How To Select The Best College

Find The College That is Right for Your Student

Within the next few weeks it is estimated that about two and a half million high school seniors will have to make the final decision as to which college they wish to attend. This can cause a great deal of consternation as parents try to drive the decision towards a school that they feel is “best” for their student. It may be their alma mater, or a school with a prestigious name and reputation. Sometimes this works out well for the student, but sometimes it can lead to an unhappy college life.

The most important factor to keep in mind is that you are a family unit that is trying to make a decision that will set the foundation for your child’s adult life. Money, prestige, and location should all play a role in the decision-making process, but in the end it might just come down to finding a college where your student will thrive. Here are some ways to find the “best” college for your student:

  • Look at the rankings: U.S. News & World Report is widely known for its college rankings. They collect data on a national level and break it down into fifty rankings lists. You should be able to find good qualitative input here.
  • Take a second look: Sometimes it isn’t just about the rankings. The Alumni Factor looks at alumni outcomes as an indicator of a quality college. They base their rankings on such factors as the overall college experience, faculty engagement, willingness to recommend, and financial success. In these assessments a college such as Washington & Lee University in Lexington VA or a military academy can rank very high.
  • Show me the money: Which is better - a “free” ride at a lesser-known university that offers a tremendous financial aid package or acceptance at a well-known university that requires the student and parent to accept a particular financial burden? There is no right answer to this question, just an answer that is right for each individual family situation. Some families jump at the chance to accept a full scholarship offer, while others are just as happy to pay money towards their child’s education.
  • Get social: Why not take advantage of today's social media outlets and use them to find out what a particular college is really like? Some colleges might have a Facebook page where prospective students can post questions, or you might try to look for a Twitter hashtag that covers this school. Put the word out that you are looking to talk to students who attend this college in your child's major, and ask your circles to post it on their social media as well. If you get in contact with someone then you can ask them the questions you really want to know.

  • What is “best” for your child? Parents everywhere want their children to do well in life, not just in college. Look for a school where your child will flourish, which may not necessarily be the same as a college where you would thrive. If there is time, make one last visit to the campus and ask your student to picture living there for the next four years. Would the campus itself feel right, are the classes a comfortable size, do the students and professors take an interest in your child, and are there activities that sound immediately appealing? If it feels like the perfect fit, it might be worth attending despite the cost.

These are not easy decisions, and they should not be made quickly, no matter what the calendar says.

Maybe you need to schedule a “college thinking and deciding” night where you put aside time, get together as a family unit, and lay it all out on the table. Add your logical, emotional and financial input as a parent, of course, but also try to gently guide the discussion to help your child make one of his or her first real “adult” decisions. This should lead to a greater feeling of comfort in the fall as you drop your child off at a college which you all believe is the “best.”