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This Is How LinkedIn Can Help You Pick the Right College For Your Kids

The other day I asked my daughter, for perhaps the thousandth time, what she wants to be when she grows up. Usually the answer is, “Veterinarian.” Sometimes she says, “Lawyer.” Other times it’s “Musician” or “Chef.” And why not? She writes songs and is a talented cook.

This time she said, “I don’t know, Dad. Stop asking me.”

linkedin college tools
linkedin college tools

(Thinkstock)

Now that she’s 16, that’s pretty much her response to everything. But soon she won’t have the luxury of avoiding this question. She’ll need to decide where she wants to go to study law, music, the culinary arts, or whatever. It’s a huge decision with vast personal and financial implications for everyone involved.

There are scores of online tools to match your kids to schools, and a lot of them are sleazy. They’ll sell your child’s information to third-rate institutions that aggressively seek to separate you from your tuition funds.

But there’s a new way to help make this decision, and it’s from a surprising source: LinkedIn.

In September 2013, LinkedIn lowered its minimum member age to 14. Last fall, the network introduced tools to help teenagers explore potential career paths and find schools that fit them.

By mining the career and education data of its 330 million members, LinkedIn can help kids figure out what they want to be when they grow up, and help them find grownups who already have those jobs.

The best part? It’s free and won’t result in endless amounts of recruiting spam and robocalls. It’s also kind of fun to use LinkedIn in this geeky, data-crunching way.

Cool school tools
You can do this in your own account, but, better yet, have your high schooler create her own. Send her to the Interests in the top menu bar, and select Education.

linkedin college tools
linkedin college tools

This brings you to LinkedIn’s “Youniversity” page. Despite the cheesy title, this is an impressive trove of information you can slice and dice.

linkedin college tools
linkedin college tools

Click on the Prospective Students tab. From here, you’ve got a lot of choices. University Rankings, for example, lists the top 25 schools for undergrads in eight professions, from accounting to software development. (More professions are coming, LinkedIn says.) Those rankings are based on the number of LinkedIn users who graduated from that school and currently work in the field in which they got their degree.

For example: If you want your progeny to attend the top school for software development, you can’t do better than Carnegie Mellon University. But if they want to build code for a startup, Stanford is the best bet.

linkedin college tools
linkedin college tools

The University Finder tool is for kids who have a pretty good idea of a career they want to pursue or a company they want to work for, but no idea where to study it. Plug in a field of study, names of desired companies, and where your child wants to live after graduation; LinkedIn will find the colleges that people who match these criteria have attended.

If you want to live in San Francisco and work as a graphic artist for Apple, for example, the top choices are San Jose State University and the San Francisco Academy of Art.

linkedin college tools
linkedin college tools

When you find a university you want to know more about, click “Add to board” beneath it to add it to your Decision Board, which I’ll talk about more in a bit.

Making connections

But you may also want to connect to people who’ve attended these schools and work at these companies. For that, you want to start with the Field of Study Explorer.

When you select that, LinkedIn may fill in data from some profession it picks at random. Ignore that, click the “Explore more” button on the right of the screen, and enter the name of the field you might want to study. (It will have to be a degree category LinkedIn recognizes, or you won’t be able to search for it.) This will tell you how many LinkedIn members graduated with this degree, where they work, what they do, and where they attended school. As with schools, you can add these study areas to your Decision Board.

linkedin college tools
linkedin college tools

Diving into this data is utterly fascinating. Did you know that the biggest employer of English lit majors on LinkedIn is IBM, or that more music majors work at Apple than at any other company? The next time somebody sneers at your child’s burning desire for a liberal arts education, tell them that.

But the more important thing is the people displayed beneath the stats. These are LinkedIn members who are professionals in the field your child wants to explore. Next to each is a number indicating how many connections the two of you have in common, and an icon that allows you to add them as a connection or send them a message.

These people could potentially serve as sources of information or even mentors to your young scholar. But this is where things get a little tricky. Rather than have your kids reach out to total strangers, you’d probably want to act as a go-between, introducing them to people inside your network that can give them more information about the professions or colleges they’re interested in.

Rank your schools

Finally, there’s the Decision Board. This is where you keep all the universities and fields of study you’re most interested in. You can keep this board private, share it with select people, or make it available to the public. If you share it, you can ask people for comments — like what they think of, say, the University of California at Berkeley (Go Bears) or getting a degree in literature.

linkedin college tools
linkedin college tools

You can indicate if you’re interested in the school, applied there, been accepted, or are planning to attend. You can also see other LinkedIn members who are interested in the school or subject, so you can start networking with your fellow Golden Bears or English majors before you even arrive.

Old college tries

The hardest part about this may be getting your kids to actually use LinkedIn. When I asked my daughter if she’d heard of it, she said a couple of her friends had used it and that it was “lame” — in other words, for old people.

In a survey conducted by education site Chegg, only about 1 in 10 prospective college freshmen had ever used LinkedIn. And picking the right college is a lot more complicated than just figuring out which ones are best at churning out engineers or lawyers, says Bob Patterson, vice president of student success at Chegg.

A great engineering school may still be a bad fit for the student for other reasons, says Patterson, who has worked as an admissions officer at UC Berkeley, Stanford, and the University of North Carolina. Or a year or two later, the student may decide engineering isn’t really her thing — and what she wants to do now isn’t available at her school.

Starting this process with a career or company in mind is great, and LinkedIn provides a nice leg up. But it’s only just the beginning. Your child needs to go into this process with an open mind, knowing it will likely change a few times before she emerges with a degree.

Reach out and touch Dan Tynan at ModFamily1@yahoo.com.