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College Admissions: 4 Ways to Avoid Making the Wrong Decision

Tuesday, April 03, 2012


It's no laughing matter: make sure you make the right college decision this month.

April 1 has come and gone, and most college acceptances have been received by anxious high school seniors. Often, students and parents have a difficult time making a decision. While a “gut feeling” based on a campus information session and tour is one good factor to consider, there is other information that needs to be considered. Don’t jump before you look carefully. This is one of the most important decisions and largest financial investments, you will ever make. Here are some key things to review.

Beware of Student Gossip

The old adage “bad news travels faster than good news” is especially true with regard to colleges. Be wary of online sites that host bitter student reviews. Few happy students have the time or the inclination to go on and post a

positive review. Also, take the gossip in your high school or neighborhood with a grain of salt when someone leaves a college. Look instead at the overall statistics; do not make a judgment based on one individual. For a great guide centered around hundreds of student surveys and interviews, I recommend The Insider's Guide to the Colleges by The Yale Daily News. It only reviews about 300 colleges and universities in the country, but it does a terrific job of giving insight into campus life, course rigor, professor access and the surrounding community.

Spend the Night

I highly recommend that students do an overnight visit at their top choice colleges before making a final decision. The admissions office at most smaller colleges will help facilitate this, but at larger institutions, you may need to network with friends and family to find an existing student to host you for the night. Go to classes on a Friday and then check out the “on campus” and “off campus” social scene. This real life experience will give you a valuable feel for the flavor of the student body and the quality of the classes and professors.

Majors and Courses

Some seniors will have a good idea of what they want to major in. If so, take a deeper dive into the courses offered, professor credentials, and internships or research opportunities. Remember that course catalogs are VERY deceiving. They usually contain every course taught in the last 5 years (or that may be taught in the next 5 years). It does not mean that those courses are taught every year. For a more accurate understanding of the classes that you will have to choose from in your major, call the department and ask for a course list for this year and next year. If you are a student who is undecided on a major, carefully consider the breadth of offerings at your potential colleges and make sure they line up with your interests.

Review the Data

There are some important statistics that parents and students should review before choosing a college. These are readily available on Web sites like http://www.collegeboard.com/ or http://www.collegedata.com/. The first one that I look at is “students returning for sophomore year” - this is a key indicator of how happy students are at a college and the support they receive. If a college has below a 70% return rate, I get concerned. The next data point I suggest you review is the “4 year graduation rate”. While nationally this is quite low (many students take 5-6 years to graduate), you should know what the likelihood is that your costs will extend beyond 4 years. Another item that can be important to students who wish to pursue an advanced degree is “percent of students going on to graduate school”. The one published statistic that I find suspicious is “percent of students finding full-time employment within 12 months of graduation." Given the poor economy, I think the high numbers reported by many schools are hard to swallow. Lastly, families should investigate the economic health of a college, including the endowment fund and state of the physical campus. In 2010, approximately 150 colleges in the U.S. failed the US Department of Education’s test of financial stability.

Cristiana Quinn, M.Ed. is the founder of College Admission Advisors, LLC which provides strategic, college counseling and athletic recruiting services for students. http://www.collegeadvisorsonline.com/.



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