In a couple of months, my oldest son will be graduating from high school and preparing for the next chapter of his education: college. There’s only one problem: He hasn’t picked a school yet.
I didn’t think we would still be in limbo by spring of his senior year. He applied “Early Action” to a number of schools so I naively thought he would have heard from his top choices and made a decision by December so we could get out from under the cloud of uncertainty hanging over our house.
Best laid plans, right?
But here we are in April and he is sitting on a handful of acceptances and no idea of how to figure out where he wants to go.
It was a lot easier to eliminate schools when the pool was much larger. His original criteria (a warm climate, fewer than 25,000 students, no cornfields and nothing in the state of Illinois) whittled the list down nicely. We were then able to eliminate a lot of schools based on how overly peppy the tour guide was, how bad the off-campus dining options were and whether he noticed anyone wearing a blazer to class.
But at this point, all of the schools are similar and every school has pros and cons, making an immediate decision virtually impossible. I keep waiting for his Aha! moment but it has yet to come.
So now what?
Well, I polled a handful of my friends and their college kids to find out what criteria they used to make that final decision, and I’ve compiled a list of strategies to help him (and you) reach the right one.
1. Consider the pros and cons of all of the schools. Although a great football team may be a consideration it may not be as important as staying closer to home or having smaller classes.
2. Consider finances. Take into consideration the tuition price, scholarships, grants, and awards, anything that can contribute to the exorbitant cost of higher education.
3. Consider distance. Two of the schools that my son is contemplating are within a 4-hour drive from home. The other two are a 4-hour plane ride. I don’t care which option he chooses but he might once he gets there.
4. Consider extra-curricular, intramurals, and recreational activities. My son likes to keep busy so having school-sponsored activities is important for him.
5. Consider the actual fit. One friend suggested that my son should try to imagine himself on campus—eating in the dining halls, participating in sports and student activities, living in the dorms. If he can’t see himself as part of the school then no matter how great the academics are or how much the financial aid package is it won’t really matter.
6. Consider why the school is on the list. Is it there because your parents really want you to be there (or because they really don’t want you to be there) or is it because you want to spend four years of your life there?
7. Consider talking to college students who graduated from your high school. Campus tours and campus videos give you the glossy overview. If you want to find out if the students really like the dining hall food or the dorms or the Greek system you should ask a current student and not the one who has been groomed for the campus tours.
8. And finally, consider that it doesn’t have to be the final decision. Your child can always transfer if it turns out to be a really bad fit.
Connie Lissner is the founder of lifestyle blog i suck as a parent. She’s a writer, lawyer, wife, and more importantly, the mother of two teenaged boys. When she traded in her briefcase for a diaper bag she actually thought that her negotiating skills and cross-examination expertise would be helpful in raising kids. They weren’t. They became even less useful as her little ones grew into teenagers with some serious negotiating skills of their own. She’s given up on trying to control her children and is now focused on trying to raise thoughtful and independent kids who will hopefully not repeat all of her mistakes. She started her blog to set out all the ways she fails her children on a daily basis. Connie can also be found writing for acontrolledsubstance.com, various local Chicago magazines and in the recently released book, Not Your Mother’s Book…on Parenting. Visit her blog, isuckasaparent.comor follow her on Twitter @MotherInferior1.
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