Originally published by the author in the riverjournalonline.com Road to College series & in NYMetroParents
Choosing a college is the culmination of many years of hard work on the part of the student and their families. It’s an achievement symbolizing both one’s identity as a student and aspirations for the future. Within the confines of the pandemic, however, this final step on the road to college has been remarkably different and notably more difficult for many students. Applicants have been limited in which schools they are able to visit, and even when in-person visits could take place, gaining a true sense of the unique vibe, pulse, and energy of a particular college can be challenging from just a 15-minute backward-walking tour. During this unique time in many students’ journeys, there remain a number of essential points one may not initially consider that are vital to this process of selecting the best fit for your student.
Identify key variables. Narrow down a core set of 8-10 variables deemed most important to your student and family in selecting a best-fitting school. Developing this abbreviated set of key criteria can help a student be intentional and reflective in their decision, solidifying the key attributes they are seeking in their college experience. Apply this list to each school option as a fitness estimator, seeking to define, rate, and organize each school by its degree of fit in an effort to more quantifiably visualize and compare across institutions.
Focus first on deposit, then waitlists. Within this year’s admissions landscape, in particular, students may have been bombarded with more waitlist notifications than expected. This can complicate the decision process as there is certainly a level of emotional complexity behind committing to an institution and not necessarily feeling “all in” with other potential offers looming in the near future. Acknowledging this challenge, students in this scenario should view their college choice for deposit as a separate, primary decision, and aim to make this process as quantitative as possible. Then, if still considering schools at which a student was waitlisted, view this as a secondary decision process to undergo only as such opportunities arise.
Look to the future. The way a high school senior understands and anticipates their experience at a particular college may not always hold true as they progress through towards their final years as a student at that institution. It is important students consider how a particular college may bolster or limit future opportunities in potential areas of interest. For example, one school may offer more relevant internship opportunities than others in a particular field or career of interest, due to its location or alumni network.
Prioritize balance. In making this decision, students may feel bombarded with the opinions and recommendations of others, often creating more confusion than clarity. It’s important to take in and value such input, particularly from parents or others who may be supporting students in accessing college. However, aim for balance. Look to select a school in which a student’s potential values of campus climate or social life, for example, can accompany and be supported by a parent’s likely dissimilar priorities. In assessing other outside opinions, try not to give too much weight to singular anecdotes unless they can be supported by your own research and consideration of a holistic collection of information.
Take a breath. With time crunches and deposit deadlines, these decisions can often feel rushed and add undue pressure to students, potentially impacting their mental and emotional well-being. Parents should take note of signs of stress and anxiety, and encourage their student to take the necessary time to rest, regroup, and gradually chip away at the decision-making process. This final step on the road to college should be an experience in which students can enjoy the fruits of their labor, as opposed to stressing about making the “right” choice.
This year, we have seen longstanding admissions trends broken, making the college decision process more complex than ever for many students. Using an informed, methodological approach that combines a collection of quantitative and qualitative information, students and families can more intentionally make this momentous decision while remembering that one’s college choice is just one of many decisions your student will make along their life journey.