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College Admissions: How To Keep From Choosing The Wrong College

Monday, March 23, 2015


It's nothing to laugh at--decision season is coming up and you don't want to choose the wrong college.

April 1 is just one week away, and most college acceptances will soon be 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 www.collegeboard.com or 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. www.collegeadvisorsonline.com


Related Slideshow: College Guide: Best Off-Campus Study Spots in Central MA

Are you having trouble finding some much needed peace and quiet on your college campus? Check out the following coffee shops and cafés, which are sure to satisfy your studying needs and taste buds.

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In House Coffee

Enjoy homemade regular and flavored coffee, fresh baked muffins, bagels and more at In House Coffee. They even feature a Tiramisu flavored coffee and serve breakfast sandwiches. At In House Coffee you’ll find all the caffeine and baked goods you’re going to need to get through your studying.

225 Shrewsbury St, Worcester


Hours: Mon-Sat 7 AM - 10 PM, Sun 8 AM - 10 PM. 

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Bean Counter Coffee Bar

Continuously voted “Best Coffee” by Worcester Magazine, Bean Counter Coffee Bar & Bakery offers the perfect energy boost for your long day of studying. Order one of their homemade pastries for an extra pick me up.

113 Highland St, Worcester


Hours: Mon-Thurs 6:30 AM - 10 PM, Fri 6:30 AM - 11 PM, Sat 7 AM - 11 PM, Sun 7 AM - 10 PM.

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Acoustic Java

Acoustic Java is a great spot for studying off-campus, offering plenty of seating and a cozy atmosphere. They also offer a wide selection of seasonal freshly roasted and artisan coffees, teas and made-to-order sandwiches as well as vegetarian options.

932A Main St, Worcester


Hours: Mon-Fri 7 AM - 7 PM, Sat- Sun 8 AM - 6 PM.

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NU Café

Curl up next to the fireplace with your books and a latte. Is there really any other way to study? Serving certified organic coffee and real fruit smoothies, NU Café has everything you need to get through your study session. Not convinced? At night they serve beer and wine for those 21+.

335 Chandler St, Worcester


Hours: Mon-Fri 7 AM - 10 PM, Sat 8 AM - 10 PM, Sun 9 AM - 8 PM.

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Starbucks is more than great coffee and snacks. Its comfy chairs and tables provide you with the perfect study environment. Choose from their many hot and cold drink items as well as their sandwiches, pastries and salads.

11 East Central St, Worcester


Hours: Mon-Sat 5 AM - 10 PM, Sun 6 AM - 8:30 PM.

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Panera Bread

Though everyone knows Panera for their delicious soups, salads and sandwiches, their couches and booths are also a great place to get some studying done while you eat. With many great locations Panera Bread is a convenient place for homework.

Three locations: 120 Goldstar Blvd, Worcester, 508-856-7007; 50 Boston Turnpike, Shrewsbury, 508-798-9949; 70 Worcester-Providence Turnpike, Millbury.

Check website for local addresses, phone numbers, and hours.

Photo: Flickr/docoverachiever

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Straight Up Café

Straight Up Café serves locally roasted coffees so you know you’ll be drinking the freshest coffee while writing that final paper. Offering breakfast items, sandwiches, and salads, you’ll have enough options to get you through a whole day of studying.

795 Main St, Worcester


Hours: Mon-Fri 7 AM - 5 PM.

Photo: Flickr/roboppy


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