One of the greatest fears I hear from students is that they won’t get into the college of their dreams, or in many cases, into college at all. The media focus on college rankings (which do little to speak to the needs of the individual student) has created a level of anxiety among students and parents that is palpable—yet unnecessary. The fact is there are over 3500 accredited colleges and universities in the United States, most of which are terrific institutions for a variety of students. While a handful of these schools present admissions odds worse than those in Vegas, most colleges accept over seventy percent of their applicants. Wonderful schools exist for students at every academic level!
Unfortunately, the first item many students focus on during the college search is the sweat-inducing range of SAT/ACT scores. Or GPA. Yet these numbers have little to do with guaranteeing a student’s happiness and success at that college, and the focus on these numbers makes it difficult for students to conduct meaningful research that truly determines overall fit. Students transfer from a college or drop out altogether not because they are ill-prepared to tackle college academics, but because they do not connect socially with their peers or the institution. If a student is not happy with her surroundings, she will not do well in class.
So, how do students figure out fit? There is not a simple answer, but if students take the time to consider what they enjoy and connect with most in their current lives, it will help them develop criteria to apply to their college research. Which activities do they enjoy? How do they prefer to learn? What values are important to them? Do they prefer hands-on learning or lectures? Is school spirit important? A specific area of the country? Are they competitive or cooperative in the classroom? How important are scholarships and financial aid? What about weather? City or cornfield? How close to home is too close—is there a college on the moon? There are hundreds of questions to consider, and by considering them, students will develop meaningful, personalized criteria. In essence, students are charged with finding the best ranked colleges according to their criteria. One of the best ways to apply these criteria is to speak with college representatives.
Families in Portland have a terrific opportunity to do just this and to experience a more holistic approach to the college search. On Saturday, July 31, 7:00 p.m., the Colleges That Change Lives tour will stop at the Oregon Convention Center. Colleges That Change Lives, a book by Lauren Pope, highlights forty liberal arts colleges across the nation. These colleges “change lives, help (students) find themselves, raise their aspirations, and empower them.” The program begins with an informational session that explores a new educational paradigm and concludes with a college fair. For more information, visit the Colleges That Change Lives website, www.ctcl.com.