their list. Now, that doesn’t mean they don’t have a varying range of colleges with different admission requirements and acceptance rates. What it means, is that each college listed is one that they could picture themselves going to and offers the criteria and experience that is important to them.
Most of the information that is presented on the tour, or in a college fair presentation, helps a student and their family learn more about how that the college matches up with the profile of what they are looking for:
Small class sizes – check!
Nice dorms, great places to eat – check!
Internships – check!
Statistics on graduating in 4 years– check!
Clubs, Greek Life – check!
Proximity to beach/mountains/hiking/skiing – check!
So why do some students come home from their first semester, or even their first year, feeling like they made a mistake or they’re not where they are supposed to be.
Part of it, is the sheer adjustment to college life and we’ll chat about that in a future post.
The other part, is that there is more to choosing a college than knowing it’s a good fit on paper, and that’s where the “coach-approach” comes in. It helps go beyond the checklist in order to:
Develop the experience that the student is looking for
Provide a way for the student to be able to articulate that
Continue to enhance and refine the criteria, based on new information
And a big part of this is setting up the expectation that this is an ongoing process. Letting your child know that developing his college criteria will be executed over time also takes a lot of the pressure off of not having to “get it right the first time”.
Going beyond the initial checklist is similar to crafting an impactful essay. It's not a “one and done” activity, but one that includes multiple drafts, where each effort is geared towards going deeper to provide more information that will result in an essay that truly represents the students’ unique voice.
In working with my students, creating their college criteria is something that they start to do after their first meeting. Each subsequent experience, whether it be a college tour or input from friends and family provides new information that is evaluated against the first "draft" and continues to be enhanced and refined until it is time to apply.
So how can you go beyond the checklist with your child? Here are 3 steps to help you get started:
1. Establish the initial criteria - there are numerous websites, like this one, that will help to create a basic list of college criteria. Don't worry if the list doesn't cover "everything". Starting with a shorter list and building on that is actually much less overwhelming and invites more discussion and input.
2. Provide opportunities to evaluate the criteria - the key is to provide different ideas and ways to do this and let your child decide which they want to do. Visiting college websites, taking a college tour, going to a college fair, talking to friends and relatives about their college experience are all great ways to get a stronger idea about what is important to them.
3. Continue to enhance and refine, based on the input - ask them about their thoughts about what they heard. Questions such as: "What about that sounded interesting"? or "How does that match with your initial criteria" encourages them to edit and enhance based on their initial list.
Going beyond the checklist will help to make the college experience AND the journey getting there much more enjoyable - for your child AND for you!