Winter is a pivotal time on the school-to-college transition calendar. Seniors have submitted their applications and essays and participated in the required interviews and orientation sessions and are anxiously awaiting the responses of the institutions to which they have applied. Juniors are poised to begin the final aspect of their college exploration, a series of strategies that will determine the campuses they will visit and the schools where they will eventually apply. Farther removed from any dramatic decision-making are the sophomores and other students who are just embarking on the college exploration process.
If good exploration has occurred, a number of things will have appeared on the older student’s radar that will guide her or him in the latter stages of the transition to higher education. A veteran college admission officer once remarked that there are ultimately four decisions made in the selection of a college or graduate school, and the student gets to make three of them. The choice of where to explore, where to apply, and where to enroll, if accepted, are in the hands of the student. The college decides what students it wishes to admit.
Fit and Compatibility
As the college-bound student examines educational options, their evaluative filter should focus on these four issues:
- Academic fit – Is the college the right place to learn? Does it offer courses and curriculum that are consistent with the student’s educational and career objectives? Will the student be challenged academically and be capable of meeting all challenges?
- Environmental fit – Is the college the right place to live? The college-bound student is about to become a citizen of a college or university for the next two, four, or more years and he or she needs to feel comfortable, safe, and content in the collegiate setting (i.e., campus, community, and beyond).
- Affordability – What are the costs of enrollment, room & board, etc. and what kind of financial aid is available? In the current economy, students and their parents are becoming more budget and cost conscious and steps often need to be taken to find the most affordable institutions. Similarly, all relevant sources of financial aid (e.g., scholarships, grants, work-study, loans, etc.) must be considered.
- Admissibility – A final aspect of college exploration is to look at the profiles of admitted students to see if those characteristics and traits are compatible with those that will be presented by the applicant. College expectations of students can vary from year to year and knowing this information in advance might be a critical factor in the inclusion of an institution on the final application list.
If admitted, the academic fit, environmental fit, and affordability issues must then be revisited as the applicant determines where she or he will enroll.
Many applicants fail to understand or exercise the control they possess over their educational future. Some abdicate that power or allow others (i.e., parents, peers, etc.) to exercise undue influence. The student who isn’t fully invested in or does not “own” these decisions is inviting future difficulty. When future colleges are examined through this multi-dimensional lens, the list under consideration will grow smaller. These are the colleges that should be targeted for applications. When determining where to study, a modified lens will help the accepted student determine the best place to enroll.
Dr. Frank Burtnett, consultant, author and trainer/presenter on career and college reading issues, splits his life between Rockport, Maine and Fairfax County, Virginia. He is the author of the Bound-for-College Guidebook, Second Edition and Bound-for-Career Guidebook. His Career Errors: Straight Talk About the Steps and Missteps of Career Development will be published by Rowman & Littlefield Education in 2014.