Tips for Parents and Students on How to Pick the Right College

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By Dr. Kat Cohen
December 2, 2014

Students don’t have to go to a highly selective college to get a great education and a good job after graduation. With more than 4,000 colleges and universities in the US, there are plenty of options from which college-bound students can choose. However, many tend to rely on name-recognition as a gauge of a “good” college, rather than using the tools at their disposal to find other schools that may better fit a student’s needs. This is why the country’s top-tier schools receive upwards of 40,000 (even 50,000!) applications each year, resulting in single-digit admission rates.

But how do parents and students find these “best-fit” schools and make tough decisions about where to apply and enroll? It starts with doing your homework and using a variety of resources. Creating a balanced list of likely, target, and reach colleges that meet students’ needs and goals will help them apply and gain admission to institutions where they will thrive. Here are some tips on how to make informed college choices:

For Students:

  • Set Goals – Determine what you want to get out of a college education and then research colleges that meet your needs. Is it to study with certain professors? Explore a specific major? For example, if you’re interested in aerospace engineering, it wouldn’t be wise to apply to a small liberal arts college without an engineering program.
  • Research – College websites and tools like LinkedIn’s University Finder and Field of Study Explorer can help you identify some lesser known schools that are turning out top talent. University Rankings can help you learn more about a school’s academics, professors, and alumni career paths. The more you learn about a college or profession, the more information you have at hand to make informed choices.
  • Use Social Media and Online Resources – According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling, 97% of colleges use social media in their recruitment efforts, so it’s smart to learn more about prospective colleges through social media. Social media outlets, including LinkedIn, can give you a snapshot of the school’s culture, student body, events, and issues that impact current students.
  • Listen to Feedback – Whether it’s from your college or guidance counselor, parents, friends, or other influential connections, it’s important to consider feedback about your college choices. LinkedIn’s Decision Boards provide an outlet for students to display the colleges they’re considering, based on their own research, and gather feedback from family and friends on the school, course of study, chances of admission, and more.

For Parents:

  • Research – Your student isn’t the only one who should be doing homework on potential colleges and universities. Learn everything you can — such as on-campus resources, school size, estimated costs, etc.— from the school’s website, and use LinkedIn’s Higher Education tools to supplement your research.
  • Have a Realistic Discussion about Finances – With an average student loan debt of $33,000, it’s important to have a serious discussion about finances, what you and your student plan to contribute, and the realities of taking out loans. This conversation can help you and your student make better choices about where to apply and how to handle the tuition bill when it comes due.
  • Meet With Your Student’s College Counselor – If your student’s high school has college or guidance counselors, you may want to meet with them to talk about expectations, colleges, chances of admission, and how you can help facilitate your student’s college admissions process.
  • Listen to Your Student – In the end, you’re not the one applying to college – your student is. If there’s a difference of opinion, listen to your student’s viewpoint and come to a compromise. After all, this process will determine the next four years of your student’s life, so let your child make his or her own choices as long as his or her needs, goals, and financial expectations are met.